Unreal Nature

November 11, 2017

Events That Play with Our Minds as a Cat with a Mouse

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… The swaying of the ship has been so violent that the best-hung lamps have finally overturned.

This is from the essay ‘The Crisis of the Mind’ (1919) found in Paul Valéry: An Anthology (1956: 1977):

We later civilizations … we too now know that we are mortal.

We had long heard tell of whole worlds that had vanished, of empires sunk without a trace, gone down with all their men and all their machines into the unexplorable depths of the centuries, with their gods and their laws, their academies and their sciences pure and applied, their grammars and their dictionaries …

… Elam, Ninevah, Babylon were but beautiful vague names, and the total ruin of those worlds had as little significance for us as their very existence. … [But] we see now that the abyss of history is deep enough to hold us all.

… It was not enough for our generation to learn from its own experience how the most beautiful things and the most ancient, the most formidable and the best ordered, can perish by accident; in the realm of thought, feeling, and common sense, we witnessed extraordinary phenomena: paradox suddenly became fact, and obvious fact brutally belied.

I shall cite but one example: the great virtues of the German peoples have begotten more evils than idleness ever bred vices. With our own eyes, we have seen conscientious labor, the most solid learning, the most serious discipline and application adapted to appalling ends.

So many horrors could not have ben possible without so many virtues.

… science is mortally wounded in its moral ambitions and, as it were, put to shame by the cruelty of its applications; idealism is barely surviving, deeply stricken, and called to account for its dreams; realism is hopeless, beaten, routed by its own crimes and errors; greed and abstinence are equally flouted; faiths are confused in their aim — cross against cross, crescent against crescent; and even the skeptics, confounded by the sudden, violent, and moving events that play with our minds as a cat with a mouse … even the skeptics lose their doubts, recover, and lose them again, no longer master of the motions of their thoughts.

The swaying of the ship has been so violent that the best-hung lamps have finally overturned.

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

-Julie

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