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The Book

  • By José de Almada Negreiros
  • Issue 15
  • Fable

Translated from the Portuguese by Julia Powers

I walked into a bookstore. I set about reckoning the books there are to read against the years I have to live. It doesn’t tally; I don’t last for half the bookstore.

There must be other ways for a person to be saved, otherwise I’m lost.

Meanwhile, the people entering the bookstore looked too well dressed to be in need of saving.

* * *

I bought a book of philosophy. Philosophy is the science that concerns itself with life, which was just what I needed—to put science in my life.

I read the book of philosophy, but I didn’t get anything out of it, Mother! Nothing at all.

They told me you needed to be initiated first, but I’ve had just one initiation, that of having been put on this earth in the image and likeness of God. Is that not enough?

I had imagined there were treatises on the life of people, the way there are treatises on the life of plants, with everything clearly explained, as for the care and training of domestic animals, you know? The way there are such well-bred horses!

I imagined there was a book for people, the way there are wafers to enclose the medicine for a fever. A book with as much certainty as a wafer. A little book, with two pages, like a wafer. A book that said everything, clearly and quickly, like a poster for a show, with the place and the day.

* * *

Don’t you think so, Mother? For example, say there’s a stray dog, dirty and hungry. Take care of this dog and it stops being a stray; it stops being dirty and hungry. Children will even pat him on the head.

They take care of the dog because the dog doesn’t know how to take care of itself—not knowing how to take care of oneself is to be a dog.

Now I didn’t want them to take care of me, but I did want them to help me out—help me not to be like this, so I could be my own master, so those who saw me would say: How nice that he figured out how to take care of himself!

* * *

I wanted others to say of me: “Look, a man!” as one says, “Look, a dog!” when a dog passes by; as one says: “Look, a tree!” when there’s a tree. Like that, whole, without adjectives, of a single piece: A man!

* * *

But I went searching through all the lives for one to copy and none was fit to copy.

Book-like, people have a beginning, middle and end. At the beginning, the book was calling me; in the middle, it held out its hand; in the end, my hand got sweaty from the book having given me its hand.

Maybe in other books… but the titles of books are like people’s names—they don’t mean anything; it’s just so you can tell them apart.

* * *

In the window there was a book called The Loyal Counselor. Written long ago by a King of the Portuguese! Written in a single style for every kind of vassal!

Blessed be that man who was in fact a King! The Master who wants me to be a Master!

I think all books should be called The Loyal Counselor! Don’t you think so, Mother?

The Master wrote what he knew—that’s what made him a Master. The Master took such great care that the words were transformed into gifts. These words were written for the sake of others, too. Others learned to read so that they might become Masters themselves—and it was with this aim that one learned to read in days of old.

* * *

I dreamed of a country in which everyone became Masters. Each one began by making the pen and the nib with which he was going to set about listening to the universe; then he produced from raw materials the paper on which he would take down the intimations he received directly from the universe; after that, he swam down to the base of the crag in search of the squid’s black ink; he engraved letter by letter the type with which to compose his words; and from the tree he extracted the printing press on which he faithfully printed his discoveries in order to bring them to the others. It was in this way that they all came to be Masters. It was in this way that the Masters went on writing the sentences that would save humanity.

When I was born, all the sentences to save humanity had already been written, just one thing was lacking—to save humanity.

The small is as the great.
What is above is analogous to what is below.
The inside of things is as the outside.
Everything is within everything.
—HERMES TRIMEGISTA

Photo by by Jeremy Stigter