“I am shy with women: therefore there is no God” is highly unconvincing metaphysics

From Fernando Pessoa’s The Education of the Stoic (pg 37-38) – spoken, it should be pointed out, in Pessoa’s heteronym persona of the Baron of Tieve. Minus the harsh phrasing I’ve found the same basic hurdle to appreciating parts of Leopardi and Vigny (de Quental I’ve not read).

There’s something vile – and all the more vile because ridiculous – in the tendency of feeble men to make universal tragedies out of the sad comedies of their private woes.

My recognition of this fact has always prevented me – unjust, I realize – from experiencing the full emotion of the great pessimistic poets. My disenchantment only increased when I read about their lives. The three great pessimistic poets of the last century – Leopardi, Vigny and Antero de Quental – became unbearable to me. The sexual basis of their pessimism, after I’d discerned it in their works and confirmed it in there life stories left a nauseous feeling in my mind.
How can I take Leopardi’s atheism seriously or react to it sympathetically, if I know it could have been cured by sexual intercourse? How can I sincerely respect and respond to Antero de Quental’s wistfulness, sadness and despair, if I realize that it all sprang directly from his forlorn heart, which never found its complement – physical or psychological, it matters little – in the real world? How can I be impressed by Vigny’s pessimism apropos women, by his exemplary and outrageous La Colere de Samson, if in the very outrage of the poem I recognize the “loved by few or loved poorly, and suffering cruelly on that account” of the critic Faguet, if I see it’s but the lofty expression of a cuckold’s ordinary torment.

How can anyone take seriously the argument “I’m shy with women, therefore God doesn’t exist,” which is at the heart of Leopardi’s work? How not reject Antero de Quental’s conclusion that “I’m sorry I don’t have a woman who loves me, therefore sorrow is a universal condition”? How can I accept, and not instinctively disdain Vigny’s attitude: “I’m not loved in the way I’d like, therefore women are vile, mean and despicable creatures, with none of the goodness and nobility of men”?

A later fragment repeats the Leopardi commentary (pg 50)

This is one of the cases in which we must all be Freuds. It is impossible to lean not to sexual explanation, because the social behaviors Leopardi erects of his own problem……

The worst of this sort of tragedy is that it is comic. It is not comic in the sense that Swinburne’s love poems are comic.

“I am shy with women: therefore there is no God” is highly unconvincing metaphysics.

Thought, which for other people is a compass to guide action, is for me its microscope

From Fernando Pessoa’s The Education of the Stoic (pg 22-23):

My lack of initiative was the root cause of all my troubles – of my inability to want something before having thought about it, of my inability to commit myself, of my inability to decide in the only way one can decide: by deciding, not by thinking. I’m like Buridan’s donkey, dying at the mathematical midpoint between the water of emotion and the hay of action; if I didn’t think, I m might still die, but it wouldn’t be from thirst or hunger.

Whatever I think or feel inevitably turns into a form of inertia. Thought, which for other people is a compass to guide action, is for me its microscope, making me see whole universes to span where a footstep would have sufficed, as if Zeno’s argument about the impossibility of crossing a given space – which, being infinitely divisible, is therefore infinite – were a strange drug that had intoxicated my psychological self. And feeling, which in other people enters the will like a hand in a glove, or list a fist tin the guard of a sword, was always in me another form of thought – futile like a rage that makes us tremble so much we can’t move, or like a panic (the panic, in my case, of feeling too intensely) that freezes the frightened man in his tracks, when his fright should make him flee.

My whole life has been a battle lost on the map. Cowardice didn’t even make it to the battlefield, where perhaps it would have dissipated; it haunted the chief of staff in his office, all alone with his certainty of defeat. He didn’t dare implement his battle plan, since it was sure to be imperfect, and he didn’t dare perfect it (though it could never be truly perfect) since his convection that it would never be perfect killed all his desires to strive for perfection. Nor did it ever occur to him that his plan, though imperfect, might be closer to perfection than the enemy’s. The truth is that my real enemy, victorious over me since God, was that very idea of a perfection, marching against me at the head of all the troops of the world – in the tragic vanguard of all the world’s armed men.