Fernando Pessoa's Mnemosyne project: myth, heteronym, and the modern genealogy of meaning

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


We seek to explore Aby Warburg's metadiscursive approach to the history of art as a heuristic model for the interpretation of Fernando Pessoa's reconfiguration of the authorial figure into heteronymic multiplicity, i.e., we compare the poetics underlying Warburg's Mnemosyne project in which the sequentiality of artworks is supplanted by the innovative perceptions arising from Warburg's panels on the one hand and Pessoa's reconfiguration of the authorial figure into heteronymic "panels" on the other. Both Warburg and Pessoa develop paradigmatic strategies by which modernity retrieves and appropriates the cultural past, a past which becomes both rememorative and incubatory of fresh meanings. Thus, both Warburg and Pessoa articulate aesthetic perception within the framework of ontological and perceptual futurity: the past is not static but rather dynamically retrieved by fresh perceptual configuration, exemplified by Warburg's concept of the "iconology of the intervals." Pessoa's oeuvre explores new sources of collective and personal cognitive evolution. Language in his oeuvre abandons its role as static archive; literary language, released from its realist task as representation of a (pre-)given world, operates under this impetus toward fresh perception: to invent sites of meaning no longer circumscribed by authorial self-reference, the pseudo-solidity of language or even that of artworks themselves. Art is seen both by Warburg and Pessoa as no longer imitating the world: it co-creates and co-founds the very production of the real. Thus, rather than representing identity as a given category of being, or as mythical blue-print for interpretation, Pessoa suggests that linguistic symbol articulates an active patterning of structured drift. Meaning emerges therefore, both for Warburg and Pessoa, as functioning without a fixed genealogy - a prefiguration of Deleuze and Guattari's exploration of the rhizome as a fundamental figure of cognition. Pessoa suggests that reader and writer embark together on a cognitive journey, profoundly altering conceptions of memory, identity and the limits of language. Language as anti-genealogy eschews the reproduction of social form and cognitive expectation, permitting language to discover meaning as a mode of futurity. The heteronymic "ghosts" express their desire to pierce the very linguistic condition of their existence: the seek meaning outside or beyond a strictly sequential history: their founding biography is essentially provisional. Aby Warburg, in turn, states that his Mnemosyne project is a "ghost story for adults" ["eine Gespenstergeschichte für ganz Erwachsene"]. The aesthetic imagination is not an entirely mimetic act nor is its critical understanding: both historian and artist participate in the imaginative act. The mythopoetic imagination thus speculates on the metahistorical unfolding of meaning: it is a founding act. The historian and the poet unite in the growth of creative, patterned growth of cultural meaning. We seek to characterize both creators' autonomous albeit related work toward an understanding of artistic perception within the ongoing unfolding of being.
Original languageUnknown
Title of host publicationQual é o tempo e o movimento de uma elipse? Estudos sobre Aby M. Warburg
EditorsAnabela Mendes, Isabel Matos Dias, José M. Justo, Peter Hanenberg
Place of PublicationLisboa
PublisherUniversidade Católica Editora
ISBN (Print)978-972-54-0348-8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012
EventAby M. Warburg, Qual é o tempo e o movimento de uma elipse? -
Duration: 1 Jan 2010 → …


ConferenceAby M. Warburg, Qual é o tempo e o movimento de uma elipse?
Period1/01/10 → …

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