pessoa: “because i’ve already seen cats staring at the moon”

Life would be unbearable if we made ourselves conscious of it. Happily we don’t do so. We live with the same unconsciousness as the animals, in the same futile and useless way, and if we anticipate death, which might be assumed, though one can’t be certain, we anticipate it by way of forgetting so much and with so many distractions and subterfuges that we can scarcely say we think about it at all.

So we live our lives, with little grounds for thinking we’re superior to animals. Our difference from them consists in the purely external detail that we speak and write, that we have the abstract intelligence for both distancing ourselves by employing it concretely and by imagining impossible things. All those qualities, therefore, are accidents of our basic organism. Speaking and writing do nothing new for our primordial instinct to live without knowing how. Our abstract intelligence is of no use except in concocting systems or notions about half-systems rather than permitting us to be animals out under the sun. Our imagination of the impossible is not exclusive to us, because I’ve already seen cats staring at the moon, and I don’t know whether they weren’t yearning for it.

– Fernando Pessoa, Always Astonished (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1988), transl. Edwin Honig, pp 118-19.

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