Unreal Nature

September 16, 2017

An Idea That Maintains Itself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… Its parts are joined by something more than the cohesion and solidity of matter.

Continuing through the essay ‘Man and the Sea Shell’ found in Paul Valéry: An Anthology (1956: 1977):

… by what sign [do] we recognize that a given object is or is not made by man?

… The problem after all is no more futile nor any more naïve than speculation about who made a certain fine work in music or poetry; whether it was born of the Muse, or sent by Fortune, or whether it was the fruit of long labor. To say that someone composed it, that his name was Mozart or Virgil, is not to say much; a statement of this sort is lifeless, for the creative spirit in us bears no name; such a remark merely eliminates from our concern all men but one, within whose inner mystery the enigma lies hidden, intact.

On the contrary I look at the object and nothing else; nothing could be more deliberately planned, or speak more harmoniously to our feeling for plastic shapes, to the instinct that makes us model with our fingers something we should delight to touch, than this calcareous jewel I am caressing, whose origins and purpose I wish for a time to disregard.

… I found this one in the sand. It attracted me because it was not a formless thing but one whose parts and aspects manifested an interrelation, a sequence and harmony as it were, that enabled me, after a single look, to conceive and foresee the aspects I had not yet examined. Its parts are joined by something more than the cohesion and solidity of matter. If I compare this thing to a stone, I find that the shell has an identity which the stone lacks.

… My observations thus far concur to make me think it would be possible to construct a shell; and that the process would be quite the same as that of making any of the objects I can produce with my hands by choosing some appropriate material, forming the design in my mind, and proceeding, part by part, to carry it out. The unity, the wholeness of the shell’s form, force me to conclude that a directing idea presides over the execution; a pre-existing idea, quite separate from the work itself, an idea that maintains itself, supervises and governs, while on the other hand and in another area it is put into execution by means of my energies successively applied. I divide myself in order to create.

Then someone made this object. But of what? And why?

To be continued.

My most recent previous post from Valéry’s book is here.

-Julie

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