The Anarchist Banker by Fernando Pessoa

September 2, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Anarchist Banker by Fernando Pessoa (1922) French title: Le banquier anarchiste. Translated from the Portuguese by Françoise Laye.

The Anarchist Banker by Fernando Pessoa is a novella in which a banker explains to his audience why he is a true anarchist. It has been on my TBW (To Be Written) since April. Why? Mostly because I didn’t know how to write about it. So, it’s Catch 22. I can’t write about it properly but if I don’t, I’ll break my cardinal rule which is “write about all the books you read”.

I feel that if I start allowing myself to skip a billet, other books will be left behind as well. Where does that leave me? I still can’t write a passable billet about The Anarchist Banker but I can’t procrastinate anymore.

Solution? A short cut.

Read this witty, incredible novella where a banker will demonstrate with a lot of self-assurance that he is the only genuine anarchist in the world. If anarchist banker wasn’t such an oxymoron, the reader could believe in the banker’s reasoning.

He demonstrates that anarchism is a good system but since it’s impossible to implement, in the end the only possible system is the bourgeois system.

Pessoa has a fantastic sense of humour. His tone is both light and serious, the man totally convinced by his brilliant reasoning. He’s so ridiculous in his beliefs that it enhances the comedy of situation. This is something that could have been written by a philosophe from the Age of Enlightenment, like Montesquieu.

It is also a fascinating book to read when you think about politics and politicians. It makes you realize how a politician can convince you of something, step by step. He unfolds a reasoning in which each step holds some truth, he asks you to validate each step and one step after the other, he leads you to a path you would never have followed if you’d seen the whole journey on the map right from the start. It’s subtle and frightening and we’ve all heard politicians start with an assertion you cannot refute and then build something totally fallacious from it.

That’s what could happen to the reader here if the constant irony wasn’t a lifeline that reminds you that this reasoning is flawed.

The Anarchist Banker is also a masterful demonstration of how an idea can become the roots of a dictatorship, how radical changes in a society cannot be implemented because it’s impossible to do so everywhere at the same time and successfully. So the new system must be forcefed to the population and only an authoritative system can do it.

I really can’t tell you more about The Anarchist Banker. I highly recommend it as a masterpiece of literature but also as an educational read about all those politicians who want to attract voters through simplistic thinking.

  1. September 2, 2018 at 9:31 pm

    Ooooh – I’m intrigued….. 🙂


    • September 2, 2018 at 9:32 pm

      It’s short, please read it, I’d love to read your thoughts about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. September 2, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    Rich right wingers are often libertarian – believing themselves to be beyond the rules which the rest of us must obey. Of course I can’t say if that is what the Banker is saying. Anarchists on the other hand are attempting to establish an ethical society based on mutual cooperation.


    • September 3, 2018 at 6:48 am

      I think this is more a satire than anything else.
      It’s also contemporary to the rise of Mussolini.


  3. September 2, 2018 at 10:26 pm

    Yes, this is great. Too bad it’s the only thing of its kind Pessoa wrote. He’s generally wonderful, but it would be nice if there were more short prose works.


    • September 3, 2018 at 6:48 am

      That’s why I started with this one when I wanted to read Pessoa.


  4. Vishy
    September 2, 2018 at 10:26 pm

    Beautiful, brilliant review, Emma! I didn’t know that Pessoa wrote novels too! I so want to read this! It looks like it is very relevant to our times. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    • September 3, 2018 at 6:49 am

      I don’t think this billet is brilliant but thanks anyway. 😋
      I really recommend it, it’s an incredible read.


      • Vishy
        September 3, 2018 at 10:16 pm

        I loved your billet, Emma 🙂 I will look forward to reading this book. It looks so fascinating and relevant to our times.


        • September 5, 2018 at 6:43 am

          Thanks. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts.


  5. September 3, 2018 at 3:46 am

    I’ve read what is considered Fernando Pessoa’s major masterpiece, ‘The Book of Disquiet’; which I consider a tremendous work. I thought that was the only fiction he wrote as he was mostly a poet. So I am happy to hear that he also had this novella ‘The Anarchist Banker’ which automatically goes near the top of my reading list.
    Pessoa is also a very accessible poet, and I’ve enjoyed his poems too.


    • September 3, 2018 at 6:52 am

      I wasn’t brave enough to read The Book of Disquiet so I settled for this one.
      I have some of his poems.
      If you read this thanks to this Billet then it was worth writing and sticking to the rule!


  6. September 3, 2018 at 4:24 am

    Pessoa also wrote some detective stories, a thick book’s worth, but those are not in English yet. Some have been translated into French as L’affaire Vargas. Not sure if they are any good, but they exist.


    • September 3, 2018 at 6:53 am

      Great, I’ll look for L’affaire Vargas.

      Now I wonder if Fred Vargas picked her nom de plume in Pessoa.


      • September 3, 2018 at 7:12 am

        Wikipedia says Fred got her name from a character played by Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa, a movie I do not know.


        • September 3, 2018 at 8:48 pm

          Too bad, I would have liked it to come from Pessoa. Expecially since she wrote an essay called Critique de l’anxiété pure. If that’s not Disquiet what is?


  7. September 3, 2018 at 5:24 am

    Yes, I’m like Vishy, I thought Pessoa only wrote poetry. Onto the wishlist it goes!


    • September 3, 2018 at 6:55 am

      Three potential readers for this book after this billet, it was worth writing it! Even if I didn’t know how to write about it.
      I think you’ll like it and I’m looking forward to reading articulate reviews about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. September 3, 2018 at 7:56 pm

    Sounds like an interesting book. I tried watching the film The Anarchist’s wife and gave up. Perhaps I was wrong, but these people were living so well, I couldn’t take it seriously.


    • September 3, 2018 at 8:51 pm

      It is a very interesting and very funny book. I think you’d appreciate its irony. Its intellectual dishonesty is such that this banker is an incredible unreliable narrator.

      And it’s short.


  9. September 5, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    Je suis dans la même position ….. Cet été plusieurs chronicles à écrire ….. Et rien. Impossible d’accoucher d’une seule chronique. Procrastination quand tu nous tient
    I’ll try to find a short cut.


    • September 5, 2018 at 8:57 pm

      Il m’en reste encore trois.
      Mais puisque celle-ci a permis à d’autres lecteurs de découvrir ce Pessoa, ça valait le coup d’écrire quelque chose, même si c’était de mauvaise qualité. (on se console comme on peut)

      Liked by 1 person

      • September 6, 2018 at 2:51 pm

        Mais non, la qualité est là : elle a déclenchée une envie de lire Pessoa, et pour moi une envie de sortir de mon retard. C’est TOP

        Liked by 1 person

  10. September 7, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    That really does sound excellent, and a lot of fun. I’ll check it out.

    Great title too.


    • September 7, 2018 at 5:52 pm

      Well, I would check it out, but I’m not sure there’s a standalone English language version of it.


      • September 8, 2018 at 10:10 pm

        Lucky you and what a coincidence!

        According to Amazon UK, you can pre-order The Anarchist Banker. It will be released on October 1st.


    • September 7, 2018 at 7:47 pm

      I read the story in Always Astonished: Selected Prose, which still seems to be an acquirable book. It is filled with many interesting things, although no more stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. September 12, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    This sounds great, but I too thought Pessoa was mainly a poet. I have the same cardinal rule as you, Emma, but some books really are hard to write about, aren’t they?


    • September 14, 2018 at 8:48 pm

      I find that books that develop a certain reasoning (essays or fictional essays like this) are difficult to write about. It’s difficult to avoid paraphrasing the author and at the same time, you need to give information about what the book is about.


  1. January 6, 2019 at 11:06 pm

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