A five-volume edition of Paul Valéry’s Cahiers/Notebooks have awaited my attention for a while now. Beyond inattentively flicking through some random entries, I have waited for some curious alignment of the planets to begin a reading adventure I’ve anticipated with excitement. I’ve allowed the books to rest, like an aged Bordeaux, after their separate journeys from Germany, but this morning I shall start.
Valéry writes, “In these pages I’m not out to enchant anyone.”
To write anything whatsoever, once this act of writing demands thought, and is not a mechanical, uninterrupted transcription of spontaneous speech, is a work of translation which can be precisely compared to one involving the transmutation of a text from one language to another.
What I always loved about Valery was his precision, his careful evaluation of statement and clarification of thought. There is an elegance in the perfect sentence. He was a master of the precise statement: mathematical and logical he formulated thoughts that could cut diamonds or melt the mind in an infinite sea of meanings. The paradox of any great writer is that his work is never finished, it is taken up time and again by those others who harbor within themselves the keys to its resilience, its affective relations.
Thank you for your comment. I’m just starting with Valéry but appreciate that precision. Your statement about a great writer never being finished is perhaps because they have few themes, but those they have are of limitless depth. Valéry: “I’m like a cow attached to a post, grazing on the same questions in the meadow of my mind for 43 years.”
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