Hannah Höch (1889–1978), Der Traum seinen Lebens (The dream of her life), cutout from hand-colored photographs, 1925.


Even knowing or proclaiming every dream is in vain, we dream, day and night, dreaming always, to feel ourselves living and to have a heart.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again today: I'm not a dreamer. A skeptical temperament, I find the frequent reference to dreams and the need to dream to be somewhat ridiculous, slightly demagogic and sentimental. And yet, …

Manoel Bomfim, one of the great Brazilian thinkers (unfairly forgotten as many great Brazilians are – while, by the way, not a few rubbish and mediocrities are intensely celebrated), Bomfim said that a nation needs to invent its own dreams, dream its own plausible dreams.

Dreams plausible – inspired in some way, even if tenuous or not so evident, in the historical and current reality of the nation. We have to dream our dreams, dreamed by us, cultivate our own images, our own notions of beauty, truth and value, he said in other words.

Beautiful. But that's where the trapdoor opens. Dreams can be dangerous. A certain type of dream, precisely the plausible ones that Bomfim wanted. The possible dream carries with it the possibility of disappointment and suffering.

And, in this way, I come to the true subject of this little chronicle – another genius of our race, this one truly monumental. I am referring, reader, to the great, immense, gigantic Fernando Pessoa. Poetry, as we know, tenaciously resists translation. If Pessoa had written in French or English (he even wrote in the latter language, but little), he would be known and revered all over the planet. He leaves in the dust, in my opinion, many luminaries of French or Anglo-American literature. How many of them look really minuscule next to the Portuguese poet!

Not only for his poetry, which is brilliant, but also for his prose. And from it I extract an accurate observation about two types of dreams. Let's give the floor to him directly. Says Pessoa, or the heteronym Bernardo Soares, in Book of Disquiet: “I feel more pity for those who dream of the probable, the legitimate, and the close, than those who daydream about the distant and the strange. Those who dream big are either crazy and believe in what they dream and are happy, or they are simple daydreamers, for whom daydreaming is the music of the soul, which rocks them without saying anything. But those who dream of the possible have the real possibility of true disappointment. I can't regret having ceased to be a Roman emperor, but it can hurt me that I never even spoke to the seamstress who, around nine o'clock, always returns to the right corner. The dream that promises us the impossible already deprives us of it, but the dream that promises us the possible meddles with life itself and delegates its solution to it. One lives exclusive and independent; the other subject to the contingencies of what happens”.

Wonderful, isn't it? The ambivalent relationship with the dream permeates his work, including his poetry. For example, in the beautiful poem Other people's morning!, which I know by heart and even tried, when I lived in Washington, to translate into English for the benefit of some foreign friends:

“Morning of others! O sun that gives confidence / Only to those who already trust! / It's only the dormant, not the dead hope / That wakes up your day.”

And here comes the shimmering verse:

“To those who dream by day and dream by night, knowing / All dreams are in vain, / But always dreaming, just to feel alive / and to have a heart.
To those streaks without the day that you bring, or just / Like someone who comes / Along the street, invisible to our conscious gaze, / Because he is nobody to us.”

In English, the central verse looks like this:

"To those that dream by day and dream by night, knowing / that all dreams are vain/ But go on dreaming, just to feel what it´s like to be alive/ And to have a heart"

I spoke of “foreign friends”. I didn't want to look like someone who exploits poetry for spurious and extra-poetic purposes. But the truth is that the attempt at translation was for a foreign girlfriend, beautiful, beautiful, but unfortunately totally ignorant of the beautiful Portuguese language.

But I return to the poem. It is clearly seen that the dead hope is not so dead after all. And who keeps dreaming day and night, always dreaming, even declaring all dreams are in vain, knowing that life and the heart cease to exist without the ability to dream.

I'm already slipping into a somewhat naive defense of the dream. In fact, the most interesting thing, both in Pessoa's text and poem, is the clash, within the same soul, between the impulse to dream and the resistance to it. Or in other, perhaps more precise terms: the conflict between the will to dream and the inability to do so fully, with your whole heart. His work is riddled with paradoxes or hesitations of this type, always heavily laden with emotional connotations.

I give another example, also taken from Book of Disquiet, this one from the realm of politics, on the duality sincere/insincere or illusion/practical realism:

“The government of the world begins with ourselves. It is not the sincere who rule the world, but neither are the insincere. They are those who manufacture in themselves a real sincerity by artificial and automatic means; this sincerity constitutes his strength, and it is this which radiates to the less false sincerity of others. Knowing how to deceive oneself well is the first quality of a statesman. Only poets and philosophers are competent to have a practical view of the world, because it is only for them to have no illusions. To see clearly is not to act.”

Rarely have I encountered such a brilliant paragraph, so illuminated by certain paradoxes! It is not the sincere nor the insincere who lead. The statesman's sincerity is manufactured and real at the same time. And, contrary to common sense, the realistic view of the world does not belong to the statesman, but to the poet and philosopher, whose clairvoyance, however, prevents action. Anyway, I repeat, a genius of our race.

Maybe I'm straying from the original subject. But not so much. With regard to dreams, the same ambivalence applies. Bomfim's plausible dreams are the source of misunderstandings, disasters and disappointments. But without them what's left of life? Does it not empty? Doesn't dreaming ask for courage? And skepticism can be, deep down, a symptom of a loss of vitality. Perhaps a form of cowardice.

And so we continued. Even knowing or proclaiming every dream is in vain, we dream, day and night, dreaming always, to feel alive and to have a heart.

*Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. he holds the Celso Furtado Chair at the College of High Studies at UFRJ. He was vice-president of the New Development Bank, established by the BRICS in Shanghai. Author, among other books, of Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard: backstage of the life of a Brazilian economist in the IMF and the BRICS and other texts on nationalism and our mongrel complex (LeYa).

Extended version of article published in the journal Capital letter, on on July 9, 2021.


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