After reading Elizabeth Sewell’s Valéry, reading one of Valéry’s essays, which Sewell writes of so lucidly, was inevitable. With its uncompelling title, an allusion to Descartes, despite Sewell’s preparation, I was ill prepared for its fireworks.
Since mind has found no limit to its activity, and since no idea marks the end of the business of consciousness, it must most likely perish in some incomprehensible climax foreshadowed and prayed by those terrors and odd sensations of which I have spoken; they give us glimpses of worlds that are unstable and incompatible with fullness of life: inhuman worlds, feeble worlds, worlds comparable to those that the mathematician calls forth when he plays with axioms, the physicist when he postulates constants, other than those admitted. Between the clarity of life and the simplicity of death, dreams, anxieties, ecstasies, all the semi-impossible values and transcendental or irrational solutions into the equation of knowledge, all these form curious stages, variations, phases that it is beyond words to describe—for there are no names for those things amongst which one is completely alone.
Paul Valéry, Introduction to the Method of Leonardo Da Vinci