All-Powerful Masters

I read Valéry’s Notebooks very slowly, often just a page a day. I find myself chewing over the fragments in the notebooks. They need time to ferment. Often they serve literature’s most valued function, that of clarifying the way another person understands or observes some aspect of himself or another. Or they offer that icy cold shock that another person shares a way of encountering people or situations, those aspects of self we never voice for fear of exposure or ridicule. This fragment has me stuck in recognition and contemplation:

The strongest of my feelings is the very hatred of my feelings, those absurd, inexplicable, transcendent and all-powerful masters whose elementary force catches you sideways and dismantles the finely-tuned apparatus of precise thinking – or carries it away from its own climate and era, imposing upon it an invasive matter, or a distorting rapidity.

4 thoughts on “All-Powerful Masters

  1. The shifting sands of conviction ebb and flow in perpetual absurdity. An act of emotional self-sabotage.

  2. I am going to hazard a comment here – that may be incorrect, that may be (certainly) overgeneralizing, but reading this quote (which is extremely powerful and feels quite familiar), it strikes me that (some) women writers/philosophers are less definite about the line between emotion and “precise thinking,” or at least, less apprehensive of any blurring. That notion of invasive matter and distortion is quite a sad one, in a way – that the two modes would be so alien to each other.

    I have never read Valéry but the few times I have seen a photo of him, I am struck by how much he resembles Ramuz. And they died within a few years of each other. Can’t help wondering if they ever met.

    One of the women writers (Anna de Noailes) I am hoping to translate (she has never been) wrote three books on her reading of/thoughts on Valéry’s notebooks – I am now extremely curious to read his work and her response.

    • That is an interesting thought that feels right intuitively. Are you thinking of Virginia Woolf, or who did you have in mind? Cixous would fit your description perfectly.

      I want to read Anna de Noailles now that you’ve told me of her Valéry books, so I hope you will translate her work.

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