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From Fernando Pessoa to Pseudonymous Identity
March 22nd, 2022

Imagine a guy who runs more than 80 Twitter accounts. Each account represents a person with a different personality, covering various content from poetry, philosophy to horoscopes and policy in different languages. Would it be possible?

Imagine that didn’t happen on Twitter but in real life. Would that sound even crazier?

Let’s hop on board a time machine, travel back to twentieth-century Lisbon and meet the guy who made that mission impossible into a mission achievable.

Fernando Pessoa, a trilingual writer, poet, translator, publisher, and philosopher, was one of the most underrated historical figures in literature. If he had Twitter, he would have the most followers in total with his 80+ pseudonyms (more accurately called heteronyms). He would update his 25,000+ manuscripts of poetry, prose, philosophy, criticism, political writings, horoscopes and various other texts in English, French and Portuguese non-stop.

Fernando Pessoa’s acquaintances described him as a delightful man, full of charm and British humour. Still, at the same time, he deliberately kept his distance from the crowd to avoid the potential interference of his daily routine. One man who knew Pessoa in later years recalled, “Never, when I bade him goodbye, did I dare to turn back and look at him; I was afraid I would see him vanish, dissolved in the air.”

Fernando Pessoa didn’t travel much in his short life, but created more than 80 heteronyms that explore the whole universe on his behalf. Pessoa explained the conceptual distinction between pseudonyms and heteronyms: the former is by the author in his own person, except in the name he signs; but the latter is outside the author’s own person with different backgrounds and personalities.

Pessoa’s famous heteronyms included Alberto Caeiro, a self-claimed the greatest poet in the world; Alvaro de Campos, a bisexual writer who has a similar style and substance to the work of Walt Whitman; Ricardo Reis, a classicist and physician whose works focus on fate and destiny. Most of his heteronyms interactions with each other, exchanging letters and literature critics. Rarely has anyone known those identities are not real until the public discovered this fact after Pessoa’s death.

As one of my favourites writer Jorge Luis Borges once said:

“There are two aesthetics: the passive aesthetics of mirror and the active aesthetics of prisms.When guided by the first, art transforms itself into an objective copy of its surroundings or of the physical history of the individual.When guided by the second, art frees itself, uses the world as its own instrument, and creates beyond any spatial and temporal prison its own personal vision.”

Pessoa was a perfect example of the second kind. He constantly examined human existence through observation and reflection, ignored the limitations of time and space, and freed himself from the prison of physical form to create something from nothingness. It sounds like a guy who lived in Metaverse rather than one hundred years ago, doesn’t it?

In The Book of Disquiet, one of the greatest works of the twentieth century, the writer Bernardo Soares (Pessoa’s semi-heteronyms of) wrote down:

“I am the outskirts of some non-existent town, the long-winded prologue to an unwritten book. I’m nobody, nobody. I don’t know how to feel or think or love. I’m a character in a novel as yet unwritten, hovering in the air and undone before I’ve even existed, amongst the dreams of someone who never quite managed to breathe life into me.”

Pessoa never bound himself with one identity, and he’d rather be nobody and live a life of obscurity. People in his generation probably had zero clue about his motivation in creating numerous identities. However, our generation has a better understanding of his pioneered pseudonymous identities. And his thought and behaviours couldn’t be more applicable in today’s media environment. Three days ago, I lost my access to Weibo with 150,000+ followers because I wrote some articles that might trigger the censorship mechanism. 

Luckily enough, I never used my real name and avatar on social media platforms, and I’ve already built my decentralised website and community in advance. Although I’ve been de-platformed by Weibo, I still feel safe and have my channel to interact with friends and readers worldwide. Moreover, my earning name (especially in web3) is not tied with my social media names, so I wouldn’t starve because of being cancelled by the most influential social network in China.

As Balaji Srinivasan mentioned, pseudonymity is where society is going. You can reboot under a new name when your statues are unfairly set to zero by the cancellation. Under the influence of Fernando Pessoa, I published hundreds of articles every year in English and Chinese. My works cover a wide range of topics, mediums and voices, which represent different masks I’m wearing on different occasions. Sometimes, I’m a marketing professional who works for a government agency; sometimes, I’m a rock n roll star who tours with music bands; sometimes, I’m a mystery writer who writes unclassifiable stories; and sometimes, I’m an enthusiastic sports fan who play Fantasy online games…

My friends like to call me chameleon because I change my identities based on the environment. David Bowie had a famous quote to reply back about this tag, “for me a chameleon is something that disguises itself to look as much like its environment as possible. I always thought I did exactly the opposite of that.” I’m not trying to disguise myself into the world (otherwise, I’ll use anonymous names) but choosing to have multiple pseudonyms/heteronyms to navigate the multiple dimensions of my life.

Balaji advocates the “Pseudonymous Economy” because financial independence is the bottom requirement for being a sovereign individual. With web3 technology, we’ll be able to move wealth and reputation into pseudonymity. While the pseudonymous identities offer self-exploration to Fernando Pessoa, it provides me with the protection to combat discrimination and cancellation and earning ability under pseudonymous identities. LFG!

P.S. Here is a video clip of how I introduced Fernando Pessoa to Balaji at his 1729 VR Lecture room haha!

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