Saturday, February 26, 2011

Poetry and Paul Valery

"Did Racine know where that inimitable voice of his came from, that delicate tracery of the inflection, that transparency of the dialogue, all the things that make him Racine, and without which he would be reduced to that not very considerable personage about whom the biographies tell us a great many things which he had in common with ten thousand other Frenchmen? The so-called lessons of literary history have little bearing on the arcana of the making of poems. Everything happens in the artist's inner sanctuary, as though the visible events of his life his life had only a superficial influence on his work. The thing that is most important—the very act of the muses—is independent of adventures, the poet's way of life, incidents, and everything that might figure in a biography. Everything that history is able to observe is insignificant.

"What is essential to the work is all the indefinable circumstances, the occult encounters, the facts that are apparent to one person alone, or so familiar to that one person that he is not even aware of them. One knows from one's own experience that these incessant and impalpable events are the solid matter of one's personality.

"All these people who create, half certain, half uncertain of their powers, feel two beings in them, one known and the other unknown, whose incessant intercourse and unexpected exchanges give birth in the end to a certain product. I do not know what I am going to do; yet my mind believes it knows itself; and I build on that knowledge, I count on it, it is what I call Myself. But I shall surprise myself; if I doubted it I should be nothing. I know that I shall be astonished by a certain thought that is going to come to me before long—and yet I ask myself for this surprise, I build on it and count on it as I count on my certainty. I hope for something unexpected which I designate. I need both my known and my unknown.

"How then are we to conceive the creator of a great work? But he is absolutely no one. How define the Self if it changes opinion and sides so often in the course of my work that the work is distorted under my hands; if each correction can bring about immense modifications; and if a thousand accidents of memory, attention, sensation that cross my mind appear, finally, in my finished work to be the essential ideas and original objects of my endeavors? And yet it is all certainly a part of me, since my weaknesses, my strength, my lazy repetitions, my manias, my darkness and my light, can aways be recognized in everything that falls from my hands.

"And so, let us give up hope of ever seeing clearly in these matters, and comfort ourselves with an image. I imagine this poet with a mind full of resource and ruse, dissembling sleep in the imaginary center of his still uncreated work, waiting to seize the moment of his power which is his prey. In the  vague depths of his eyes, all the forces of his desire and the springs of his instinct are stretched taut. There, intent on the hazards from which she chooses her nourishment, very shadowy there, in the midst of the webs and secret harps that she has made out of language—those interweaving threads, those vaguely and endlessly vibrating strings—a mysterious Arachne, huntress muse, keeps watch."

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