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French Thought


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



The Cahiers/Notebooks of Paul Valéry are a unique form of writing. They reveal Valéry as one of the most radical and creative minds of the twentieth century, encompassing a wide range of investigation into all spheres of human activity. His work explores the arts, the sciences, philosophy, history and politics, investigating linguistic, psychological and social issues, all linked to the central questions, relentlessly posed: 'what is the human mind and how does it work?’, 'what is the potential of thought and what are its limits?' But we encounter here too, Valéry the writer: exploratory, fragmentary texts undermine the boundaries between analysis and creativity, between theory and practice. Neither journal nor diary, eluding the traditional genres of writing, the Notebooks offer lyrical passages, writing of extreme beauty, prose poems of extraordinary descriptive power alongside theoretical considerations of poetics, ironic aphorisms and the mast abstract kind of analysis. The concerns and the insights that occupied Valéry's inner voyages over more than 50 years remain as relevant as ever for the contemporary reader: for the Self that is his principal subject is at once singular and universal.

Cahiers: Notebooks (Volume 1) by Paul Valéry, chief editor and translations by Brian Stimpson, translations by Paul Gifford, Sian Miles, and Robert Pickering (Peter Lang)


Volume 1 introduces the enterprise of the Notebooks in its rigorously intellectual but also personal and affective dimension. Valéry's deep understanding of, and pertinence to, the limits of autobiographical presentation, which prefigure the most modem literary developments in this field, are here addressed. Writing is at once a form of ruthlessly honest self‑examination and a process of sublimation and self‑censorship. The quest for intellectual mastery through a highly complex system of mental training and conditioning is seen in the dynamic relation between the inner self and the external world. But at the same time the personal/existential dimension of Valéry's analysis of the self is reflected in the permanent and tragic struggle with the force of his own emotions. The acuity and intensity of the experience of love is paralleled by the sharpest edges of self-awareness in the quest for communion with the other.

Cahiers: Notebooks (Volume 2) by Paul Valéry, chief editor and translations by Brian Stimpson, translations by Rachel Killick, Robert Pickering, Norma Rinsler, Stephen Romer, and Brian Stimpson (Peter Lang)


Volume 2 focuses upon the cultural, literary and artistic dimension of the writing, both as creative, lyrical inventiveness and as reflection upon the processes involved. Here we encounter the aesthetic function, as scriptural activity, perceiving eye, listening ear explore this domain via an inner self‑language surpassing the limits of genre or school. 'the great importance of his aesthetic insights reveals Valéry's status as a forerunner of the most modem artistic concepts, prefiguring critical movements and approaches to creativity decades before their subsequent realization. The Notebooks are seen as a field of continuous literary creativity and graphic experimentation in a context of untrammeled personal freedom, favoring the constitution of a very little known corpus of creative writing ‑ notably the prose poems and the micro‑fictions. This approach to the search for meaning is a dynamic process of constant generative power, which situates the Notebooks at the heart of the 20th century concept of the 'work in progress' and invites comparison with such exemplary exponents as Proust and Musil. 

Cahiers: Notebooks (Volume 3) by Paul Valéry, chief editor and translations by Brian Stimpson, translations by Paul Gifford, Norm Rinsler, Stephen Romer, Brian Stimpson  (Peter Lang)


The understanding of mind is explored in volume 3 as linked indissolubly to a deepening reflection of the self's sensory and emotional responses and its link to its own past through the working of memory processes. Valéry's lifelong analytic fascination with dreams and dreaming runs parallel to that of Surrealism, which he fundamentally mistrusted, and of the development in France of Freud's insights, which he knew only at second hand, and often refuted violently. Yet Valéry is often closer than he thinks to the psychoanalytical explorations of the unconscious pursued by Freud and Lacan; and their insights in turn offer a fascinating counterpoint to his reworkings as thinker and as poet of the world of dream. This reflection differs greatly from the traditional view of Valéry as irrevocably asserting the primacy of the mind over the body and its responses; analysis of the functioning of the mind includes both its conscious and unconscious reflexes ‑ dream and imagination.  

Cahiers: Notebooks (Volume 4) by Paul Valéry, chief editor and translations by Brian Stimpson, translations by Paul Gifford, Norm Rinsler, Stephen Romer, Brian Stimpson  (Peter Lang)


Fully reflective of some of the most exciting scientific discoveries of the twentieth century, volume 4 reveals Valéry as an important scientific thinker and epistemologist, engaged not only with issues of the internal mental world but with the external dimension of the Body‑Mind‑World coupling. His reflections upon language date from the earliest period when he sought a language freed from its arbitrary association with reality and capable of expressing pure analytical functions, his 'Arithmeticales Universals' or algebra of the mind. The notes offer an extraordinarily rich perspective on key areas of scientific progress: modern mathematics, atomic and quantum physics, relativity, the uncertainty principle, space‑time interrelationships. But man is seen too as an organism living in an often difficult relationship with his environment. The contribution of the Notebooks to the wider contexts of historical and socio­political problems is fundamental: not only a probing analyst of political power and action, Valéry here emerges as a radical educationalist and as a social scientist concerned with the betterment of society, including on the international level.

Cahiers: Notebooks (Volume 5) by Paul Valéry, chief editor and translations by Brian Stimpson, translations by Paul Gifford, Norm Rinsler, Stephen Romer, Brian Stimpson  (Peter Lang)


Volume 5 addresses some of the most abstract issues in Valéry's project to 'make his mind' while linking back to many of the questions tackled in previous volumes. The 'System' is a theoretical extrapolation of the intensely personal experiences of the self. His attack on the intellectual patterns of traditional philosophy is linguistically motivated, and the creation of a whole new philosophical basis to experience is presented as a reinvigoration and revision of the way language relates to the world. New material included in this volume reveals a more positive approach to philosophy, and links emerge with the Vienna School, as well as the striking overlap with Wittgenstein. This volume demonstrates the importance of the dovetailing and unifying thrust towards the unknown of the self s affective, existential nature. The systematic rethinking of all theological discourses inherited from the European past reveals a search for a new spiritual identity and a radical reconfiguration of the notion of the 'divine' as a natural and necessary category of the mind. The supreme importance of a certain mystical resonance in Valéry, expressed in some of his most magnificent writing, complements the more scientific nature of volume 4, while leading us back to volume 1 through rich echoes with key themes of EROS.

Cahiers: Notebooks  (Volumes 1-5 set) by Paul Valéry, chief editor and translations by Brian Stimpson,  Paul Gifford, Norm Rinsler, Stephen Romer  (Peter Lang) the set of 5 volumes in English.

Now we review the contents of each volume in some detail.

Valéry's Notebooks are one of the most remarkable and original works in twentieth‑century thought and writing. The excitement with which they have been received in countries as far apart in distance or cultural tradition as Japan, the United States, Brazil, Australia and Israel, or, in the European orbit, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Bulgaria, has been extraordinary. Just as remarkable has been the attention given to the Notebooks by the media (press, radio and television) in many different countries, as well as the award of special prizes (including the prestigious National Translation Prize in Japan and the coveted Paul Celan prize for 'translation of a masterpiece' in Germany).

When Valéry was close to death, he wrote movingly that he was 'sure of (the) value' of this gigantic sum of reflections accumulated over a lifetime and of itWs 'importance'. Certainly their publication in the 29 large and magnificent volumes reproduced in facsimile by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique confirm their unique standing. Since then, they have opened up whole new vistas of research to countless scholars in a variety of disciplines, subject only to the constraint of access; which is why, across the world, the interest generated has been strikingly intensified wherever translation has made them available to a wider public.

Valéry's overriding passion was to examine, not so much the nature (too metaphysical a term for his taste), as the functioning of the human mind in all its 'phases', as it moves, for instance, through the daily cycle of sleeping, dreaming and waking. The Notebooks chart these minutely analysed moments, as Valéry himself woke each dawn, returning to lucidity, coordination and control, attacking the mental problems of the moment or the day, feeling again their own particularities and specific characteristics. Here especially we encounter that highly‑charged word 'f, common denominator of all the phases and employed with all its possible complementary verbs: 'I feet, 'I see', 'I hear', 'I touch', 'I look', 'I fear', 'I tremble', etc., and then, at a higher mental level: 'I think', 'I disagree', 'I do believe it', 'I hope', 'I want', 'I wonder', 'I've decided', 'I'm sure', and so on, until we reach the highest levels of all, which are superimposed levels of consciousness, as in the line from 'Le Cimetiere marin':

O pour moi seul, a moi seul, en moi‑meme...
Oh just for me, for me alone, within myself...

or, even more strikingly, in La Jeune Parque:

Je me voyais me voir, sinueuse, et dorais
De regards en regards, mes profondes forets

I saw myself seeing myself, sinuous, and
From gaze to gaze gilded my innermost forests

As Valéry realised when very young, there is a direct correlation between each of these affirmations and the activation of complex neuronal networks in the brain: this highly evolved, self‑organizing biological process, involving as well the operation of intricate feedback mechanisms, has become one of the chief areas of research in the neurosciences in the second half of the twentieth century.

The apparently simple statements or proclamations above remind us that every one of them, preceded by the pronoun T, implies not only thought, but also will, emotion, intention or desire. And the Notebooks are full of desire: the mind's desire, in Valéry's case, was a burning desire ‑ as strong as the need to assuage hunger or thirst ‑ to understand its own hidden functioning, its own ultimate goals, the 'LAST POINT' to which it is capable of leading us. The whole of Valéry's adult life, looked at in its overall design, is made up of an active, unremitting urge to address such issues.

The Notebooks can, in fact, be perceived as an infinite succession of attempts to analyze, experiment with, and theorize all the questions raised by the mind's reflections upon itself, always with the greatest possible scientific rigour, which involved the search for the most appropriate models and theories, and the most effective ways of testing them. In this respect Valéry was vastly ahead of his time, when excellent researchers were convinced either that 'man will never be able to define the mind' or that the only way of beginning to understand it was by studying its normal or pathological manifestations. Very rare indeed were the men who dared, as Valéry did, to treat the mind as the functioning of a single, psycho‑physiological organism, as a coherent living whole.

The Notebooks indeed emerge as precursors of modern neurobiology as a result of the relationship, which is constantly stressed, between 'Corps', 'Esprit' and 'Monde, Body, Mind and World. These are not distinctions which make any concession to dualism; on the contrary, by distinguishing between Body and Mind, Valéry is drawing attention to the difference in function or degree between bodily and mental activities, to the fact that without the body there would simply be no birth and no death, no human thoughts, acts, memories or emotions. It also serves as a benchmark or reference point, enabling us to judge the veracity of external objects or events; it permits us to translate into our internal human scale the minute, invisible movements of its component elements or the constant molecular activity which takes place within it, maintaining it (and therefore us) in a state of equilibrium, but also of healthy growth.

These same distinctions permit the famous statement: 'The mind is a moment in the response of the body to the world', This key sentence stresses the inseparability and interpenetration of these three ever‑present variables, body, brain and environment. The result may be physical, chemical, biological or neuronal, or any combination of these different partners, collaborating in the maintenance, development and extension of human 'reality' as experienced by us all. As Valéry points out, the body is what we often tend to cling to because it is both immediately visible and tangible. The mind ‑ as a capacity to think, feel and react‑is what the brain 'makes' or 'extracts' from the internal states of our body, and it thus plays a particular integrative role.

That all these processes are possible only because of the production and transmission of energy, Valéry never doubts. Sometimes he calls it 'electrochemical' or conceives of it in 'thermodynamic' terms; specialists of the brain and the nervous system now call it 'neuronal'. But his recognition of the inseparability of these processes is in complete accord with the most important current research in this field.

The Notebooks, however, take us much further than this discovery of all the concepts and methods that Valéry had come to master. They open up to us a most extraordinary reading experience, left completely open to each individual's initiative. In this edition a deliberate decision, of which I fully approve, has been made to reorder several of Valéry's chapters in comparison with my original edition in the 'Bibliotheque de la Pleiade', thereby establishing a new configuration that is both valuable and stimulating. Like all truly great minds, Valéry's was very open, and this is indeed reflected in his own projected classification. He spent much of his adult life hesitating as to how to organize the Notebooks (or not organize them, depending on the mood of the day, or the period of his life); he experimented with different sequences, designing different 'architectures of the mind', structuring and unstructuring, in search of a model that would encourage a diversity of pathways and itineraries through the Notebooks, hence a multiplicity of readings.

With Valéry's thought, everything is possible, and there are as many ways of reading as there are readers. His thinking operates within a constant tension between synthesis and sequence, continuity and discontinuity, the self‑negating dynamic being one of the main distinguishing features of his supreme form of self‑consciousness. An idea that prompts total admiration one day may arouse disagreement, either in part or in whole, the next day, only to be followed later by a return, perhaps from a different angle of vision. The reader's attention espouses the rhythms of Valéry's own and participates in the creative energy of his thinking. In these infinitely rich and profound texts we experience things that are found in no other author in quite the same way: the sensation of exploring, in the immediacy of the first person, the functioning and space of a remarkable mind; we marvel at its rigour, its sweep, its creativity, its touching need to comprehend even the most dauntingly complex phenomena, its unswerving determination not to give in. And it does not give in, except at the very end, before the terrible onslaughts of 'my heart. It triumphs. Stronger than anything, than mind, than organism. ‑ That is the fact of the matter... The most obscure of facts. Stronger than the desire to live and the ability to understand is after all this damn, sacred ‑ H ‑ ' (AFFECTIVITY, XXIX, 908‑909).

These words, written in the final pages of the Notebooks, with their tremendous charge of understated pathos and even tragedy, bring Valéry even closer to us, in admiring and sympathetic warmth. Rarely in the history of European literature has the intimacy between reader and writer been more searching. And, just us rarely has it helped readers the world over to believe in the potential for thought latent within them, to discover with delight and astonishment a sense of their own human possibility, creativity and worth. There is no greater gift that a writer can offer to his readers.

The Cahiers/Notebooks of Paul Valéry are a quite unique form of writing: unparalleled in scope and form, vertiginous in their sheer volume as in their abrupt shifts of focus between a relentless probing into the innermost recesses of the mind and a vast, overarching interrogation of the human enterprise. They fit none of the pre‑established forms or genres of writing: neither literature nor philosophy, neither autobiography nor preparatory workbook, neither scientific paper nor political statement, neither reading notes, poetic manuscript nor sketchbook ‑ and yet at the same time all of these things, and more.

For Valéry takes us at once behind and beyond the public forms of expression; we move into the realm where the mind engages with its own processes and where the functions, the operations, the assumptions, the aspirations that drive all these different manifestations of human activity may be observed, analysed, decomposed and launched anew. It is a realm of interconnectedness, where the barriers between discrete areas of knowledge are broken down in the search for the underlying forms of operation, where schematic divisions between analysis and creativity, between theory and practice, between art and science are systematically undermined. Labels of 'classicism' or 'modernity', classifications in schools of thought or cultural clans are irrelevant when the purpose is a radical redefinition of terms, a refocusing of attention and an exploration of the continuity located across these boundaries.

The lifelong quest of Valéry was to explore this terrain and understand its functioning in terms of the inner dynamics of the Self: a quest to fathom the inner cosmos of the mind, as closer and more unknown than the cosmic universe to which it is often seen as analogous and even reciprocal. During the early 1890s, when he was ambitious but lacking direction, at once inspired and cast down by the achievements of Mallarme, Poe and Wagner, pursued by all manner of pressures and anxieties ‑ by the emotional turmoil of illusory love, the impossibility of rivaling artistic idols, the disappointments of personal life ‑, then it was that the young Valéry conceived his vast project to understand the world by means of understanding himself looking within in order to look without. But this was no introspective, self contemplating gaze. By scrutinizing the inner structures and workings of the self, and by employing the most advanced tools of scientific analysis, he might, so he hoped, at once free himself from the tyranny of ideas and emotions and formulate a unitary, mathematically expressed model of mental functioning, a rigorous, comprehensive understanding of the mind and its products. 'Other people write books. I am making my mind', he noted at an early age (EGO, II, 840). Much later in the mid-1930s he notes with evident appreciation this phrase of Bergson's, this 'honorable line' that he will retain as a motto: 'What Valéry has done, had to be attempted' (EGO, XVII, 792).

If the early hopes for a systematic formulation of the whole were to become attenuated, the quest remains a driving principle and offers above all a way of looking, a practical and personal method whose richness lies in the very breadth of its applicability, an approach whose strength is located precisely in the diversity of areas that may be subjected to the analytical gaze. 'No‑one has stood back from everything and everyone more than I have. I'd like to turn them all into a spectacle ‑ and rid myself of everything except my way of looking' (EGO, IV, 248). It is above all, Valéry's foregrounding of the dynamic between a perceiving subject and all that it perceives, that makes his notion of 'le Moi' so crucial and so original. For him, the observing (and self‑observing) consciousness of the subject is the integrating factor in the triadic equation of 'Body‑MindWorld', constantly responding to the exigencies and stimuli of the body and the world, while simultaneouly projecting its own modes of perception.

The objective is that of exploring, elucidating and mastering the functioning of the human psyche, in so far as it knowable to subject consciousness and may be plotted on to the threefold axis. The galvanizing challenge is Monsieur Teste's radically simple question, assumed very concretely, in fullest analytical rigour and unblinking lucidity: what is the cognitive, creative and spiritual reach of the human mind? The Notebooks are, first and foremost, the locus, the mirror and the graphic trace of the fundamental awakening occasioned by the question of human potential or possibility:

My two questions: What is a man capable of?

How does that 'work'? (EGO, XI, 558.)

Such is the project which the Notebooks reveal to us, a novel regime of writing and a strikingly singular practice of thought. For over 50 years, Valéry rose at the crack of dawn, refreshed in mental powers and driven from his bed by 'the vipers' whip of ideas'. With only coffee and cigarettes for company ‑ but the renewal of the physical world at dawn is the increasingly present frame of reference also ‑ he would spend the undisturbed interval 'between the lamp and the sun' writing his experimental analyses in the exercise books, jotters and registers which by the time of his death number 260: such are his 'scales in thought' (GLADIATOR, V, 777), his daily mental gymnastics (THE NOTEBOOKS XVI, 793). Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Valéry quotes with feeling the boutade of the 17th century French Jesuit Fr Hardouin: 'Do you suppose I would have spent my life getting up at 3 AM in order to think like everyone else? ‑' (EGO, XXVI, 483).

The Notebooks are the nearest modern equivalent of the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, which Valéry had consulted in the Bibliotheque Nationale in 1894: notes, sketches, illustrations, fragmentary ideas, passages rarely morethan a page in length covering every conceivable subject: physical and mathematical models of the human mind; language, poetics, dreams, emotions, science, ethics, education, politics, power, the future of Europe. Lyrical passages, writing of extreme beauty and sensitivity, prose poems of extraordinary descriptive power run alongside humorous aphorisms and the most abstract kind of analysis possible.

But if the 'infinite auto-discussion' encompasses an astonishing diversity of subjects, the myriad, fragmentary pulses of self‑dictated thought all however constitute a single 'essay' directed towards the 'theory of oneself. All look towards the tempting but infinitely elusive theoria (or unitary overview) of the human subject exactly recognized and explored in its psychic functioning, resources and powers.


If the Notebooks are not a journal or a diary, nor an explicit record of what he read, for whom and for what purpose was he writing? We must try to imagine the thinking‑writing processes that rule over his silent morning 'aubades' ‑and can only image them, because however close the manuscripts may bring us to the workings of his mind, we can never fully participate in the inner process of which the traces on the page are themselves already a translation.

How exactly did he write? How much did he write in any given period? Why is it that one particular note is placed after another? What are the principles of continuity and discontinuity? What is the relationship between repetition and renewal? These are complex questions that even an intimate knowledge of the Notebooks cannot resolve with complete satisfaction and for which there cannot be a single answer. There are a number of different regimes of writing, some contradictory, some complementary.

It is clear, firstly, that much of the morning time is spent in reading, in rereading his previous notes and in reflection and meditation; the notes we are now able to read, however provisional and incomplete in their formulation, are as much the end‑result of that process as the launching‑point. The intertextual references are there, the books read, the ideas of other people, the personal experiences, all lie implicitly behind the writing, at a latent level, at a prior moment; but these are used as grist for his internal mind‑processing; the lived experience, the reality of the bodily or emotional response has been reflected upon, abstracted into a more general set of functions and by the time that he comes to the act of writing, the incident, the memory, the other text read has faded behind the present mental act. Valéry's instinctive mental reaction is one of appropriation ‑ no matter whether from others or from other moments of his self‑ in order to serve the immediacy of thought in action.

Secondly, we can observe a process of invention on the page, which is not so much one of 'inspiration' as of spontaneous discovery in the act of writing itself, in response to graphic, physical, visual events; the writing advances from one moment to the next, a perpetually unfolding text, as the thinking modulates with every scriptural gesture. The characteristic rhythm of thought and writing is one of absolute provisionality: fragmentary, open, rebounding, superficially repetitious, but profoundly progressive (like much 'scientific' research). The same problems, regularly resurgent, are forever reformulated and reviewed, giving wider associations, sharper definition, renewed perspectives and contexts of significance. The act of writing itself solicits methodically what Valéry calls the 'implex', that is the energetic, transformative capacity for association and analogy which represents the unknown and unmastered potential of the mind.

There can be no doubt that the primary compulsion to write was an inner one, noticeable in the extreme discomfort occasioned by any circumstances which deprived him of the possibility of doing so. The writing was, he said, 'a vice', 'a necessity', 'as strange, imperious and unconsidered as tobacco' (THE NOTEBOOKS, XXV, 552), while the ideal reader addressed directly or indirectly by the explicit or implicit first person is none other than himself, ideal interlocutor and adversary. The Notebooks occupy, then, the space of an inner dialogue with the self, singularly tracing a kind of inner speech in written form: the writingT tests its ideas against a register of voice; the scriptural presence not only observes its own operations but at times, literally, draws itself, its own portrait.


The question of the possible publication of the Cahiers was always ambiguous in Valéry's own mind. There was a continual unresolved tension in him between publishing and not publishing, not only because the primary purpose of the writing was self‑exploratory and self‑directed, but because the question of the organization of the material presented intractable difficulties. Even the early note 'To be published, some day, this research..' (THE NOTEBOOKS, I, 276) is guarded in formulation and is more an imaginative projection than a determined project. It is true, nevertheless, that at various stages of his life Valéry began to order and classify his work, either by thematic indices or by marking texts of related content with systems of symbols; these served to map the connections of his thought and to indicate potential forms of classification.

In the early years he had the dual advantage of a determined belief in the elaboration of the 'System' along with a relatively limited amount of material. The first attempt at grouping the notes was made in 1898, when they were contained in approximately 15 small exercise books (equivalent to approximately half of one of the volumes in the C.N.R.S. edition); it consists of a list of key words, of cross‑references and an analytical index of terms. Ten years later things were already different: there were close to 45 notebooks and the project itself was taking a different shape and purpose. Valéry spent considerable time copying by hand passages from the notebooks on to individual sheets of

paper, grouping them under different headings and, characteristically, adding developments in the process. Some were then subsequently typed using the recently purchased typewriter and classified, as he explained to his friend Andre Lebey in a letter of June 1908:

I distribute [the pages] among a dozen red or yellow folders [...] with penciled titles such as 'Memory', 'Attention' or 'Dream' etc. A very simplistic division, but provisionally useful.

What I especially enjoy about this, is having the folders.

[...j it gives me the illusion of writing a book (and it's not even a table of contents). I act as though there's some order in all my confusion, at the cost of a few pence for colored paper. (LQ, 83‑84.)

About one thousand separate notes were classified in this way. It is noticeable that the categories and headings given to the pages are highly abstract and theoretical; they are still dominated by mathematical and physical terminology 'Notion of operations', 'Invariance of elements', 'Groups', 'Phases' ‑ while the major headings addressing topics such as Affectivity, or the reality of the human body are not yet in evidence.

In 1921 a renewed, more systematic classification was begun, carried out until Valéry's death in 1945 by a succession of dedicated collaborators, among whom Mme Lucienne Cain, the wife of the Director‑General of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. But at the same time the rhythm of writing was increasing exponentially: the notes written by 1920, after a little more than twenty‑five years of work, now occupy seven volumes of the C.N.R.S. edition, whereas in the following twenty‑five years more than three times as much was to be written.' The mass of papers was alarming and Valéry admits to feeling 'paralyzed' by the sheer quantity. Indeed, by the end there were tens of thousands of pages. The notes from the Cahiers were transcribed in duplicate and classified according to headings and titles indicated by Valéry, often with additional annotations. From the 1930s on, the problems of space within the apartment were resolved when two studios were successively made available to him so that he could spread the material out on long tables and classify the dossiers in pigeonholes.

The organization of this second classification was broader than the first, enriched with sections on language, on emotions, on religious faith, on artistic, scientific, literary, historico‑political matters; these thirty‑one headings are those adopted by Judith Robinson‑Valéry in the choice of texts from the Cahiers edited in the 'Pleiade' series, as in the current edition. 3 Within these principal sections Valéry identifies 215 sub‑headings and key‑words which are frequently appended to the notes and provide a system of cross‑referencing; among them: Self The 3 laws; Inner speech; Myth; the symbols for the mental and the physical. Many of these sub‑headings are coded with an abbreviation and a full list of these is to be found at the end of this Introduction.

Valéry gave considerable attention to the placing of notes within each of the headings, the abbreviations indicating that several possibilities are sometimes envisaged and, very occasionally, one finds the same note recurring under two different headings. The groups of notes under any one rubric thus function in a web of interconnections with other notes, while having sufficient internal coherence as an autonomous subject of enquiry. We have accordingly elected to refer to the set of notes grouped under each rubric as a 'chapter'.

It is significant that while the placing of the notes was carefully and systematically approached, Valéry left no precise indication of the preferred order of the rubrics in relation to each other, appearing to juggle with several possibilities around certain thematic groupings. The hesitation in the face of the construction of such a vast mental edifice is inherent in the project itself for the problem he faced was one of balancing the openness and interconnectedness of the work, with a single system of organization when several are possible and none can be comprehensive. The present edition proposes a modification to the grouping of chapters as presented in the 'Pleiade' edition, respecting the affinities between certain related chapters (between the groups of artistic chapters or the scientific ones for example), while regrouping them as a whole into five thematic volumes. As a result, new resonances arise; fresh perspectives are opened up, which are completely in tune with the original.


To write anything whatsoever, once this act of writing demands thought, and is not a mechanical, uninterrupted transcription of spontaneous inner speech, is a work of translation which can be precisely compared to one involving the transmutation of a text from one language to another (CE, 1, 211).

Thus Valéry broaches the question of translation in relation to his own French version of Vergil's Bucolic. Given a text which is not purely instrumental, but which contains a certain degree of thought and a certain care in the form of expression, any act of writing is for Valéry an act of translation, a passage from a virtual state to an actual state of language; Valéry show us that the formation of thought itself is a translation‑like process. Equally, any act of translation, or indeed even of reading, involves a re‑writing of the text for oneself, a capture of the process of its generation in which one retraces the steps of the author, goes back to 'the virtual period of its formation' before proceeding down again from this 'living imaginary state' to a 'resolution in a work written in a language different from the original' (Ibid., 215‑216). Such a 'genetic' vision of translation, in which the text translates the translator, sets a high ideal, but it serves as a useful pointer for the translator of the Cahiers and relates closely to the nature of the writing process [pp. 13‑14 above]. For, whatever the individual difficulties of translating the Cahiers into one language as opposed to another, there is no doubt that the principal difficulty in all cases, is in retracing the steps of the writer to a point of inner mental reflection, of silent speech with self from which the particular text could have been produced. The passage inscribed in the Cahiers is the living vestige of that reflection, that moment, that lyrical gaze... The hand ‑ in the sense of the handwriting ‑ of these pages, is a trace of the voice of the mind, as it explores, defines, hesitates, qualifies, deviates, rushes ahead or comes to a halt. There is a quality of rhythm, pace, breath and shape that is as much vocal as written, as much aural as visual.

These are features of the language that are distinctive in the original French, and characterize modes of expression that are not the same as the formally written prose of the published works. The translation into English has sought to retain as much as possible of this distinctive quality; as a result it remains close to the original both in terms of lexis and syntax, maintaining the concision and immediacy of expression, and, where appropriate, the lightness of tone, the brevity and contractions that characterize oral language, in order to convey the quality of thinking‑speech. But, of course, there are differences of tone too, both within chapters and between them, ranging from the brief aphorism, the flippant remark, to the sustained rigorous analysis and moments of lyrical flight. Valéry's syntax and punctuation have been respected as far as possible because they are inherent in the rhythm of his thinking, which can be sustained over long passages while prolongations of an idea or distinctions or examples are explored.

There is no doubt that one can sometimes encounter a concentration and an intricacy of thought, but this is a consequence of the complexity and sheer scope of the thinking, the exploits of the highly developed mental athlete; yet despite the occasional difficulty, like the virtuoso of GLADIATOR, there is no superfluity, rather, a total economy of movement which gives the utmost clarity to the expression. Normalization of syntax or exegetical translation has therefore been used very sparingly, and any necessary explanation provided in the endnotes.

The difficulties arising from the lack of exactly coinciding equivalents at the level of lexis are particularly acute with Valéry, because he had himself, within French, sought to build his own 'self‑language'. As in the original the semantic field of certain concepts is not necessarily circumscribed in one 'perfect' definition, but through an accumulation, a persistence, a shading and ‑ as in language itself ‑ through a process of differentiation from other concepts. The words he uses are not in themselves particularly uncommon (and any specialized terminology or specific references are clarified in the notes), but they become highly charged in meaning, polysemically resonant; 'pouvoir' as a noun, for example, can signify political power, potential, capacity, enabling, potential for power, empowerment, sometimes all at once. Though there is a certain consistent range of terms and concepts, as will be seen from the index, the difficulties of vocabulary cannot be resolved by adopting a homogeneity of English terminology. As Valéry states, words mean what they do only according to the context where they occur; they have no autonomous life or connection with reality and to believe otherwise is to fall prey to fiduciary myths (as he makes clear in the chapter HISTORY­POLITICS).


In the interests of readability and in line with the objectives of this edition, the form of presentation of the passages has been simplified in comparison to the French editions of the Cahiers. The overall aim has been to provide a 'clean' text in order to enable the reader to have direct access to Valéry's thinking-writing and to place all editorial elucidation in the end‑notes. Detailed indications of the graphic presentation of the notes, including the additions, variants and marginal marks, are to be found in the French editions of the Cahiers listed below. Researchers for whom these considerations are important ‑ which includes of course all those interested in the fascinating process of the genetic development of the writing ‑ should refer to these editions. Only the most important additions and variants have been retained and these will be found in the end‑notes. In certain cases page numbering has been normalized for reasons of simplicity.

Each passage is identified by reference to the volume and page of the C.N.R.S. edition. When that edition was being prepared, the problems of establishing the correct order of the 260 notebooks were considerable, especially with regard to a number of early notebooks: some are undated, some bear two different dates, some have dates added in different handwriting, some were written in parallel with others. The scholarly work involved in the preparation of the 'Pleiade' edition and subsequently of the edition integrale of the Cahiers 1894‑1914 has permitted the establishment of the correct sequence of notebooks and the current edition has sought to reflect these latest developments in research. Any instances where there is an apparent lack of sequence in the page or volume numbering of the references to the C.N.R.S editiorl therefore reflect this re‑establishment of the correct order. The principal sections concerned are the pagination of C.N.R.S. vol. I and three notebooks from vol. VII, originally dated 1919 and now dated 1911 (C, V1I, 264‑371).

A small number of passages omitted inadvertently from the C.N.R.S. edition were included in the 'Pleiade' edition and are signalled as such in the text.

Where two references are given, to the C.N.R.S. edition and to the Cahiers 1894‑1914, this indicates that the passage has been added to the selection of texts. Recent research has shown the prime importance of some of the early formulations and a sample of these has been introduced in order to enable the reader to grasp more clearly the genesis of the development of Valéry's thought and to appreciate the sometimes more exploratory forms of expression.

References within the notes or introduction to other pasta fies in the present edition are given using the chapter heading and the C.N.R.S, reference.

Valéry was very conscious of using a particular form of punctuation, feeling constrained by the norms of conventional usage, and wishing even that there were forms of articulation and expression as in music. This edition follows the practice of the ‘Pleiade', which is to respect as far as possible Valéry's own punctuation, including his unique and highly significant use of the dash, which functions as a kind of breathing space or phrase mark in the thinking process. While dashes at the end of sentences were on the whole replaced by full stops, the intention, as Judith Robinson­Valéry makes clear, was 'to retain in the texts of Valéry their characteristic appearance of improvised notes, in which thought, permanently in pursuit of itself, remains so often deliberately incomplete, as if suspended on an eternal question mark' (C1, xxxiv).

Abbreviations have been maintained, though completed using square brackets where clarification is necessary, such as in the case of proper names. Valéry's distinctive and highly frequent use of 'c.a.d.' in the manuscripts, which was normalised to Vest‑a‑dire' in the 'Pleiade', has been rendered by the equivalent abbreviation 'i.e.' A full list of the signs and abbreviations is provided below.

The adventure of the Notebooks will inspire many metaphors: dawn voyages; scales in awakening; the maritime journey of exploration, creating its own charts, its own instruments of navigation, its own soundings; the Odyssey undertaken in the cosmos of ideas and mental forms; a Penelope's web to be explored and activated (THE NOTEBOOKS, XII, 606). The Notebooks are Valéry's instrument of consciousness and knowledge, his means of 'technical improving '6 in any given field, the space in which he develops his personal phenomenology of thinking. As such, all the different forms of writing, the topics and investigations are part of a continuum. One of the principal developments in recent Valéry research has been the growing recognition that earlier schematic divisions between his various types of work tended to have the effect of compartmentalizing and limiting our readings of them. The Cahiers: Notebooks offer fresh perspectives that in turn reflect back upon the published work too: we begin to see that the lyricism of the poetic writing is infused with the most abstract reflections, that the reflections on politics, on science, on art and music reveal the same concern to determine the role of the perceiving subject; that the analysis of language, which is one of his principal points of departure, is maintained throughout and becomes a tool in every area he explores. And we recognize that the 'f, the impersonal centre of consciousness aspiring to pure knowledge, the 'Singular‑Universal' distinct from each and every one of its contingent manifestations, is profoundly and movingly personal as it attempts with great courage, even at the threatened cost of its identity, to explore the most human of aspirations.

Cahiers: Notebooks (Volume 1) by Paul Valéry, chief editor and translations by Brian Stimpson, translations by Paul Gifford, Sian Miles, and Robert Pickering (Peter Lang)

This opening chapter, comprised of notes extracted from EGO and EGO SCRIPTOR, was selected by Judith Robinson-­Valéry to present an introduction to the entire work, to reveal the meaning and purpose of the Cahiers and to provide an insight into the immense significance which they had in Valéry's inner life. These notebooks represented the 'real work' for him, the huge, submerged part of the iceberg of which the published work is only a fraction: these were the writings that occupied his most alert hours and yet which were largely unknown to almost everyone during his lifetime; these, above all, were what he had invested his life in, sacrificed himself for, wherein the 'idol of his mind' was inscribed.

The reader of the Notebooks is forewarned not to mistake this journal for others. Here is no merely private record of personal hopes, fears and aspirations, no chronicle of deeds and days; still less is it (as journals from Rousseau to Gide had commonly been) the public confession of, or apology for, an intimate self. Its writer insists that he does not write his pleasure, and almost nothing of his pain (THE NOTEBOOKS, XVII, 687). He is not out to please, to fascinate or dominate anyone. We are entering a kind of laboratory of thought in which is being elaborated the most central of human sciences, elucidating and containing all others. The sole point of this resolutely anti‑literary writing is to decipher the text within ‑ the never‑finally decipherable text of human subjectivity as such.

The vocation to 'write myself produces an infinite text composed of 'Experiments, Sketches, Studies, Outlines, First Drafts, Exercises, Tentative steps' (III, 339); it is fragmentary and provisional, a web of interconnections. The writing reveals the 'joy ‑ the sheer excitement' of the first rush of ideas, the privacy and protectiveness of Valéry's own thinking, the mental pacing up and down, the despair at 'the same old ideas', the frustrations, the discipline, the routine and the doubts. For, if the chapter concludes on a characteristic note of hypothesis and incompletion, the writer of this rubric takes courage from the modest (and secretly prideful) thought that better minds will come after him and find 'some fairly original things'.


EGO registers the ongoing intellectual autobiography of the mind encountered in the Notebooks. Not that his own human personality is being contemplated or promoted by Valéry narcissistically. Personal self‑analysis is driven here, on the contrary, by the recognition that an uncompromising cognizance of one's own deficiencies and limits, motivating values and dynamic myths, can and must be the springboard to the attempt to transcend one's natural or given personality. As the dawn voyages multiply in time, so Valéry is seized with the imperative of elucidating retrospectively, by an effort of historical memory and self‑understanding, the antecedents and origins, the constant features and the underlying logic of the singular human adventure of which he is the subject. The dream of realizing the intrinsic power and universality of the mind originates in, and refers to, a singular, self‑reflecting human subject: Valéry (though he dislikes the word 'paradoxical') is acutely aware of this structural paradox at the heart of his intellectual adventure.

The self‑portrait we are offered is, at all events, brilliantly drawn and superbly illuminating. It is studded with incisive insights, memorably formulated: 'I've understood something when I think I could have invented it. And I know it thoroughly when I end up believing I discovered it myself; 'I have a unitary mind in a thousand pieces'; 'It is strange that this icy fury to exterminate, to execute through rigor should be closely linked in me to... an infinitely tender tenderness'; 'I bend beneath the burden of all I haven't done'; 'the 'f flees ever away from my person, which it nevertheless contours or imprints as it flees.'

Overall, the portrait emerging is severely self‑critical. It focuses, sometimes obsessively, on the entire set of dynamic negativities, from the lack of physical stature or moral self‑confidence, via the passionate intellectual jealousy and sense of rivalry, the driving anguish, or the dearth of other‑relationships, right through to the memorable pages on Valéry's deep‑lying sense of existential malaise and ontological strangeness. Such 'negativity' is an interpretative choice, explicating an experienced logic of the 'System' itself. The writer of EGO sees these deficiencies as having generated and sustained his epic labour by an effect of reactive compensation. He has sought, in successive moments of turmoil and crisis, and by a 50‑year effort of will, to convert negative to positive: 'My worth comes from what I lack'.

Psychologists and psychoanalysts of mental creativity and of the intellectual life generally will find here a rich pasture, deeply suggestive of what this champion of Cartesian clarity never ceases to think of as the 'hidden' or 'mysterious' self. It is important, too, to observe how Valéry chooses to foreground the role of what he calls his 'intellectual sensibility', and with it, the pre‑rational, irrational and trans‑rational determinants of the intellect. In these and other ways, the writer decisively lays the ghost of the one‑dimensional, reductive Testian rationalist with whom he was once, for praise or blame, identified.

Equally, he offers a glimpse of the fruitfulness of the method of selfconsciousness, with its progressively self‑reflexive, insistently problematizing, movement; it is a signal contribution to the contemporary debates about autobiography as a genre, as about the status of the 'subject' of writing generally. It shows a mind eminently equipped to deconstruct the inauthenticity of 'naive autobiography', in the manner of Rousseau or Gide, tackling nevertheless the task of constructing an outline narrative in which the self is reciprocal to its acts ‑ and finding that even the universe of the mind is subject to a characteristic and defining 'curvature'.

Above all, the chapter illuminates from within the universe of the Notebooks themselves. Though a‑typical in its intensely personal focus, it is also deeply characteristic: in its rhythms of recurrence, its perspective on the genesis of mental activity, its propensity for mythical and scientific modelling, its analogical multi‑dimensionality, its searchingly self‑intimate honesty. This chapter gives the measure of Valéry as man and as mind.


The chapter GLADIATOR introduces Valéry's intellectual project under the aspect of method and training. It addresses, in other words, that aspect of the 'System' which bears the weight of converting negative values into positive ones, and which mediates between the singular Ego and its potential universality. From Valéry's remarks about his 'inner war in order to be', a war that is 'hard and full of terror', we might be forgiven for assuming that the title casts him in the role of solo combatant in some Roman arena. This suggestive likeness is however secondary and probably unintended. The primary reference is to a racehorse of this name which dazzled contemporaries. The name symbolises a sporting ethic of mental self‑development, preparing an athletic mastery of the great human Instrument. 'To utilise oneself with agility, advisedly, methodically as the universal origin of all co‑ordinates ‑ such is the Ars magna' (C, lI, 141; CIV, 108). The value‑signs of such an art are: precision, purity, elegance of manoeuvre. The constant references are to the arts of dressage and of gymnastics: Valéry wants to be the 'horseman of the mind riding that skittish beast, the brain and its defences'; the mind is viewed as a muscular system that has to be trained to a peak condition of precision, lightness and independence. Music, drawing, mathematics, language, politics, all offer opportunities for developing the techniques of the virtuoso. The imaginary models invoked are those of the mythical Centaur; or else the mystics, those specialists of interiority raised to its limit‑power; or else Valéry's own hero of the intellect, M. Teste.

Here are developed the thematics of Valéry's operative technicity as applied to the human subject or self the trinity of'knowing‑willing‑empowering'; the notion of inner resources and faculties methodically educated; the motif of thinking in one's own mental forms and language; the dynamic of selfregenerating increase of potential ('the more I think, the more I think'); and the great existential leitmotifs ‑ human plasticity, remaking the self, the possible and the impossible, the limit. As we take stock of everything implied in the ors magna, we become aware of the extension Valéry is led to confer on it: what looked to be a merely technical project for enhancing individual mental performance, turns out to involve reworking and replacing philosophy, morality, mysticism, religion; a project of momentous and subversive import in respect of an entire cultural inheritance. Not for nothing does Valéry's Gladiator invoke Nietzsche; here, discreetly adumbrated, is an alternative and parallel proposal for the future of Western man.

The heroic note dominates, albeit with little of the prophetism which Valéry suspected and rejected in Nietzsche. GLADIATOR exemplifies his fundamental voluntarism tempered with doubt: is the self‑trained mind enough to exorcise the baser demons of the collective psyche? can it find within itself new goals to propose to an active, demystified and self‑creating humanity? This doubt itself, however, underlines the distinction between Valéry's will to self transcendence and 'the cult of the self he sees in Gide or Barres; and it articulates in a new, subterraneously vibrant variation, Valéry's own daemon, the challenge of human possibility as such.


This chapter, which is proximate to both EGO and GLADIATOR, presents Valéry's most characteristic thought on the necessarily central question of 'selfhood' and 'individual identity': a topic much addressed in this century by philosophy, psychology, theology, and ethics and a focus for much contemporary French deconstructionism.

Valéry's first movement of thought is indeed, here and elsewhere, to clear away the common fund of ideas inherited from Romantic poetry, from post-Cartesian 'philosophies of the subject' or from religious systems. He places the origins of our naive concept of the self in the need for referrability: for the purposes of identifying such reference and of ordering the inner world, we need to posit a constant or 'Same', which metaphysics then hypostatizes as an essence of personality or 'Self , Valéry's critique shows this notion as problematic, mythical, impotent to elucidate the observable and experienced world of the subject.

This enables him to disengage criteria necessary to the profitable discussion of selfhood (e.g. sameness, unicity, uniqueness, ipseity) and to recognise the complex dimensions of the problem (involving temporality, alterity, etc.). We observe his instinct to reduce the hypostatized Self to a pure form or function of reflexive consciousness; 1 am the hearer of inner speech, or the seer of the phenomenological universe of my own subjectivity.

Above all, he attends to a perceptible energy of attention, distinctiveness and negation inherent in consciousness itself always, there is in us some presence which says: '1 am not‑that'. The 'pure self is the principle of negating consciousness which releases us from the closure of any realised identity and asserts the notion of a self which is neither the individual who bears my name, nor any underlying evince, but a pure potentiality of the functioning psychophysiological system. 'It's what I contain that's unknown to myself that makes me myself. The entire problem of personality, identity and selfhood is reviewed and renewed in the light of the characteristic Valéryan opposition between 'personal self (or individual ego) who figures in the mirror of consciousness and the 'pure self which is the mirroring power itself, infinitely asserting in respect of it a movement of non‑identification or transcendence.

This chapter introduces us to the set of analogical conceptualisations (algebraic zero, centre of mass, galactic centrifugation, etc.) which serve to explore this dialectic of selfhood and which engage accordingly many of Valéry's most vital mythic figurations (among them, Teste, Narcissus, and the Angel). The concepts and tensions involved, and the dynamics of subject identity to which these refer, occupy a commanding place in the intellectual and spiritual adventure of the Notebooks, and present an analysis which is quite distinct from more familiar personalist or psychoanalytical accounts of the self. The 'pure Self, in particular, had 1 key role: both as an operator in an analytic practice of self‑reflexive thought and as a dynamic symbol engaging V's own deepest existential/ontological intuitions. On this hinge, it may be said, the 'System' turns.


The same reciprocity between analyst and analysis is even more evident in AFFECTIVITY, devoted to Valéry's reflections on the role of the emotions in the life of the mind. The first‑time reader is likely to be struck here by the fact that emotion is seen, overwhelmingly, as an anti‑value: as a principle of disorder, impurity, disturbance, alienation ‑ of a suspected (and feared) 'depth'. The writer often seems to be describing some fascinating and terrifying inner 'monster', to be vanquished, tamed, and ridden (cf. GLADIATOR). Is Valéry not after all a caricature of the reductive rationalist?

It is well to remember at this point the lessons of EGO: 'my sensibility is my inferiority, my cruelest and most detestable gift; he 'fears [his] heart and [his] body' because of the rapidity with which his sensibility attains intolerable levels. The writer is, in the matter of affectivity, an over‑endowed hyper‑sensitive defending himself frorn himself, 'the being of fire who has faith only in ice‑and steel'. Read in this perspective, what Valéry has to say about the 'resonant' character of emotion, its 'transcendent' nature or its propensity to create 'value' may be viewed as functional, tactical insights. How revealing, too, are the cultural intertexts of this chapter: music and Wagner; the 'shameless soul' of Romantic infinitism; Pascal and the 'reasons of the heart; or the acuity of the analysis of the Absurd, of Shame, of the irrational. If Valéry's first movement is to check, control and even repress emotion, the larger challenge running through this chapter is the quest to integrate it creatively, and recognize its stimulant value ('How many things would have remained undiscovered if some emotion, some disorder hadn't eventually stimulated an intellectual counterattack .. hadn't brought to light some gem of a connection!'). Ultimately, Valéry knows that emotion is the condition and ground of ourselves. But how far can we trust it, and what does it say? We stand 'before the ineffable like children who can't yet speak'.


The chapter EROS explores the humanly richest ‑ but also the most problematic ‑ application of affectivity. It also introduces a strategically important dimension of the Notebooks. We now know a good deal about the role of successive crises of 'amour‑passion' in establishing the shape, rhythm and tenor of Valéry's intellectual life: the youthful crisis of 1891‑2, inciting the reactive clinical‑analytic self‑defence which creates the 'System' (EROS, XV, 53); the mature crisis of 1920‑21 through to 1927, bringing a counter‑challenge to his practice of solitary self‑enfoldment (XV, 504) and launching his mystique of the 'higher love'; the late and final crisis of 1940‑45, linked to the selfsummation of a thinking life and ultimately challenging the reductive idealist tautology instituted under the name of the System. These are the successive stages of a dynamic encounter of rare subtlety and range which is reflected upon and analysed in this chapter.

'That nothing has been written about love' (XX, 706‑706 & note 133) ‑ is a proposition we might well be pre‑disposed to question, particularly as enunciated by a successor to Rabelais, Racine, Constant, Stendhal, Flaubert, Balzac and Proust... Yet the gifts of the analyst and the merits of his 'System' do go a great way to persuading us that love has indeed never been properly (i.e. competently, honestly, strategically, profoundly) written about, and that 'literature' cannot be the place to do it. Certainly, we encounter in this chapter an analytical vocation based on a rare acuity of intellect and senses, a lifelong struggle between the twin 'Angels' of Desire in its intellectual and passionate forms, 'Nous' and 'Eros', and a deeply practised specialisation in 'exercises of self‑awareness and imagination'.

Valéry, here like Proust and Claudel, is the deconstructor of received cultural constructs, particularly that of Romantic 'idolo‑poetry'. More than they

are, he is also the analyst of the real psycho‑physiology of love, its resonance and range, its modulations and moments, its transformations and its ‑ feared and desirable ‑ creativity. Other dimensions are proper to him: his ever­deepening philosophic sense of the non‑reducible 'harmonics' of love ('from the need for tenderness right up to metaphysical appetite'); his sense of love as sole countervalue withstanding the erosion of intellectual analysis; his awareness of its intrinsic need for transcendence and its structural challenge to selfhood; his extraordinary account of the struggle in the amorous subject between self and other; his determination to 'comprehend' i.e. remake Love both as construct and as existential adventure.

From 1921, Valéry's deepening treatment of Eros encounters and overlaps with his reflections under the rubric Theta. The writing of Desire in these two parallel modes is seen in the end as the trace of, or clue to, the mystery of human psychic identity as such. Psychogenetically deconstructing the 'received' infinitisms of Western inheritance, he uncovers increasingly the real, immanent mystery of the 'Mysterieuse Moi'. We stand here at the quick of the paradox of the Notebooks: of their Socratic bite, of their virtue of savour, stimulus and renewal.

Where the first volume of the present edition introduces the enterprise of the Notebooks in its rigorously intellectual but also personal and affective dimension, the second focuses upon the cultural, literary and artistic dimension of that writing. We encounter here a great diversity of interest and an empirical flexibility, yet at the same time all the thoughts are intimately related to the system of thinking that constitutes Valéry's own singular approach: the writing of, the perceiving gaze, or the attentive ear explore the xsthetic domain via an inner self‑language both more intimate and more universal than the limits of genre or school. Above all, we have a sense of the dynamic interaction of thought and creativity, as we witness a constant oscillation between the theory and practice of artistic phenomena, between analysing, writing and theorizing the process of writing.

There is nevertheless a literary context that serves as a background to Valéry's poetics and to which he often refers, if only the better to differentiate himself. The formative decision to 'make his mind' occurred at a period following the break‑up of Romantic assumptions about literature, wider experience and the world, while the contemporary esthetics were dominated by the perfections of Symbolist writers and the reflexive, analytical turn heralded by Edgar Allan Poe. In such a situation, his own determination to anchor all creative, artistic efforts in a rigorous self‑language leads him to take up these notions, to re‑fashion them and to reflect upon the processes of creativity itself, in so doing he comes to promote the basic conception of an analytical science of literature which bears many a relation to more recent critical movements and approaches to creativity .

Cahiers: Notebooks (Volume 2) by Paul Valéry, chief editor and translations by Brian Stimpson, translations by Rachel Killick, Robert Pickering, Norma Rinsler, Stephen Romer, and Brian Stimpson (Peter Lang)

The opening chapters of the present volume, ART AND /ESTHETICS, POIETICS, POETRY, LITERATURE, show Valéry 'applying' himself to different aesthetic domains, sometimes sketching out his new approach, sometimes critically assessing other approaches. POEMS AND SHORT ABSTRACT POEMS and SUBJECTS then reveal the writing in practice sketches, fragments, poetic output, experimental prose forms that complement and embody in many respects the reflections above. Having then witnessed Valéry functioning as analyst, spectator and indeed practitioner of many of the different genres illustrated here, we return to his reflection upon the processes involved and in fact to issues of selfhood evoked in volume 1: EGO SCRIPTOR, by way of conclusion, brings us back to Valéry's self‑reflecting process and the attempt to theorize the phenomenon of his own literature and production, both the 'real' work of the mind and the 'chore' of writing to command.

At first sight, the rubrics of the Notebooks contained in the present volume situate Valéry firmly in the context for which he is most widely and traditionally known. Considerations bearing on xsthetics, on the nature and functioning of poetry, and on literature in general, can be related directly to many published essays in which he addresses the preoccupations of his time and identifies the theoretical principles emerging from the published collections of poetry in fixed verse form. As such, these comments are rich in resonance, adding to our understanding of the creative and technical principles of his writing, to his quest for deeper understanding of the secrets of art in the widest sense, as also to an appreciation of his insights into the artistic movements closest to his own 'way of seeing'.

It is clear however that closer examination of the writing represented here reveals a level of thought and of creativity quite different from traditional perceptions we may have of Valéry's situation in the literature of the first half of the twentieth century. For we find that his 'personal vision' refers to a crucial tenet in the modes of conceptualization and of perception he identifies in painters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Degas, Monet, Berthe Morisot ‑ as also musicians ‑ particularly Bach and Wagner, and that each of them plays a part in the emerging definition of his Ars magna.

The rubric ART AND /ESTHETICS, underscoring frequently the critical approaches, the modes of writing and of perception which figure in the accompanying sections, is exemplary of the kind of thrusting intellectual enquiry so typical of the Notebooks, and sheds new light on Valéry's understanding of xsthetic cause and effect, and their extension in terms of creativity. For it is not just the critical mind which is at work here: the chapters POEMS AND SHORT ABSTRACT POEMS, and SUBJECTS, bring together a very little known corpus of creative writing, quite different in nature from the published poetry. The reasons for the presence of such passages in the Notebooks are many ‑ the constraints of rational thought and the occasional need to give immediate expression to the lyrical, or perceptual, or emotive solicitations of the moment; the sudden remembrance of a previously published line of verse, recalled and revisited; or, on occasion, the complex intermeshing of verbal and visual, and the free flow of varying contextual response.

The artist teaches us to look at things anew, undoing conventional vision which projects prior meaning on to an object. Valéry traces the source of this 'new way of looking' back to an inner image within the artist that enters into an endless dialogue with the object, with the canvas and with itself. His is at bottom an xsthetics of the subject, which, as in the remarkable fragments of prose poetry reproduced here, approaches a form of pure, impersonal, nonconceptual vision. Valéry'h fragmentary writing in the Cahiers, his personal 'system for thinking, seeks to shift our attention on to a different plane, to a second‑order preoccupation with the xsthetic creator and the action of form and language, in an attempt to identify the fundamental processes of creativity. He wants to unmask the strategies that lie behind writing, thinking, believing: 'I've sought to consider literary inventions (which are presented as unique occurrences,) as particular cases ‑ of which the general form, or formula, had to be discovered'.

 Valéry himself would not have wanted to be seen as a 'systematic theorist', producing a construct that would at once incorporate all knowledge and exhaust all possibility. A system, he writes, would be not only difficult, but defective and deeply ridiculous, 'an essentially artificial construction ‑ for it's

quite improbable that the work of the mind should stop at a particular point ‑unless as the result of some accidental circumstance'. But the radically experimental writing of this 'unitary mind in a, thousand pieces' constantly lays the groundwork for such a theory. A continuity of method underlies the supple exploration and celebration of the fragmentary ‑ accompanied by the injunction to disbelieve oneself and to take account of 'the provisional nature... of all that springs up in my mind'. For the self is not a closed space, but is in constant dialogue with the world outside. The deconstruction of received moulds of thinking goes hand in hand with Valéry's own creative practice. The prose poems, the short fictions, the lyrical sketches, the poetry of voice, all reveal the continuity between the analyst and the writer, systematic in his subversion of the illusions borne by language, while ever‑attentive to the changing tones of inner voice or image. 


The range of experience associated with writing is grounded in a constant and deepening understanding of the xsthetic. But the demands of a probing intelligence cannot be contained in a mere reformulation of traditional modes of appreciation. Situated at the beginning of the rubric, a passage written in 1903 (III, 14) characterizes the polyvalent nature of beauty in a list of epithets which we both recognize as typical of Valéry's classical values ('pure', 'complete') and yet retain as hallmarks of modernity ('abundant', 'spontaneous', 'astonishing', 'multiple'). Indeed the aesthetic for Valéry appears, by its very nature, to be founded on a dynamics and a tension between whole series of different forces, between the 'significant' and the 'formal', perception and construction, preparation and improvisation; between the power of the work to move, to 'enchant' and its abstract quality as pure composition. Throughout all the reflections on painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, music, dance, the reader encounters a concerted attempt to see the arts in tern‑is of action ‑ as creative act, development or performance ‑ rather than as finished work. The constraints of form are prized as incitements to further creativity rather than guarantors of what has been achieved; the subject's modes of perceiving, whether as creator or recipient, are what gives a work its value, rather than any absolute quality of the work itself, and thus all art that is outstanding is characterized by its capacity to resonate, to generate a state of singing, to be, in that sense, truly 'poetic'.

In the same light, other insights here urge us to reconsider traditional and rather limited perceptions of Valéry's pertinence to modern developments and evaluative criteria. The principle of perfection which leads him to round on what he saw as the facility of the literature of his time, needs to be considered in relation to an emerging nexus of thought which is centred on an aesthetics of the fragment or on the strangely negative nature of beauty (XXVIII, 307), as states clearly a passage written towards the end of Valéry's life, foreshadowing modern poetic preoccupations with absence or vacancy.

The interest of this rubric thus tends to centre on a juxtaposition in which restatements and clarifications of views propounded in published theoretical texts ‑ in particular, Valéry's 'infinite aesthetic', but including also the wellknown thematic references of dance and ornament ‑ figure alongside explorations of the limits of expressibility and the problematic nature of language. But Valéry's reflection ranges widely over associated fields as well. Wagner's mastery of affective and psychological stimuli is given prominence, but music generally ‑ Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Berlioz ‑perceived as 'the writing of the complete man' is explored in its singular combinatory power, and its value as a model of perceptive processes which should also be at work in writing. So also, art (Monet, Leonardo, Rembrandt), in so far as it invites a revision of habitual modes of perception, and encourages the implementation of new ways of seeing the world. These remarks enable us to grasp more clearly the radical nature of Valéry's xsthetic, grounded in a form of subjective phenomenology. Such considerations refer to central tenets in his thought, but the freedom of the notebook format allows for their development, or the illuminating insight: 'Silence in music, or speech', for example, is perceived in its peculiarly transitive capacity, that of imminence and virtuality, and the propensity of art to initiate a dialogue with all the concomitant circumstances of its production. The remark is related closely to Valéry's admiration of Mallarme, and what he had already termed in 1934 the strange 'power of the empty page' (POIETICS, XVII, 178), but its significance reverberates well beyond this specific context.


The two chapters POIETICS and POETRY carry further the wide‑ranging considerations of ART AND /ESTHETICS, but also apply them to the specific nature of Valéry's own production and his search for an 'Art of writing' (VII, 768). The return to the etymological resonance of poiein, as an art of making,

lies at the heart of Valéry's approach; its significance to all branches of literary creation, makes of this chapter a major contribution to modem critical thought in which the principles of many contemporary modes of literary analysis can be perceived.

Many remarks, of course, particularly those concerning the pre‑eminence of form in relation to content (XI, 898), formulate principles whose relevance remains essentially personal. But many others are of far‑reaching significance. Emphasis placed on the unfinished, open‑ended nature of the work in progress, in which termination depends less on voluntary gesture than on accidental intervention (VIII, 657), extends ideas bearing on the nature of beauty and its perception, apparent in ART AND./ESTHETICS, to the realm of structure and formal organization. The chain of production is not, moreover, seen as culminating in the published work, but includes the subsequent relationship of the author and the work given up to public consumption (IV, 46), in which the former is relativized, part of a circuit over which he has no control. An aesthetic of reception is adumbrated in these pages, author‑reader relationships being scrutinized in contexts which come close on occasion to a sense of anguish. The moment of public dissemination ‑ particularly when resulting from factors other than personal choice, as a text in EGO SCRIPTOR (XXVII, 683‑686) makes abundantly clear ‑ is seen at best as a challenge, and at worst an ordeal, in which the self is intimately implicated. The context of isolation in which the author is placed can lead also to finer distinctions, notably the 'independence' of author and biographical individual (XIV, 80). When coupled with the dynamics of self, these observations sketch in the groundwork for fundamental principles of contemporary literary theory, in which, moreover, Valéry has a consecrated place.

The emphasis placed on form in POIETICS and on the consciously driven bases of its production can, however, be countered by remarks which, on the contrary, put at the forefront of creativity the unconscious processes underlying the urge to put pen to paper. A passage written in 1931 reconstitutes the stages of a drawing 'absent‑mindedly' produced, and the self‑generative dynamic investing the forms created on the page (XV, 249). The eclipse of self and its rational reflexes joins with remarks on the accidental and the arbitrary to produce an image of Valéry as experimental writer, seeking to inscribe the unsayable within language, striving to give expression to the discontinuities, the inconsistencies and the full range of phases that characterize mental states.


The chapter POETRY, more specific and technical in its content, provides us with vital information concerning poetic choice, taste and objective. The more theoretical and generalizing reflection characteristic of ART AND AESTHETICS and POIETICS here finds its field of application, in terms both of self‑scrutiny and of poetic analysis. Allusions to the poets already encountered – particularly Mallarme, whose art is further investigated in many comments of real finesse, but also to others, Rimbaud, Lamartine, Hugo, Baudelaire, Verlaine, the classics (Boileau, Corneille), as well as Valéry's contemporary Claudel, or the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins ‑ place the chapter in a special light, that of the literary critic whose appreciation of poetic technique is all the more cogent for arising from first‑hand knowledge of the difficulties posed by imagery and prosody.

The chapter should not in effect be read simply as yet another contribution to literary history, illuminating though it may be. Throughout, Valéry maintains a balance between appraisal of others and analysis of his own poetic inclinations. If he can speak authoritatively of the intensity of imagery in Rimbaud's Illuminations or of the radiating energy of Hugo's 'black sun', it is because of his own direct acquaintance with the demands and potential of metaphor and what he calls its 'harmonic possibilities'. Commentary of the techniques used in poetry reveals hidden aspects of a given poetic discourse, such as the paradoxical interconnection of obscurity and clarity in Mallarme's verse (VI, 437), or the creative impulse of the cascading impressions produced by Rimbaud's imagery (XXVI, 871‑872). Hugo, praised as technician, is disparaged as visionary in an observation clearly based on the force of personal experience ‑ the true visionary being recognized by his lack of words, rather than their abundance (V, 635). Hugo's failure to seize upon the poetic potential of synesthesia is set against Mallarme's full receptiveness to it (V, 869). And, applying what he considers to be one of the acid tests of poetry, Valéry observes that the effect of Hugo's verse, for all the richness of its impact, 'wears off when you stop reading it; in this respect the effect resembles more the functioning of prose with its primary role of transmitting content, than that of the poetic, which, in Valéry's view, is founded on the renascent harmonies arising from the continuing interaction of sound and meaning.

One comment bearing on Hugo warrants particular attention. To the end of his life Valéry was to remain wary of criticism seeking to retrace the steps of poetic production on the basis of the 'completed' text (POIETICS, XXVIII, 426­428). A chance encounter in 1931 with the sketches and first drafts of Hugo's poem Te Cheval' (Chansons des rues et des bois) prompts a very different attitude, in which the 'true Genesis' of the text emerges as the sum total of its preceding stages of composition : 'A complete poem would be the poem of that Poem beginning with the fertilized embryo ‑ and the successive states, the unexpected interpolations, the approximations'. The comment throws sharply into relief the importance of the generative dynamic of doing, as opposed to the literary object done. It runs very closely in parallel with ideas expressed by Gide in his novel Les Faux‑Monnayeurs, where the same emphasis is placed on the work of art as the total of all its progressive stages of realization, and foreshadows the depth of our understanding of the creative process which genetic criticism is now bringing to light in Valéry's own manuscripts.


The rubric LITERATURE widens the range of reference from poetic to literary considerations as a whole. As such, prose, and specifically the novel, are given prominence, in a wealth of observations ranging from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. Here again, the impression of writing ad libitum needs to be set against the organizing properties of certain deep convictions, which underscore all contexts. 'The countess caught the 8 o'clock train' (V, 101): the novel, fulcrum of arbitrary invention in Valéry's view, is one of the prime targets in a searching evaluation of literary principles and techniques. The vicissitudes of characterization and of self‑portrayal are placed against the rigorous demands of 'seeing differently', of perceiving relationships, the operational whole of behaviour and the psychological or affective sources from which behaviour springs. Observations decades apart return frequently to the same themes, the same expressions of dislike or of approval. The pedestrian nature Valéry identifies in certain unreflecting forms of prose, with its unsophisticated reconstruction of reality and particularly of the psyche, are set against poetry and the 'active collaboration' which it demands of its reader. The impurity of literature, constrained by the expectations of the reading public, is explored in terms of the shallow eloquence to which it can give birth, and its apparent incapacity to explain or chart the functioning of the mind.

Many great figures of French literature ‑ Moliere, Rousseau, Chateaubriand, Gautier, Michelet, Flaubert ‑ come in for rough treatment, the strongest sarcasm being reserved for Surrealism as 'redemption via refuse', the embodiment of the facility which, in Valéry's view, was largely characteristic of his time (though other notes suggest that a re­evaluation is overdue in relation to this, as other, contemporary aesthetic values). At the other end of the scale, novelists such as Pigault‑Lebrun, now read only by the erudite few, are singled out for praise (XII, 848). Balzac, Stendhal and Gide arouse mingled response, now admired respectively for visionary power, for the evocation of Self and its subterfuges and for a propensity to challenge habitual modes of being, now castigated for facility, superficiality or lack of inventiveness. And the taut, lifelong dialogue with Pascal, inwardly revered for the rational drive of argumentation, a mastery of style and the visionary force of imagery, yet also decried for what Valéry considered to be the blind spots of religious recourse, resurfaces periodically as possibly the most demanding and intractable intellectual challenge issued by the entire range of French thought and literature.

Over and above these sometimes very personalized remarks, the chapter presents an original, thought‑provoking view of aspects of French literary history, which complement the ideas expressed in the literary and philosophical studies of Variete. In numerous instances the critical gaze alights on principles of fundamental importance to the movement of ideas and of literary sensibility in the twentieth century. The increased awareness of language, considered over the entire expanse of its functioning ‑ its capacity to arouse, the play of its phonetic qualities and of its internal relationships, yet also its detachment from reality (IV, 644) ‑ and its fertile interconnection with music, squares convincingly with one of the central literary preoccupations of our time. So also, what Valéry always considered to be the essential plurality of meaning which a given work was capable of engendering, the production of meaning demanding an active immersion of the reader in the text. In opposition to the problematic issues of writing and sincerity, Valéry sets 'a writer's ideal', a form of prose merging 'music, algebra and architecture' in a complete possession of language an ideal which, as glimpsed in a sketch for a story 'in the Boris series', reinstates an impulse to creativity where various kinds of writing can be summoned to give full expression to the self.


Consonant with this urge to explore other dimensions and potential registers of expression, the POEMS AND SHORT ABSTRACT POEMS bring together, under an apparently unifying poetic intention, an extraordinary range of creative writing. The reader will find here a collection of texts of widely different tone and texture, necessitating a radical revision of the traditionally held view of Valéry as poet in fixed verse form alone. Certain of the texts are of an improvisatory nature, rapid notations of fleeting sense impressions; some are manifestly developed with care, figuring moreover in certain of the published collections of 'Rough poetry' (Melange) or the 'Histoires brisees'; others have the tautness and intensity of structure or perception characteristic of the prose poem; others still, according to their title, follow consecrated genres such as psalm, song, 'aubade', prayer or even the Japanese Hai‑Kai.

This variety of theme and structure is nevertheless characteristically articulated around certain organizing principles and modes of perception. Many of the poems are best described as brief psychological studies of passing states of mind, of emotional turmoil or paralysis in the Baudelairian sense. As such, they provide a window on the mind and on feeling, in an unexpectedly immediate way, investing such potentially abstract motifs with the dynamism of lyrical rediscovery. A periodically recurring vein attempts to seize upon the poetic potential of thought itself, materializing the central tenet 'A poem should be a festival of the intellect' (POETRY, VI, 220). Several texts answer to this category

'Forms [...] Meanings, Functions and Phases' are solicited for their lyrical potential, but their transient presence can also be the source of anguish (IX, 56).

But perhaps what strikes the reader most immediately is the jubilatory nature of intense perception, coupled with a sense of the strangeness of vision which comes from seeing the world afresh. While this seeing anew is most particularly apparent at dawn, a text from 1940 suggests that the phenomenon can declare itself at any time of day (XXIII, 480): it conveys at one and the same time an experience of the rebirth of language, thereby remaining subject to hesitation, uncertainty, unsettling detachment. and a sense of otherness in relation to the thinking, sentient individual.

Many texts are orientated towards this intense experience of genesis, in which the biblical model is sometimes explicit, as in the Fiat Lux. Extreme acuity of perception leads on occasion to a rethinking, or even reversal, of normal relationships binding self to world: 'This impression not of seeing [...] but of being seen by these objects'. Antithesis ('The emptiness of all this plenitude'), the passage beyond normal modes of perception ('I am left with the inexplicable itself, the noise, the impenetrable sensation.. like a colour'), or the animation of the inanimate ('This golden house [...] CONSTRUCTS itself each instant) combine to engage language in challenges to expression which do not normally occur in other poetic contexts. In the concerted effort towards an adequacy of representation in relation to its original stimulus, the verbal and the visual can be closely concomitant: the urge to sketch, which is a central dynamic of the Notebooks as a whole, takes up occasionally where writing leaves off, engendering some fine watercolour or gouache illustration.

It is important to recognize too that the lyric vein of this chapter is to be found in various guises in many others, woven for example into an impassioned cry of love or despair or aspiration, as in EROS or THETA, or into the landscapes and'unique moments' portrayed in EGO.


The range of notes collected together in SUBJECTS likewise presents a less well‑known, and even surprising, aspect of Valéry. Despite the celebrated reservations over the novel and the sustained contrast between poetry and prose, we encounter here an experimental writer of micro‑fictions: dream‑narratives, dialogues, scenarios, fairy‑tales, permutations of relationships, abstract tales, are sketched in a combination of analytical precision and provisionality, while demonstrating at the same time a determined attempt to explore to the full the possibilities of prose fiction. Just as POEMS AND SHORT ABSTRACT POEMS delineates a Valéry little known beyond the published work, the notes grouped together in this chapter complement the breadth of poetic interests in terms of the groundwork for possible short stories, plays, ballets, poems (remarks in XXVII, 364 give the general structure of the cycle of prose poems published posthumously under the title Alphabet) or even the novel (XXIII, 201‑202). In one instance the outline of a 'Short story or kind of Abstract Poem' illumines the nature of poetic aspirations in the preceding chapter, planning a study of beauty in terms of the radiating energy investing all levels of the receptive being. Whether inventiveness returns to the Bible (the Serpent), myth (Orpheus, Proteus, Narcissus), to the fascination of legendary historical figures (Helen, Socrates and his 'demon', Tiberius, Faust) or, more freely, to the pantheon of imaginary characters which people Valéry's imagination (Teste, 'Alceste, Basile, Cephas'), the essential objective of charting all forms of creativity is clear.

While these multiple perspectives frequently engage with Valéry's central themes and preoccupations, the chapter nevertheless reveals a certain evolution in focus. The early years mark a reflection on the nature of power or the benefits of a systematic approach to mind and experience (Tiberius). Abstract considerations (a book, or a play on the art of thinking, envisaged in 1910) progressively give way to closer contact with ideas, in 1923 for example, related to a novel on 'modern life', or bearing on the inspiration derived from personal acquaintance (Einstein, IX, 751). The widening, more outwardly orientated reference includes consideration in 1928 of the affective links between self and other. From the beginning of the 1930s the aspirations, dilemmas and trials associated with Faust and his imagined secretary, Lust, are clearly placed in the forefront of the many 'subjects' which Valéry considered to be of possible literary potential. These sketches coincide of course, particularly during the war years, with the composition of 'Mon Faust', and as such can be considered as complementary explorations of the latter. The situation of the intellect embodied in Faust as a 'representative of the European mind' in the catastrophic circumstances of a second world conflict has a special ring of urgency to it, in much the same way as the series of essays published in 1919 under the title 'The Crisis of the Mind' had pinpointed the pessimistic outcome of the first. But most remarkable here are those passages which treat love ‑ its all‑consuming fascination as also, in its purest form, the possibility of its transcendental inclination. In speaking of the 'melos' arising from the dialogue between Faust and Lust in an unwritten fourth act of the play, Valéry gives voice to a lyrical impulse which demands as much recognition as other more conceptually directed themes (the 'pure Self or the 'Harmonics' of the sensibility). The chapter closes on a passage resolving the tension between mind and body in a moving 'self‑acceptance', where the pride of 'particularity' must none the less be placed in juxtaposition to the awareness of its situation relative to the other, as the preceding texts make admirably clear.


Running in constant parallel to these exciting new experiments with different forms of writing and different 'ways of seeing', the chapter EGO SCRIPTOR functions like one of Valéry's favourite 'log‑books', charting his itinerary as he looks back, looks forward, takes soundings of the depths, in order to situate precisely his position. The chapter is located on the interface between the public and the private writer, re‑grounding all that he does in relation to the notion of the pure Self that is the driving mechanism of his exploration of the processes of the mind.

On a first, frequently autobiographical level, the self is scrutinized in its attitude towards writing ‑ its presuppositions, its tastes, its critical stances, the difficulties it experiences ‑ and assumes an apologetic, justificatory mode. The reader will find many comments which explore these directions, inviting comparison with the rubric EGO, as Valéry specifies literary attitudes and tastes, or ventures into the new forms of creative self‑expression. The reader will also be struck by passages in which the 'Ego' of the title rearms its rights in the face of what it considers to be injustice, misrepresentation or tendentious appraisal by those practitioners of literary criticism deemed to be motivated by jealousy' (XXVII, 683‑686) or who pander to public expectation. But these are not texts of elitist withdrawal or superiority. Rather are they founded in a restatement of personal conviction, that of work devoted to 'more important, more profound' goals than those of simply writing to please the public (XXIII, 304).

Sometimes the dividing line which distinguishes observations on the sells relationship with writing from the type of passage found in the SHORT ABSTRACT POEMS or SUBJECTS can be very thin: the genre of the 'psalm' can be chosen to trace the permeable interface between writing and silence (IV, 452). On a second, associated level, Valéry returns frequently to his published works, and particularly to his poetry, explaining the creative processes at work in their conception and materialization, thus enriching our appreciation of structure, choice of register, and the complex dynamics of poetic genesis. Several comments of this type give revealing indications of Valéry's originality: a passage written in 1944 (XXIX, 91‑92) returns to Monsieur Teste and 'Le Cimetiere marin', highlighting the 'painterly' characteristics of certain images and the cross‑fertilization resulting from the concomitance of verbal and visual. Another level of commentary specifies the nature of Valéry's fascination for several literary or musical models, amongst which Mallarme and Wagner. Yet another, drawing on personal experience, projects the latter towards more generalized perspectives, demonstrating, for example, the modernity of the classical Ut pictura poesis, the open­ended nature of the literary work, the active role of the page and its 'indefinite' solicitation, or the creative potential of a special form of mysticism in which all things, including the most banal, have their own peculiar resonance. In a remark which recalls the moving imagery of the repressed 'child who dwells within us' of 'L'Homme et la coquille' (CE, 1, 890‑891), Valéry forcefully affirms that to see the world afresh in its pristine clarity and return to the 'childlike' vision which was once ours (XXVI, 440442), is a condition for locating the pure Self. 

Cahiers: Notebooks (Volume 3) by Paul Valéry, chief editor and translations by Brian Stimpson, translations by Paul Gifford, Norm Rinsler, Stephen Romer, Brian Stimpson  (Peter Lang) This volume explores the parameters of mind in its affective and intellectual limits. As always Valéry circles against the common drift seeking a personal and sometimes downright idiosyncratic basis for experience as his own. As in the previous two volumes this is the best representation of his notebooks in English.

The present volume takes forward the investigation into the nature of intellec­tual and affective being which is introduced in volume 1 of Valéry's Cahiers/ Notebooks, and the exploration of the different dimensions and expressions of thought and creativity in volume 2. It is perhaps not surprising that an enterprise devoted to examining the functioning of the human mind in all its aspects, should concern itself so specifically and so comprehensively with the different facets of 'Psychology' as are grouped together in the present volume. What is rather more astonishing is to note, firstly, the full extent and range of Valéry's enquiries, which were begun, if not in a total vacuum of knowledge, certainly at a time when psychology was in its infancy as a human science; and secondly, that even as the subject evolved rapidly throughout the early part of the twentieth century, Valéry's approach remains rigorously personal, at times even, for certain readers, idiosyncratic, but always radically alternative in its determination to challenge received wisdom.

Many of the notes reveal extensive readings on the subject and a close famil­iarity with the scientific journals of his day. It was perhaps inevitable that as the 'sciences of the mind' developed, they would adopt the methodologies of the pure sciences of the time, establishing their credentials through the specialism of focus. But always one encounters in Valéry's notes his determination to bring his own 'way of looking at problems, seeking to move the questions on to a higher level of integrated, systemic analysis. Nowadays we might be tempted to call his approach holistic, such is the insistence upon the living system as a complex whole, composed of many separate but interrelated factors — some of which we are aware of, some of which have an autonomous function, unbeknown to us, but ever in the background — all of which are constantly responding to their milieu.

To read these passages is not only to be presented with a challenge to the orthodoxies of Valéry's own times, but to be brought up against some myths surrounding Valéry himself, which have tended to see him as irrevocably assert­ing the power of ratiocination, of mind over body, of intellect over emotion. In fact, analysis of the functioning of the mind encompasses conscious and uncon­scious responses alike; his recognition of the power of the imagination to pro­voke deeply visceral reactions leads him to interrogate the very nature of mental images; his fascination with dreams and dreaming is explored in parallel to the different approaches of Surrealism or Psychoanalysis. And while Descartes barely figures in these pages (unlike the scientific chapters in volume 4 and PHILO­SOPHY in volume 5), there is underlying all the ideas, a constant interrogation and rebuttal of Cartesian dualism. The understanding of the mind is seen as in­dissolubly linked to a deepening reflection upon the self's sensory and emotional responses both in the lived present and in the past-made-present that is memory, each of these reactions in turn rooted in the experiential encounter with the world around. Hence the profound significance of Valéry's triad: Corps-Esprit­Monde, or CEM, representing the multi-faceted connections of Body-Mind­-World.

The first chapter PSYCHOLOGY, aims to analyse the nature of mind in terms of a theory of the operations it performs; Valéry describes it as a pattern of in­terlocking mechanisms that is constant and independent of its application and he frequently expresses this in terms of mathematical analogies: it is a geometry with no reference to particular events, or an algebra in which the particular values of x and y are subordinate to the established relations between x and y. SOMA AND CEM is concerned with the interaction of the mind and the body both with each other and with the context of the surrounding world in which they function; taken together they are the 'three cardinal points of knowledge', the 'three at­tributes or dimensions of sensibility'. ATTENTION considers the active process involved in the focusing of consciousness upon a particular phenomenon, a process which is seen by Valéry as a higher form of accommodation and coordin­ation. SENSIBILITY examines the role of the senses and the feelings in the reception and decoding of impressions received from the physical world, which includes the internal world of the body. MEMORY introduces the element of time, and here Valéry looks at the relation between past and present experiences and at the respective roles of mind and sense in the creation and assimilation of memories. Finally, DREAM examines the nature of mental activity in sleep, in the waking state, as well as in the crucial intermediate states of transition from one to the other.

Despite the differences of emphasis that these distinct fields of enquiry represent, a certain underlying current permeates all the chapters and most clearly, perhaps, in the chapter DREAM. In his examination of the interaction of mind and sensibility, inner and outer worlds, Valéry's language frequently reveals a vision of that interaction as more akin to a battle than a partnership. In that battle, although everything is staked on the victory of the mind, which is essentially the victory of the Self, he is obliged to confront the limits of that power and the full force of other factors and constraints, including of course, the unconscious ('This business of the unconscious really needs to be sorted out' he writes in PSYCHOLOGY). What emerges, above all, is Valéry's sustained attempt to delineate the structures and movements of consciousness as an integral process that functions independently of the objects of consciousness. Each of the areas represented by the chapters in this volume serves as an opportunity to explore the limits of this activity, either as a particularizing feature, as with ATTENTION or MEMORY, or by contradistinction, as is the case with DREAM.

The extent to which these features are interrelated is most evident in the notes dating from the early 1900s which are to be found both in the manuscript Cahiers and in various parallel thematic dossiers and loose-leaf pages: among them, notes for a 'Mémoire sur l'Attention', a notebook entitled 'Somnia', dos­siers of notes titled 'Rêve', 'Surprise-Attente' and so on. The overall coherence of the research is very clear, not least through the circulation of passages between the different material forms, sometimes recopied by hand or on the typewriter, sometimes with variants or entirely new developments, but also through the hesitations over how to group the notes at the time of writing and later when Valéry was attempting to classify them. The notes in 'Somnia' for example (C, IV, 491-585) written between 1911 and 1914, are located here almost entirely in the chapter DREAM. They show that Valéry's prime concern is to determine, by means of discrimination between different states of awareness, the mental pro­cesses at work in the waking state, and thereby define the different phases of consciousness. The movement from one state to another is particularly fertile in enabling him to identify the overlap between the two systems of sleep and wakefulness. He is struck by the immediacy of experience in dreams: 'Modifications of the kind that constitute and people dreams are produced without preparation. What happens, happens without any links having to be established.' There is, in other words, no mediating conceptual superstructure, rather an im­mediate identification between the perceiving subject and the object of perception.

Questions of language are of crucial importance in this volume. For while the attempt to redefine terms in a language freed from arbitrary associations and capable of expressing pure analytical functions is a central part of the original project or 'System', Valéry encounters ultimate barriers of meaning when dealing with dreaming and sleep. What language can be used to define phenomena which, by definition, are beyond the realm of the referential system of language? When language is based on an arbitrary association of signifier and signified — a notion that Valéry acknowledged long before Saussure's teachings became widely disseminated —, how can this be applied to dreams where 'there are no signs properly speaking' because there is no distinction between the sign and the meaning? Any attempt to speak about dreams or to describe sleep can only be realized by means of a translation into another language of a different order; but 'translation into the language of waking life necessarily destroys the true phenom­enological nature of the dream — (like poetry translated into prose)'. It is, further­more, an aspect that Valéry constantly evokes to distinguish his own approach from that of Freud: 'These theories of Freud's are based on narratives told by one awake person to another. — There's no way of checking them.' Nevertheless, as Malcolm Bowie has pointed out, Valéry is less distant from Freud than he ap­pears to acknowledge, in so far as both ultimately recognize the non-translatability of the unconscious. But where Freud held that the movements and urges of the unconscious might be grasped through the paradoxes, tensions and slips of language, and the Surrealists, that it might be glimpsed through the play of ludic contradictions, Valéry focuses insistently upon the impossibility of finding an adequate language and how that impossibility can, in itself, serve to define the way that consciousness itself proceeds. To define the limits and constraints of language, is to identify and separate out those features and processes of thinking and being that, however inextricably entwined with language they have become, are nevertheless distinct from it. Language, then, is one part of the problem; the other, is that of point of view; for, in dreams the observer is directly involved with what is being observed, and the phenomenon of observing itself has a direct and immediate influence.

However, rather than seeking to circumvent these difficulties by imposing some metadiscourse which might encompass these differences, Valéry's ap­proach is to incorporate this problematic into the enquiry, with the result that the writing shows an insistent refusal to synthesize, preferring instead to employ a system of definitions by negation. He thus identifies a series of contrasts and continuities between the states of dreaming and of wakefulness. In the waking state the self is confronted with doubts, surprises and questions, ('Robinson —stock-still before the print of a human foot in the sand... Who, when, where and how? What savage has passed along this shore?'), but in dreams such experiences are directly absorbed, for there is not the distance that permits the space of duality. The waking state is characterized by constraints, anticipations, expectations, classifications, discriminations, while in dream no such perspectives arise: 'In dreams, there is no cancellation, no erasure of a part of our perceptions [...]. Nothing insignificant or trivial'. There is no room for intellectual distance or objection: 'Dream integrates — What sleeps is negation.' Underpinning the analysis is the notion that the perception of reality is based upon a distancing effect and the dualism of consciousness, whereas in dream it is impossible to identify a clear distinction between the 'I' and the 'not-I', to the extent that nothing in dream is not-real, nothing is imaginary: 'So, law of the dream: Image and reality are the same thing.' If anything, dream implies a kind of intensification of the sense of the real; hence the oft-repeated formula 'in dreams everything is dreamed': the moment one is able to say that something is a dream, one is no longer dreaming. It is striking that, despite Valéry's overt mistrust of Surrealism, he is developing such ideas for himself some 13 years before the publication of the Manifeste du Surréaalisme.

Valéry's analysis does not, however, focus exclusively upon the distinction between waking and dream, and the presence or absence of a discriminating consciousness. Rather, he is interested in this aspect for what it might show about the way the living system works, which may be identified all the more clearly when it is working differently. He seeks to determine the nature of the network of forces in operation in a human being located in his own personal, intellectual and sensory space. He analyses the functions, the systems of accommodation, the reflexes, the established and developing links, that keep the ma­chine of the thinking-body running: if the body is a living organism, then so too are the mind and the senses, which do not require us to be constantly aware of them. Indeed the idea of forgetting as a necessary feature of the human being's capacity to function is a recurrent theme: memory and forgetting are to be seen less as opposites and more as mutually dependent operations.

It is, in fact, Valéry's efforts to categorize the series of operations that underlie mental states that most distinguishes his psychology as 'something quite different from "Freudianism"', a feature acknowledged by Jacques Lacan who made reference to Valéry on many occasions in his 'Seminars'5. Lacan was pursuing his studies in psychiatry and psychoanalysis at the same time as Julien Rouart, a cousin of Madame Valéry, and they would both visit Valéry in the rue de Ville-just to speak with him about the current state of psychiatry. When in 1932 Lacan completed his doctoral thesis, On Paranoiac Psychosis in its Relations to the Personality, he presented a copy of the work to Valéry inscribed with the dedication: 'To Paul Valéry. To the master who initiated our youth into the dazzling play of the laws immanent within consciousness, I dedicate this too weighty attempt to rediscover them in the most irrational regions of the mind, with respectful apologies / Jacques Lacan / 25 Oct. 32.


The notes gathered together in the chapter PSYCHOLOGY reveal not only the full extent and persistence of Valéry's reflections on the subject, but also a deter­mination to underline the specificity of his contribution to the subject. Some­thing very personal emerges in the affirmation of what he calls 'My psychology' or a 'true theory of consciousness', as well as in his frequent challenges to the ap­proaches of established psychologists. Valéry's ambitious programme seeks to map out an agenda for analysis that might lead to an overall theory of consciousness: 'Psychology. I don't know whether anyone has addressed the problem of psychology in the way I do. / I ask where you want to take it. What degree of precision is demanded. Whether language, whether even any language, is adequate?' Valéry himself uses categories that he recognizes to be part of the 'old vo­cabulary', such as 'Memory', 'Attention', 'Will', 'Sensation', 'Perception' — all common features of the scientific discourse of the late nineteenth century — but at the same time he strongly rejects the notion of separate faculties and seeks to distance himself from past approaches which have tended to treat such phenomena as discrete categories which can be subjected to exhaustive explanation or tackled according to a positivist analysis of cause and effect. He wants, instead, firstly to envisage these states as irretrievably interrelated, and secondly, to ob­serve them in operation, and he does this by bringing new analytical frames to bear upon them in a language adapted from mathematics and thermodynamics.

Valéry's rigorous self-observation is directed towards identifying mental processes in actu, in order to build up the elements of a phenomenology of the patterns of consciousness, to a degree that is more generalized than any of the particular in­stances of its manifestation: 'Crucial question in my psychology. What is con­served through all states? what is conserved in sleep, in dreams, in drunkenness, in terror, in the fervour of love? in madness?'

As the early hopes of formulating his integrated System receded — the founding ambition of 1892 to formulate a single, overarching model of mental functioning, a systematized algebra of the mind generating a set of universal principles — so, over the first decade of the twentieth century, the aspiration to establish a unique set of analytical tools based upon his own method and way of looking became all the more prominent. And 'My Psychology' clearly indicated a way forward: certain formalizing, integrative approaches are maintained while the material and processes become rooted in the experience of the perceiving self, viewed as a complex set of interrelated mechanisms.

Thought is envisaged as essentially unstable, in constant flux and transformation. It is subject to the effects of associations, instincts, affectivity, attention etc. It is at once constrained by all the conditions that have formed it, whether back­ground, learning, social and cultural influences, and yet remains boundlessly free and capable of infinite inventiveness. Cognitive approaches to the nature of thought conventionally identify features such as recall, association, understand­ing, second-level awareness etc., and attempt to analyse the particular characteristics of each. Valéry, on the other hand, attempts a broader, more far-reaching approach, arguing that each of these aspects of thought operates through a series of connections and substitutions which are governed by functional rules. What are the unifying principles underpinning the multiplicity of experiences? Such is the founding question that he never loses sight of: 'The mind sees only one thing at a time — it operates by only one operation at a time... What is the unity of its operation or of its object? It's not a question of discovering it, but of inventing it.'

The question is approached in two ways: one by a process of abstraction in treating the object, the other through a series of mutually related antithetical concepts. Firstly, he argues, the substitutions and connections operate not upon the thing itself but upon mental images which are a kind of abstract construct or symbol standing in place of the object, and this process provides 'data' in a form that enables the mind to operate upon it. Valéry frequently explores questions relating to the processes of conceptualization in terms of the images that are formed in the mind and, in particular, uses the key word 'représentation' to de­note this, a term that signifies not only how something is represented but the picture of it created in the mind both as specific image and as concept. The pro­cesses themselves are analysed in terms of dynamic opposites, and here we en­counter a vocabulary which is characteristically Valéryan: continuity / discon­tinuity, rational / irrational relations, simultaneous / successive, heterogeneous / homogeneous. Each of the pairs implies the other and this approach enables Valéry to proceed with the analyses through a process of discrimination.

The ambition to theorize the workings of consciousness remains a driving feature of Valéry's analysis, but these are never synthesized into an integrated system. Rather, he explores different theoretical models that enable him to re­examine his fundamental questions from a variety of perspectives. We can ob­serve instances of this throughout the Notebooks: from the early 'Sketch of the theory of operations', to a theory of energy, a theory of reflexes, a theory of interventions, a theory of the machine, a 'Nervous theory', a return in 1927 to 'my old theory of the instrument' and, especially in the latter years, an insistence upon the value of his early theory of phases which addresses issues of continuity, discontinuity and the transition from one to another. Models adopted from mathematics and physics are explored through the notion of geodesics and the application of quantum theory. The conditions of visual perception become an important model for providing an account of consciousness, in so far as they imply complex processes of accommodation, awareness, but also crucially, non-awareness. 'The perfect product of vision,' he writes 'would be expressed by a zero of awareness of conditions. The eyes are excluded'. For Valéry recognizes that the living system depends not only upon conscious processes but upon an entire substructure of automatic reflexes, cyclic responses and unconscious acts. How does an experience consciously registered the first time of encounter, become integrated into reflex responses? How are these built up from childhood, he asks, prompted by the observation of his own children growing up and acquiring language? Such examples serve to remind us that the notes, however abstract they may appear, are rooted in the personal experience of self-observation and observation of others. Human emotions are part of the system and throughout the notes, the theories are constantly tested against the responses of laughter and tears, for both are indicators of the limits of thought, a form of release for an idea or image that surpasses the capacity for thought.


'Any philosophical System in which the human body does not play a fundamental role is inept, incapable.' Thus, Valéry affirms the distinct nature of his contri­bution, which serves to relativize the perception of him as being focused exclu­sively upon the higher rational purposes of the mind. Indeed, he is at pains to stress the wider context within which thought operates and upon which it de­pends for its existence: 'The mind is a moment of the body's response to the world.' Despite being one of the shortest of the chapters, SOMA AND CEM out­lines a singular approach, which does not affirm 'Soma' as the opposite pole to thought, but views it as an integral part of a triadic system. Valéry was from the earliest times concerned to identify the physical and sensory constraints upon thought as well as the physical and sensory responses that are generated. But the understanding of these as part of a wider perceptual process of being-in-the­world along with the more systematic use of the symbol CEM developed rather later. Valéry also refers to the triad using the Greek terms E (Soma), K (Kosmos) and Psy (Psyche) as three interconnecting units, one of physical identity, one of external reality and one characterized by change, possibility, doubt or even absence; all of the states of human experience can, he asserts, be viewed in terms of the interaction of these variables. He seeks, accordingly, to identify the dif­ferent sets of relationships which are in operation at any one time between body and world, body and mind, mind and world. But this does not mean that they make a harmonious whole: the world with which the body interacts is not the same world as that with which the mind connects, while the body is consistently viewed as something foreign to his own sense of being: 'My body" is as foreign to me as any object — (if not even more so —) and is more intimate to me, more primarily and essentially "I" than any thought.' The response of the mind to the body moves between amazement, repulsion, scientific curiosity and ignorance. In one sense, the body is a finely tuned machine; Valéry's widespread contacts with the medical world meant that he was very familiar with the mechanisms at work beneath the skin and in his notes he analyses the functioning of the different organs of the body: the circulation of the blood, breathing, mus­cular activity, the stimulation and responses of nerves, bodily functions, the appendages and in particular the strange wonder that is the hand. At the same time, his own acknowledged nervous disposition and acutely sensitive emotions meant that he was always aware that man could not be reduced to a thinking brain in a well-tuned machine: the experiences of vertigo, nausea, pain, pleasure and the full power of the sensibility can never be overlooked.

Nor can the significance of the encounter with the world around be dis­missed; if any living creature, whether animal or human, is formed by its envir­onment, it also depends upon its struggle with the environment for what makes it most characteristically itself. One note in particular develops this idea with great insight (and uncanny anticipation of developments in medical science). Imagine, Valéry suggests, that a specially engineered environment could provide all that is required to keep the body of a living organism alive, relieving it of the urgent all-consuming necessity of assuring its own survival, then 'the animal would be strangely reduced', as instincts, nerves and muscles lose their purpose, and mind, emotion and actions cease to function. For 'the essential wonders of life' — the passions, knowledge, creativity itself — are the unstable, incalculable responses to the inadequacy of the environment.

The body, then, is an essential and equal constituent of the partnership, not though in a purely anatomical sense: it functions as 'my body' the more unnoticed it is. The 'real body' is envisaged as a set of almost abstract functions and formulas intimately associated with the impersonal notion of the pure self: 'The I is the more or less hidden role which the real body plays within consciousness'. The experience of the present is entirely dependent upon the phenomenological association of corporal sensation, perception of surrounding things and psychic production: Valéry's significant contribution is to argue that consciousness can only come into being through this triadic relationship.


Valéry's reflections on the functioning of the mind took a particular turn in the early years of the century when the subject proposed for the philosophy section of the Prix Santour for 1905 was 'Attention'. In the event, the prize was not awarded that year; Valéry's own essay not only countered the current conven­tions of thinking as exemplified by the jury members themselves, but was sub­mitted incomplete. Nevertheless, the subject accorded with his current concerns as part of a network of themes including Surprise and Expectation ('Attente'). The dominant theorist of the time (and prominent jury member) was Théodule Ribot, whose work La Psychologie de l'attention (Paris, Alcan, 1888) was the major reference point and is one of the rare books to be cited by Valéry in his notes.? In spite of this indebtedness — or perhaps, precisely, because of it — Valéry characteristically sought to distinguish his own position and demarcate his own contribution. A significant difference is that, unlike the scientific works he read, his own focus was not upon the pathology of an abnormal medical situation, but on the operation of the normal living system; another difference lies in the fact that, as was seen with the previous chapter, his concern is always to consider the im­plications across the whole range of functions. Thus an increase in attention in one area may depend upon less perception in another, so that fixing the gaze upon one element means that all the others are eliminated. ATTENTION is seen as an exceptional state of limited duration, within the overall frame of operation, an instance of a higher, more focused form of accommodation, implying a particular form of adjustment between the self and one's mental or physical milieu. Attention is a form of energy which requires preparation or draws on an accu­mulated quantum of energy and is timed to function at the appropriate moment. It is a concentration of effort which is unstable, cannot last beyond a certain point and is measured by the outcome as may be seen not only in the phenom­enon of attainment or non-attainment of the goal, but also in an ensuing loss of effort or fatigue. Thus, while Valéry attends in several instances to the phe­nomenon of inner attention as a purely mental activity, it is also investigated as a function involving other bodily systems; indeed, in so far as it involves a dif­ference of intensity, it is a property of the nervous system. Specific instances are analysed to illustrate the range of faculties which have to be coordinated and which lead, at the same time, to an exclusion of others. The act of threading a needle calls upon a visual value, a motor value, a mental picture of the achieved goal, an effort of will as well as, at a certain point, the act which gambles upon success. Whether threading a needle or writing a sonnet, attention coordinates the faculties while acting against probability. The image of the deep-sea diver is used to exemplify the specialized form of adaptation that attention represents: the physical constraints, the selectivity, the restrictions of time, the refusal to be distracted. Both examples are used to show that attention functions via an economy of effort, by reducing trial and error and working against probability to create greater certainty. A further aspect which is increasingly considered is that of visual attention as manifest in the fixing of the gaze. Ultimately, however, all these examples are brought back to the thinking process, to the higher degree of simultaneity and operational capacity of thought that, for the limited time it can be maintained, attention represents. What, Valéry asks primarily, are the factors determining 'the gaze of the mind'?


SENSIBILITY explores a further dimension of 'My Psychology', namely the range of sensory and affective values that are inextricably bound to the experience of the lived life and form an integral part of the Body-Mind-World equation. We have already noted Valéry's own acute sensitivity and his attempts to deal with his own affective responses via a form of mental compartmentalization. The ten­sions and ambiguities appertaining to the term 'Sensibility' are particularly acute for the translator, in part because Valéry may seek to articulate affective states in terms of physical responses or nervous reflex actions, and in part because of the range of meanings encompassed by the term in French: at times it relates to the senses, at others to the feelings, and yet again, more specifically, to aspects of sensuality. Valéry appears to exploit to the full the room for manoeuvre which this allows, while emphasizing in all cases the potentiality it implies and which focuses less upon the nature of the response than on the capacity to respond. In time, Valéry comes to distinguish two types of sensibility, generalized and specialized, the former an expression of an individual's general, inner, subjective capacity to respond, the latter more permanent and objective, a trace of the data arising from the interaction of the senses with the world around.

In the chapter on PSYCHOLOGY, Valéry notes that the brain is an electric en­gine, which leads him to evoke an 'electromagnetic' image of sensibility. Here the sensibility is seen as one element of a complex generator of energies; its role is to furnish the brain with stimuli derived from the outside world. This process is neither consistent nor predictable. Thinking of the unceasing activity of the mind, which is constantly modified by its contact with 'things', Valéry sees instability as the essential characteristic of both mind and sensibility. Although the sensibility is a constant presence, no single sensation can be either constant or continuous, and it can easily be seen that the impossibility of 'fixing' our sense impressions is a potent source of the instability of the mind. Moreover, though its role as provider of stimuli to the mind is essential, the sensibility is also a potential disturber of the peace, a limitation on the freedom of the intellect. The mind functions by acting 'against', by resisting the pull of emotional urges and the pentes, the inclinations and downward-leading paths of the sensibility. The mind works both on and against the sensibility by combining, organizing and simplifying the multiform impact and the incoherence of our sense impressions. It connects and classifies, whereas sensibility simply accumulates. But mind and sensibility together form the necessary condition of our knowing: we can know only what can be processed by both. Moreover there can be no consciousness without prior sensation; if all capacity for sensation were to be lost, the mind's own mechanisms — its geometry — would no longer be able to maintain in us a state of consciousness: those mechanisms have to be kick-started by sensation. In the chapter on ATTENTION, Valéry refers to 'variations in sensibility — or aware­ness'; attention is a 'polarization of sensibility' and voluntary attention is an 'artifi­cial or exceptional hyper-sensibility'. The conscious mind, then, has some degree of control over the action of the senses. The chapter on SENSIBILITY devotes much discussion to the nature of the senses and their mode of action; their func­tion is more or less taken for granted. It soon becomes apparent that Valéry is dealing with more than one process. There is much analysis of the mode of action of the individual senses, especially those of sight and hearing (which are senses 'at a distance', as opposed to the senses of taste, touch and smell). Valéry sees the nervous system as a network of electrical circuits, some highly special­ized and others more general, which are switched on, as it were, by impulses from the outside world or from the body's own organs, and can, remarkably, produce the same effect in response to a variety of stimuli. Sensations are not in themselves significant. The intervention of the mind is required to convert sen­sation into experience or knowledge. A frequent illustration of this idea is Valéry's assertion that to look at a thing without seeing it (and that is how we look at most things all the time) is to see without perceiving. We are continually bombarded by sense impressions, but we isolate and privilege some and remain unaware of others. This absence of awareness is not an absence of sensation: Valéry memorably defines Silence as 'a term that represents the continuity of the auditory function'. Between hearing and listening there lies an act of will. The senses, in short, if they are to contribute usefully, have to be domesticated by the mind. What is interesting is not the action of an external source (the thing seen or heard), but the internal transformation that it can bring about in the person whose senses first register it, then classify and thus annul it. This act of classification restores a balance that can easily be modified or destroyed by the irrational nature of sensation. Sensation is essentially and always irrational because its ef­fects are not proportional to their causes: a bad tooth can produce more agoniz­ing pain than a mortal illness, and indeed such local sensations frequently take over the person completely and make rational thought impossible. Reflecting on an irritating cough and a tickling sensation in his throat, Valéry arrives at 'my old feeling. . . of the universal stupidity of things', and expresses a vast contempt for what seems alien to his nature: the irrational, physical world. The Self is not de­fined by the sensibility, but survives by turning sensibility to its own uses. Hence Valéry concludes that the intensity of a sensation bears no relation to its impor­tance or its value. And that consequently it is absurd to attribute metaphysical significance to sensibility. It becomes evident that here Valéry is going beyond the category of purely physical sensation, and indeed he brackets together sensations and emotions — a conflation made all the more unremarkable in the original text by the ambiguity of the French term sensibility, which, as Valéry notes, means both nervous sensitivity and the capacity to feel emotion. Valéry points to love as 'a most intense emotion which is accompanied by intellectual disorder' —rather like toothache. This is no light matter: the mind is 'chained to that serpent or woman' that is the nervous system, an alien presence that is both its enemy and its necessary companion, a second self that wars against the Self. One might conclude that a purely intellectual paradise would be the highest good, since it would not be in danger of being lost. But without the 'serpent or woman' of sensation, the mind would have no substance on which to impose its will. And in truth there is no choice: the world of the intellect is constantly and inescapably both fed and challenged by the world of sensation.


The chapter on MEMORY contains a rich source of material, reflecting Valéry's life-long fascination with the mystery of this psychic capacity that has the power to challenge conventional notions of time. It is one of the hidden functions whose smooth operation is taken for granted; like the organs of the body, it functions largely unnoticed and only comes to our attention when it fails us. And yet, paradoxically, forgetting is as much a part of its functioning as is retention: adaptation to the present requires that things be forgotten. Valéry sees Memory as an essential part of identity, the gradual accumulation of experience fashioning the self in an imperceptible way: it is the function that enables us to rediscover ourselves on awakening as the constituent parts of the experience of self are reassembled in the mind. It serves a dual purpose, at once repository of what has happened and capacity for reactivation. But, unlike many of his con­temporaries, including of course Proust, Valéry is less concerned with memory's ability to provide access to the past than with its potential in the present and for the future. Too precise a recollection of the past is held to be disabling: Valéry insistently analyses the way in which the mind integrates its experience and learning by abstracting what is essential and forgetting what is particular to the moment of its acquisition. The system of language and thought would not func­tion, he argues, if we were able to recall the conditions of the original learning or the intensity of the first encounter with an idea. Only the formal aspects are retained in a non-specific context, the automatism of language freeing words from the individual circumstances of their usage. On several occasions Valéry employs a scientific discourse, seeing memory as a geodesic or shortest distance between two points on a curved surface. These formal aspects are not, however, exclusively cognitive, for Memory is related to Sensibility and attaches value to these formal elements both in terms of selectivity and affective charge, as an essential part of our physical being ('It's like the blood of thought, fed on sensations'), while at the same time placing the items in an overall pattern of organization ('Memory is not accumulated but constructed'). And so it is the non-particularity of memory that makes it serve the purposes of the present. The past becomes a virtuality, an 'implex'; what was once acquired by accident becomes a form available for different constructs, a resource full of potential: 'Memory', writes Valéry, 'is the future of the past.'


Valéry sees the waking self as characterized by its ability to distinguish between and to establish a hierarchy of surrounding phenomena; it is not bound by the arbitrary sequence of events and impressions, and attributes no inherent significance to their accidental coincidence. That is to say, the waking self is (ideally) the intellectual master of the world of sensation. Dreams, however, are another matter. The chapter on DREAM includes some examples of Valéry's own dreams, but is largely devoted to reflections on the nature of dreams and dreaming. These reflections invariably invite an attempt to analyse the differences between sleep­ing/dreaming and the waking state, and thus obliquely to define the nature of wakefulness. The reports of Valéry's dreams, which he appears to have recorded soon after waking up, are not intended to reveal very much about the dreamer. Only the dream described in the first extract here is recorded without analysis, and only here is the emotion accompanying the image allowed its full force: 'Dream: terrible fear inspired by someone extremely beautiful.' Subsequent ac­counts of dreams are immediately qualified by comments on their selection and modification of his waking experiences, their exaggeration, their grotesque or caricatural aspects. Thus a dream of a visit to the Bibliothèque nationale is given only in part, and partly summarized, before Valéry introduces a comment on the way in which what is partially or completely altered in a dream — a place, a per­son, an object — remains recognizable. As Valéry notes on several occasions, in dreams you know that the man you see is Mr X, though he looks nothing like Mr X, just as you know what is written on a piece of paper, even though you can't see the writing. This is not reassuring: significantly, when Valéry begins to recount a confused and apparently sinister dream, he breaks off to remark: 'Let's return to the theory.' That is clearly where he feels on safer ground; as he notes: 'In a dream you are as if naked and defenceless against the impact of everything you know.'

Many of the reflections in the earlier part of this chapter concentrate on the moment of awakening, and are thus linked to the chapters on SENSIBILITY, CONSCIOUSNESS and MEMORY. Waking up is a becoming-conscious, a gradual process in which the sleeper emerges from the dream-state like a swimmer surfacing and making for the shore. He becomes aware of sensations, then memory reminds him that these sensations are familiar and can be located in his body, of which he becomes gradually sensible: 'He reconstitutes himself, reconstructs himself' Valéry likens this process to the gradual emergence of the image in a photographic developing dish. But for the sleeper as he awakens there is a mo­ment of uncertainty before sensation and memory reassure him: 'Doubt, close to waking. To believe — —.' That moment of disorientation is familiar to the reader of Valéry's poems.

The dreamer exists in a world whose laws are not those of the waking world. Myself awake and myself asleep are two entities, connected but different. The only thing that makes it possible for me to observe my dream is its 'essential ab­sence'. We cannot even be sure that the memory of a dream is not already a falsification: we detach that memory from the continuum of the dreaming mind's activity because it strikes us as significant, and we inevitably impose on it a pat­tern of relations acceptable to the waking mind. In Valéry's view, dreams have no logical sequence and no 'meaning'. Moreover the gap between dreamer and observer is made the more intractable by the very nature of language, which is constituted as a network of related propositions that cannot correspond to the network of dream-events and cannot mirror the distinctive, non-logical links between the images of dreams. Indeed it is a defining characteristic of dreams that the dreamer is unable to reject any event or image, however absurd — the concept of absurdity depends on the concept of rationality, which belongs to the mind awake. It should be noted that in the chapter on DREAM Valéry is concerned specifically with attempts to describe dreams as experienced: he does not consider here the possibilities of reproducing dream logic in literature, as in Surrealist poetry.

Valéry concludes that all accounts of dreams, and even of our memories, are 'necessarily false', and goes on to reject the work of Freud and the Freudians. Noting that their theories claim a physiological basis for the hypothesis of the action of repressed memories (largely memories of early sexual impressions), he appears to reject this hypothesis out of hand, and with evident distaste. The rationale that he offers for this rejection is twofold: the Freudians produce no explanation of where or how such early impressions are stored; even more ques­tionably, their methods of retrieval rely on exactly that kind of narrative for which no independent authentication is possible. The Freudian investigator is a man awake listening to another man awake, and he constructs his own narrative out of the elements (suggested, provoked, selected by himself) of what is already a constructed narrative. Most significantly, 'Freud and Co.' are interested in 'the meaning [of a dream], its relation to the subject's personal history', while Valéry is concerned with 'the intrinsic characteristics of the phenomenon' of dreams. In other words, Valéry claims that his approach is the more scientific, rational and objective; his aim is not to describe a putative 'unconscious', but to examine the nature of dreams. It becomes clear that his goal is to define the dream in order to define the nature of active, waking thought and to assert its superior worth: 'Dreams let us see the real value of our waking selves.'

The dreamer's relation to his dream is constantly described by Valéry as that of a spectator. Though we perform actions in dreams, our awareness of those actions, and of the whole of the dream-context, is that of an onlooker. Repeatedly, Valéry invokes the theatre to illustrate the sensation of presence combined with distance: the dream presents a 'scene', a 'drama', a 'carnaval', a 'saturnalia', actions take place 'centre stage' or 'stage front'. The 'psychological comedy' that is enacted is an outward representation of an internal text to which we have only oblique and limited access — limited because our waking self is unable to express it, and because we ourselves are not only the audience but also the stage. These images serve to emphasize the essential difference between the waking and the sleeping, dreaming self. In the chapter on PSYCHOLOGY, Valéry remarks that thought — intellection — is not all-powerful. But while the waking self has a measure of control over the play, the dreamer has none, and if the incoherence of his dream should begin to disturb him, his only recourse is to wake up.

Waking up is a rejection of the world of the dream. That world disturbs Valéry because it lies beyond his control, try as he may to tie it down in scien­tific analysis or mathematical equation. It is an impure world, a world of illusion, of the 'not-me'. The carnival of dream is only possible when 'I' am not there; that is to say, the real 'I' is the waking self, the self of intellection, the mind free to control its action and reflection. The fascination of dreams is dangerous, because they challenge that freedom.

Cahiers: Notebooks (Volume 4) by Paul Valéry, chief editor and translations by Brian Stimpson, translations by Paul Gifford, Norm Rinsler, Stephen Romer, Brian Stimpson  (Peter Lang)  Topics in volume 4:

  • LANGUAGE Translated by Brian Stimpson
  • BIOS Translated by Paul Ryan and Norma Rinsler
  • MATHEMATICS Translated by Rima Joseph and Norma Rinsler
  • SCIENCE Translated by Norma Rinsler and Rima Joseph
  • TIME Translated by Norma Rinsler
  • HOMO Translated by Paul Ryan and Brian Stimpson
  • HISTORY-POLITICS Translated by Brian Stimpson
  • EDUCATION Translated by Norma Rinsler

The chapters presented in volume 4 of the Cahiers /Notebooks bring to the fore new dimensions of Valéry's Body-Mind-World triumvirate. Fully reflective of some of the most exciting scientific discoveries of the twentieth century, they reveal Valéry as an important thinker and epistemologist, engaged not only with issues of the internal mental world but with man's attempts to understand his own physical being and the world in which he finds himself 'The mind is a moment of the response of the body to the world', he writes in a note of 1921 (C, VIII, 153); or again, 'the real system of reference is the body — the observer is my body. The relation between the body and the non-body is the ultimate concern of physics — this relation not entirely reciprocal' (VIII, 443). Valéry understands that perhaps the most fundamental change in modern thinking and sensibility has been the break with the seemingly fixed reference points and absolute values of the past, which were now seen to be longer tenable. But, since 'to distinguish in all observations what is due to the observer. . . is generally impossible', how then in such a shifting context of relativities does one identify new reference points? We have, proposes Valéry, 'to look for what would be preserved in all possible conditions of observation'; and such, in short, is the project that runs through all the chapters of this volume.

Valéry's reflections upon language date from the earliest period and are maintained throughout as an essential tool in every area that he explores, even if, as will be seen, the early hopes for developing a single protocol language of thought will have to be modified. Rich perspectives are offered on the major areas of scientific progress being made during his lifetime: modern mathematics, atomic and quantum physics, relativity, the uncertainty principle, space-time interrelationships, the neuro-sciences; there can be no doubt that it was the sciences, including mathematics, that were the major focus of his own interests as a reader. Although his knowledge was not sufficient for him to be classed as an innovator in the sciences, his grasp of the underlying research problems was immediate, and the ability to make connections with other domains frequently praised by the leading scientists of his time.' But man is seen too as an organism living in an often difficult relationship with his environment and with his fellow-men, and the Notebooks make a significant contribution to an understanding of the wider context of historical and socio-political problems, on a national, European and global level: they offer a probing analysis of political power and action, and they interrogate both the practice and the principles implicit in notions of 'morality' and 'justice' in contemporary society. There is evidence too of penetrating insights into the nature of human relationships, as well as — perhaps surprisingly in view of his determined defence of an elitism of the mind — the emergence of Valéry as a radical educationalist and trenchant critic of the established (and in many respects still unchanged) French education system.

It was noted in the general Introduction to this edition (vol. 1) how Valéry tends to omit from his analytical reflections the lived experience, the empirical evidence that may have prompted the note in the first place. In his writing in the Notebooks, the incident, the memory, the trace of a text recently read has faded behind the present mental act and the attempt to derive from such an experience more general operational principles, the system of functions underlying any specific case. Such an approach is, again, much in evidence in this volume as, whatever the starting point, Valéry will look to draw out a more generalizing theory, bringing to bear upon a particular situation his own more abstract 'way of looking at things'. And yet, here the process can sometimes take on a rather different dimension, even, at times, a seemingly contrary direction: we see a Valéry who is eager to test the ideas developed within his inner mental research laboratory against the material evidence of the world around him and to weigh his own approaches against those of his eminent contemporaries in a whole range of fields; we encounter a Valéry keen to elicit the rules and processes of man's social environment, his mores, his relationship with others, his systems of governance, his place in history; and we find a Valéry who is actively involved in discovering and interrogating the conceptual frames for understanding the world that are offered by others specializing in mathematics and the physical and natural sciences. He emerges as someone positively and actively engaged in his contemporary world, despairing at the actions of nation states, dismissive of the role of politicians, scornful of historians, sceptical of the power of the masses, critical of the abuse of industrial and financial might; but at the same time as one who is greatly excited by new discoveries, fascinated by new technologies, strong in his upholding of all that is best in a Western culture derived from the Graeco-Judaeo-Christian tradition while also an adamant supporter of the mixing of different races and cultures, a prescient promoter of the role of Europe as a distinct entity, and above all a profound humanist and firm believer in the power and inventiveness of human imagination.


The sustained analysis of language is present in the very earliest of the Notebooks, at a period when Valéry was seeking a mode of expression freed from arbitrary associations with reality and capable of expressing pure functions, his 'Arithmetica Universalis' or algebra of the mind that would provide the basis for a rigorous, universal and comprehensive analytics of the mind and its products. Reflecting on this earlier project, Valéry writes in 1927: 'My idea was to conceive of an artificial language based upon the reality of thought, a pure system of linguistic signs.' The project was radical indeed, challenging the assumptions, not just of social discourse but of knowledge itself: 'Reduce to nothing existing, given conventions. Rebuild conventions.' The meaning of all words was to be re-assessed, the 'modes of representation' made explicit, the way that complex terms were made up was to be precisely articulated; all vague expressions and false problems were to be eliminated, the belief that verbal terms have any intrinsic meaning was to be strictly 'ruled out and all the terms accepted into his 'self-language' had to be capable of being 'translated by a completely precise and constant image'. In this way, Valéry hoped that he might fashion a unitary, mathematically expressed model of mental functioning commanding a protocol language that might be applicable in all areas, including literature. He was seeking to organize his own language in such a way as to make it not only relevant to the description of the model but into an 'instrument of discovery — an operator, like algebra — or rather an instrument of demonstration and deduction of discoveries and of rigorous observations'. Based on the model as referent, the protocol language would underpin the rethinking of all problems and inherited or conventional answers in all the fields of the mind's cognitive and creative operations. Such a highly ambitious project inevitably ran up against the nature of language itself, the complexity of its origins, the multiplicity of functions it has to fulfil and the intractable problem of integrating pure thought into a linguistic system determined by everyday expression. But if the original all-inclusive goal was necessarily modified, the detailed examination of these different features of language as a systematic tool of analysis offered insights that are rich and varied, as is amply demonstrated throughout the Notebooks. Valéry poses fundamental questions about the extent to which thought is dependent upon language and the productions of the mind constrained by the 'pre-existence of the words and forms of a given language, learnt from childhood'; his detailed analyses of the functioning of language, albeit couched in a different terminology, explore aspects of language as a sign system, as a combination of signifier and signified, as speech act, as enunciation, before such notions became common currency in linguistics. The terms of the purified conceptual language were to be combined into his very own lexicon and indeed, even much later in life, he sees this as his principle 'All I've ever work he writes, 'I've spent my life framing my definitions' and in 1939, 'All I've ever worked at has been my Dictionary, applying the labour on Language in everyday use is instrumental, transactional: it serves a purpose and once this has been fulfilled, the act carried out, the request answered, the expression or emotion acknowledged etc., the language per se is annulled. All language, of course, implies a communicative act of some sort, but the language used in general inter-personal communication implies some sense of 'common measure' that is a matter of 'pure convention'. These terms assume a degree of conformity between speaker and recipient, but paradoxically this does not, argues Valéry, mean that they have a fixed and clearly-defined meaning; on the contrary, meaning is not fixed but varies with use, it is context-driven and re-quires a certain imprecision of reference. The assumption that language is an instrument of clarity and understanding is therefore an illusion that is repeatedly challenged throughout these notes. Equally, comprehension all too often involves, not an extension of the other person's understanding, but an appropri-ation of one's thoughts and feelings into what the other person knows already. The act of understanding involves bringing what is not-known into the realm of the already-known, transposing the new into the domain of the old. The strategy of the speaker is no different: 'Language, means for attempting to make the Other resemble oneself — and to make him produce (as initial reaction and, one hopes, as accurately as possible) a predetermined part of what one has in mind.' Words are used as ready-made formulae, speech itself taking over from thought and determining what can be thought: 'many people think only through speech. . . They perceive only what conforms to what they know already.'

One crucial factor involves the way we view the relationship between words and things, all too readily making a false equation between the two: whereas in fact, '« I have no name, — says a Thing — and when you name me This, — you're looking at some other thing and you turn away from me. #1. A 'true definition' would marry the word to the thing, the perception to the act, but this is rarely the case. Another factor to be taken into account is that the meanings of words 'belong to different eras of thought' and what we use now is in fact an amalgamation of a number of different meanings which, though specific at a previous point in time, no longer have that foundation of reference. This can apply whether the word relates to a particular object, such as an implement no longer employed, or ways of thinking and understanding the universe; as a result language becomes a 'disorganized mass of views of the world' and the process of comprehension and assimilation tends to respond to 'what is, with what was'. This too is the power of myth which is inseparable from language, just as language itself is the essential instrument of the social order and shared belief that Valéry refers to as fiducia.

Thus, as Valéry systematically points to what he calls the 'perils and insidious traps' of language, the principles emerge that would determine his ideal language: it would be one in which all the connections and combinations of terms were made explicit; it would 'lend itself to all operations and developments' and always be able to return to its 'defining values — experiences and conventions'. It would be a language which acknowledged that anything said or thought is necessarily a translation, and recognizes the full extent of everything that escapes us when we try to articulate any thought: 'The search, the unceasing search for that of which everything we say is merely a translation.' Hence the need to look at something 'in its singularity', to allow the mind to pause in the realm of not-knowing, rather than rushing to impose the verbal label of the already-known, to 'see instead of to be aware of the 'formless-real'. But this is not a comfortable position, reading, definitely cancels out language, one annuls with it the 'entire perspective of the for mind. . the whole of civilization, the shadows and lights of the "world"', and Valéry notes the feeling of terror that can ensue before such a void. At the same dine, it is this state of inarticulate language that brings us closest to that of inner speech, that in which the 'implex language is in intimate and direct proximity to other implexes — pictorial, affective etc.'. The relation between inner speech and external spoken or written discourse is at best indirect: the passage from the inchoate forms of inner speech to the thoughts one articulates to oneself, and thence to expression, communication and reception requires many accom-modations and approximations of translation.


The chapter Bios is devoted to Valéry's reflections on the physical and life sciences. Underpinning his investigation of natural and human biology in its many specialized fields, which include physiology, behavior, morphology, anatomy, evolution, reproduction and development, is the overarching quest for a definition of life itself. Indeed, Valéry gives a lively account of the debate that took place at the Académie francaise in 1935 over the different interpretations and connotations of this very word, with Valéry supporting Bergson's biological and 'energetical' definition (having himself initially proposed the approach to Bergson). The notes offer an extraordinarily rich perspective on various domains of scientific discovery and contemporary trends, as Valéry seeks to shine the light of one field on to another. Thus, for example, the living system is viewed in terms of thermodynamics ('A living being is a material system that is preserved by transformations in the opposite direction to Carnot's principle'); of molecular biology ('Life is linked to the formation of complex molecular edifices, and to the evolution of these edifices, by specific new reactions'); of atomic theory ('On the atomic scale, there are neither living beings nor any other kind — a hydrogen atom does not know whether it forms an ocean, a brain or an atmosphere'). We find references to embryogenesis and genetics, as well as frequent allusions throughout the chapter to scientists such as Carnot, Curie, Howdey, Mendeleyev and Darwin. The thinking here is strongly informed by evolutionary theory and natural selection as the dominant unifying principle of biology. While identifying the key features of life to be survival and conservation — based on the principles of repetition and mass proliferation (as is particularly evident in the seed), of continuous consumption and natural duration —, Valéry recognizes, nevertheless, that the most fundamental and constant law of nature is transformation, which is seen as the preserving force of life itself The difference between conservation and transformation is principally one of emphasis: 'The general idea of transformation has to predominate when the mind considers life and living beings. / An animal is a transformation disguised as an object or a being — It's alive as long as this transformation "conserves" certain properties.'

In this chapter much attention is devoted to the principal reproductive and structural characteristics of the living organism. The transformation and development of the organism from the cell to the embryo to full growth is propelled by the powerful dynamic of self-preservation. The structure of plants is seen as a formal materialization of time and space in which the laws of physics such as energy, mass, force, cycles and continuity are expressed. The plant's morphology, determined by the periodic nature of its growth, is achieved through modulation or transition from one phase to another, which for Valéry is the aesthetic secret of all the arts. From a scientific and personal perspective what most stirs the poet's imagination is the method and system of growth in living nature, which he opposes to man's 'act of creating'. But creation does not exist in a vacuum, as Valéry asserts a holistic view of nature as a never-ending cycle of life and death, growth and decay: '— Is it not, says the Lion, a tremendous work of art, the One I make with my jaws, — when I change the life of the Other into death, and its death into my life, when my enormous face, my golden mask with its splendid teeth applies itself to the fallen prey — ?' There are numerous reflections on the relationship between man and his environment, which are seen as mutually transformational systems, locked in their inter-dependence, as expressed in his pithily evocative note that the 'whole world breathes into a seed and turns it into a tree'. The world and living things exist in a complex relation of mutual dependency and accommodation; Valéry notes enthusiastically Leonardo da Vinci's notion that 'the life of the smallest animal is reluctant to abandon the dwelling place, the body it made for itself (its creation) — with so many experiments, centuries of congruence. Each of the parts of the body has its role to play, like the elements of a perfectly tuned machine. Nevertheless, in a note entitled 'Animal-Machine', Valéry is clear that the animal is 'certainly not a machine' in a purely mechanical way. He understands that the number of responses of an animal to a particular circumstance is finite and limited, and explores the parallels and contrasts between the 'animal-machine' and the 'human-machine'. His observations on the functional operation of the different parts of the body — noting the role of the blood, the organs, the skeletal structure, the functions and so on —, reveal the strength of his interest in human physiology. He recognizes too the progress that is possible in medicine when the mechanisms of nature are sufficiently well understood for man to devise machines and systems based on their function and operation. The analysis goes well beyond observation of natural phenomena and offers abstract theoretical or philosophical reflections that encompass the relationship of form to age, the principles of determinism and finalism and the possibility of life existing on other planets.

To exhaust a given, an object of thought — that is the formal joy of math-
ematics. . . The mind pushed to the extreme limit, pursued, pursuing itself.'
However strong the presence of the physical and material world in the Notebooks, the attempt to grasp the formal processes underpinning the various modes of operation is never far away, and this is especially the case with regard to mathematics, which is by its very nature concerned with identifying in abstract form the operational laws at work in a whole variety of cases. The attraction for Valéry was all the stronger because of the possibility of being able to identify the all number of laws governing an unlimited number of manifestations, for example in the distribution of form in nature. One can sense the intoxicating effect and the sheer intellectual excitement that such possibilities presented to Valéry: 'To exhaust. . . as if one commanded absolute zero; — by a complete interpretation, by operations pursued to the limit, by ruthless discussion, by blind generalization, by constant rigour, through translations, transformations and the most far-fetched analogies.' Bringing both logic and imagination into play, Valéry's aim here is to arrive at the fullest possible understanding not of the world outside the mind, but of the mind itself. Mathematics offers an arena in which to conduct the purest of operations, those that are concerned with structure, not with 'meaning'. The 'formal joy' of which he speaks derives not from finding or inventing answers to questions but from the mastery of the workings of a questioning mind, irrespective of the material it is handling. Within mathematics, his particular attachment is thus to algebra, which has no external reference, no 'material' outside itself; its concern is not with the quantities that the signs may arbitrarily embody, but with the relations between numbers and symbols and with the ways in which they can be manipulated.

Following the example of Descartes's Discours de la methode which brings a mathematical approach to the conception of the universe, Valéry considered that the leading model of explanation in modern thinking lay in the realm of physics and mathematics and he thus sought to extend mathematical models from the realm of physical nature to that of the mind. Such formal, conceptual modelling is at the very heart of all Valéry's work, intrinsic to his approach in all fields. It extends beyond the domain of the sciences to encompass his literary work and, ultimately, provides a means of theorizing the creative process in general. Mathematics is a form of mind, a source of methods that may be brought to bear upon anything and everything. The epistemological question that he then encounters, the 'general problem' that his 'System' confronts, is 'one of connection. Namely, the "continuity" of the human being — or of the "I" — how to represent it through its variations'. And again, Valéry will have recourse to mathematics when he identifies the 'pure I' not as the ultimate degree of consciousness but as the equivalent of an algebraic zero, the supreme invariant of the most general group of mental transformations. Mathematics offers an ideal arena for the very reason that it operates securely in a closed field: its form is reversible, in the sense that it can always and indefinitely go back through its development and return to the point of departure. Valéry's reflections on infinity, headed 'geometrical blasphemy', envisage the abolition of this concept; he replaces the notion of an unbounded and therefore ungraspable entity by defining mathematical infinity as a way of expressing unrestricted Ability: the mind strives to master, in the fullest sense, itself as operator and the field in which it operates.

When Valéry writes that the 'simplest and most perfect language is that of decimal numeration', he is concerned to bring out the underlying principle of numeration, and elsewhere stresses the difference between number and plurality. He notes that we can 'number' a group of objects without using the names of our 'numbers' and provides a lively illustration of this point in the example of a carpenter who cannot count (IX, 115): in order to replace some window-frames, he tags the frames with stones, one for each, then takes the stones back to his workshop, where he makes one frame for each stone: he has thus produced a number of frames equivalent to a number of windows without counting at all. This 'numbering' offers an image of mental operations that are, crucially, not dependent on human language, are more precise and more colourless (in a positive sense) than language. Such precision and purity are the qualities that Valéry finds signally lacking in philosophical enquiry; his scorn for the philosophers' search for meaningless abstractions that are the product of a misuse of language, and for their pretensions to 'solving' problems that have not been precisely defined (and are often not definable because non-existent), is apparent in page after page of the Notebooks. Unlike the philosopher, the mathematician is able to produce precise answers, because he begins by framing precise questions.

Valéry's overriding interest in mathematics is manifest in both his numerous contacts with mathematicians and his very wide and detailed reading in the field. It is noteworthy that while he delights in the company of the leading math-ematicians of his time and counted many among his friends, he appears rather less ready to challenge their assumptions than he does in the field of physics, and most certainly in relation to history or philosophy (only music prompts a similar reticence on his part). Though he lacked the detailed knowledge required to make an original contribution (and makes no claim to do so), mathematicians have readily acknowledged the originality, universality and independence of Valéry's mind. When Valéry wrote, even before 1900, that mathematics 'studies the properties of a form, and no longer one particular problem', he demonstrated, in the view of Jean Dieudonné, a grasp of the nature of mathematical reasoning that anticipated quite remarkably developments in modern mathematics during the twentieth century. René Thom likewise celebrates Valéry's intuition of the crucial significance of the relation between the continuous and the discontinuous and finds in the Notebooks similar metaphors to those of his own Chaos theory. Ilya Prigogine acknowledges the 'extraordinary modernity' of Valéry's inter- on of causality, his awareness of the complexity of the way things evolve interrogation not in linear succession but as a series of 'knots' of potential development at every moment. Equally, however, it is recognized that Valéry was not a single mathematician, that his technical competence was limited, his knowledge unequal and his application of certain terms not always consistent with the way they are understood and used by mathematicians. The practical mathematics that Valéry learnt was very largely through his friendship with Pierre Féline while they were young students in Montpellier. Féline - a gifted mathematician and pianist - introduced Valéry to the basics of the theory of functions, to set theory and the theory of groups of transformations, aspects that continue to resonate throughout the Notebooks in the form of mathematical modelling.

Valéry notes that the power of mathematics derives from the conservation of its means, not from adventurousness, and he likens it in this respect to the music of Bach. It is clear, however, that this emphasis on formal purity, completeness and self-sufficiency does not exclude the emotions (and the admirer of Bach was not indifferent to the music of Wagner). The act of reaching for the limits of the mind is a test of the thinker's powers; and if 'I can' is the essential goal of mathematical reasoning, there is no mistaking not simply the 'joy' attaching to such power, nor even the erotic undercurrents: mathematics is an activity above all, an exercise, and an excitant - 'a stimulant - opening on to something other than itself', that is both a satisfaction in itself and the pathway to the 'extreme limit' at which the thinker fully possesses his powers. The mind engaged in mathematical reasoning is, like Valéry's dancer, combating the disorder of dream with a dream of its own. The dance is all 'symmetries, all order, all acts and sequences. . .', a 'world of precise forces'; the movements of the dancer's body are compared to the intellectual arousal of the thinker, in which 'hypotheses are formed symmetrically. . . possibilities are ordered and counted'. The intense joy of the mind engaged in such activity, like the 'delirium' of the dancer, pushes its powers to the limit, but it does so through actions that are entirely ordered, rhythmical, indefinitely repeatable, and controlled.


There can be no doubt about Valéry's passionate interest in the modes of scientific thinking and action. He lived during a period of extraordinary scientific revolution, each new development marking a more radical break with earlier ways of understanding the world and man's part in it. Indeed, the advances in science were a constant source of fascination and inspiration for him, stirring far greater enthusiasm than all of literature apart from the work of an exceptional few. He read extensively in the sciences from the earliest times and with great attention: among the books in his personal library, by far the largest proportion that reveal traces of his reading in the form of written marginal annotations, underlinings, page markers etc., are those in the fields of science and mathematics. Numerous works by Boll, Broglie, Brunschvicg, Einstein, Eddington, Faraday, Kelvin, Langevin, Maxwell, Planck, Poincaré, Russell feature alongside those of many others, both contemporaries and earlier pioneers. At the College de France and at various social gatherings, Valéry encountered a number of distinguished scientists, and he reports conversations with them in which his proffered insights and suggestions were, he notes, respectfully received. And he also describes, with obviously genuine excitement, visits to laboratories and to an observatory, and is impressed not only by the ingenuity of technical advances, but above all by the habit of mind evident in the reasoning of experimental scientists.

In notes written as early as 1901 and 1902, Valéry offers a definition of science: 'A real science is not a system of answers. On the contrary, it's a system of problems which remain forever open. The fundamental axioms of a science are partial determinations of the problems'; and he remarks that what should be adapted from the sciences by the thinker in other fields is 'their rigour. . . their proper ways of defining, their search for operations'. These guiding principles continued to inform his approach to refining his own method, and in 1926 he notes with admiration the way that Leonardo da Vinci combined the means of drawing, geometry and calculation to assess the 'reciprocal action of knowledge on unfolding action and of action on the conception'. Science for Valéry is not a discrete world of specialisms, however highly specialized each of its areas might be; nor is it seen as simply providing a vague analogy with the processes of the mind; it is admired for the model it presents of the way to approach problems and for the 'imaginative logic' it brings to particular issues. It offers, above all, a new 'way of looking at things', a mode of reasoning, a means to perceive that things are interconnected in ever-shifting patterns. It is for this reason that the theory of relativity occupied a particularly crucial role in Valéry's thinking: he sought out the antecedents among nineteenth-century scientists; he followed the developments from the special theory to the general theory; he read widely and attended Einstein's Paris lectures in 1929. The resonance for Valéry's own 'method' was striking and even intoxicating for him: here he found confirmation of his own intuition of a world composed of a network of relationships that is both physical and psychic, external and inner, a world whose apparently random heterogeneity is underpinned by formal structures of continuity and essential unity.

Valéry stresses the prime importance of objective analysis, of not seeing links where none can be shown to exist, and of not anticipating a conclusion for which 'mental experience' offers no justification. We are limited by the limitations of our senses (a fact made even more salient by the work of Einstein), and we are tempted first to posit laws that accord with our intuitions, and then to make the phenomena fit the theory, thus limiting and skewing all subsequent observation. These statements envisage a quite different 'mental experience', one hat might be as free from a priori conditions as the ordering process by which it seeks to construct a world. However, if an 'atom of objective certainty destroys a world of subjective certainty', that atom is not easily come by. What is required of the investigator is not universal knowledge, but that he aim, both in his prior observation and in his actions, for the highest possible degree of consciousness, which will entail focusing his attention increasingly on his own thinking. Becoming aware of 'the vast impotence of the mind to foresee or guess anything at all about the nature of the world' when it turns in upon its own workings alone ('No mystic, no thinker, no logician ever had the slightest suspicion of electricity'), he must conclude that 'the greatest power of thought should be directed against the power of its thoughts — all of which are suspect'. Science is 'anti-belief', and all its values are purely transitional; it is even inherently 'anti-social' in so far as it must challenge all forms of 'common currency' belief Here, as so often, Valéry is aware of the distorting gaze of the observer, and of the traps set by language; real scientific advance must entail a 'purification of language'. The caveats are the same as those entered repeatedly in his comments on the study of philosophy.

The 'new language' of science does not merely destroy the meaning of concepts such as 'time', 'space', 'mass', 'similarity': in so doing, it frees the mind from 'the respect that one might have had for the so-called wisdom of the ancients'; as we acquire new powers, the distinction between what we can and what we cannot do begins to disappear, and with it, Valéry notes, 'the basis of the idea of "supernatural" power'. Modern science does not create 'knowledge' (in the immemorial sense of the word). It has gone beyond the attempt to establish a coherent world-image conformable to our sense of 'logical convergence'; Valéry sees in its achievements in the twentieth century 'the growth of power through man's organized action on a part of what surrounds him'. And here again he dismisses the lure of metaphysics: one can speculate that this new power will give man 'control over sources of energy or over life' — but it cannot create, and we should not require, a 'unique meaning'.

Rather, Valéry seeks to stress the role of the human, the subjective, the intuitive in the way that science operates. Advances do not result from logical reasoning alone, from deductions and indeterminate observations: science is due to 'fortunate accidents, to unreasonable men, to absurd desires, to peculiar questions. . . to the imaginings of poets', its roots lie in the 'taste for the [Valéry's] science as Judith Robinson-Valéry writes, 'the outstanding value of [Valéry's] scientific fascination lies perhaps in science as an exemplar of the marvelous passion natively vital, truly creative acquisition and sharing of knowledge'." This recognition of the role of the personal meant that Valéry was highly receptive to modern theories of relativity which stress the role of the observer and the plurality of perspectives that this entails, as is evident in a large number of the notes (for example, 'Physics has obliged us to take account of the of observers'). And while the scientist brings his or her own subjectivity into the world that is being explored, Valéry is equally turning to science in order to see what it can bring to the person: 'What I'm looking for in physics (e.g.: the principle of relativity) is a way to approach the problems of the self', namely the conservation of 'the apparent identity of the I' through all the vicissitudes of age, movement and environment.


In 1902 Valéry noted his intention of developing a science of time comparable to the science of space, but rapidly realised that unlike 3-dimensional space (space as then understood), time is not an entity that can be precisely defined and measured.12 Time is obscure, and appears on analysis to be 'the very substance of consciousness': that is, time is not an entity at all, but an experience. Much thought in this chapter is devoted to the subject of rhythm, analysis of which offers a way in to the analysis of time. Rhythm is not independent of the observer but, on the contrary, is entirely contingent on our sensory perceptions and our ability to perceive a pattern in a sequence of events, and thence to anticipate the continuation (whether realised or not) of that pattern. Rhythm lies essentially, not in a clock, but 'within us'. This is true also of time, our awareness of which depends in similar fashion either on expectation or on surprise, which is the non-realisation of an expectation. Nothing, Valéry says, is less general or universal than time; like rhythm, it resides 'in nobis', within ourselves. As he does in the case of other general concepts, Valéry notes the linguistic trap set by the word 'time'. Philosophers have attempted to elicit the meaning of that word as if the meaning were a hidden reality, whereas the same word is used in a dozen different ways and what is required is that each notion should be 'defined only as an element of a current expression or conception — a "realist" method that is bound to be in conflict with the existence of dictionaries and the speculations of philosophers, jurists and others'.

The notions of time and simultaneity, in the hands of philosophers who believed in their intrinsic meaning, are reduced to a formula which includes 'every possible use of the term' and is derived from 'knowledge of the thing itself — which doesn't exist'. Valéry's analysis proceeds according to the principle that wherever the term 'time' occurs, it can and should be replaced by a more precise term that consistently defines a specific mental act; this process will give rise to a collection of terms which will generally appear miscellaneous. A valid semantic theory of time would propound the relationship between those terms. However, that leaves us with the problem of defining the precise nature of our own experience of time. Time is described first as an 'internal distance' (a metaphor that suggests a lingering wish to equate time and space); our memory is aware of moments that are now behind us, and we assume that other moments await us. That awareness itself constitutes the 'eternal present' which is our fundamental experience of time. Time is a subjective phenomenon and is best understood as an observable 'functioning', so as to avoid the unconscious falsification that arises from the presence of the observer (hence the importance of rhythm, which has a definable physiological basis). However, despite its name, the 'eternal present' is neither immutable nor constant: in comments headed 'Contra Bergson', Valéry remarks that the present is not 'perceived' (as an object in space might be perceived) but is only perceptible and may be invented: the present is not an infinite whole but is primarily an effect of the sensibility such that, when we 'concentrate on a part' we have the erroneous impression of 'continuous-duration'; indeed, we perceive duration only because it is partial and does not endure. Thus our realisation that 'the same' is not 'the same' when next we meet it, is what constitutes 'time in person'; it is change and contrast that enable us to recognise time ('We perceive only the differences and take our stand sometimes with the object that is passing, sometimes with that which remains'), and it is the succession of our mental and physical movements, each of which is a temporary shift from, and subsequent return to, a state of apparent equilibrium, that gives rise to our experience of time, although, in actual fact, the 'living organism's equilibrium is. . . in its form statistical and probabilistic'. The two-way movement is comparable to the systolic/diastolic rhythm of the heart: 'The Self (as experienced) is a point of departure and a point of arrival', as indeed is consciousness itself: 'Consciousness — a two-way movement — because it consists of coming back to perception, rejoining it by a route other than that of its arrival.' This formulation contradicts Heraclitus's and Carnot's concepts of time, since the 'return' is essential to Valéry's analysis. He goes on to describe it as 'a return to a point which is the Self — of the moment', which makes the present ultimately a 'state of functioning'. The images suggest that the Self is by no means at the mercy of duration, and indeed Valéry comments that we do not (cannot?) utterly change. None of which alters the fact that time passes, whether slowly or rapidly (and Valéry is as aware as Proust of the subjective nature of fast and slow in this context). A single sentence expresses the emotional impact of what is not entirely amenable to intellectual mastery: 'It's impossible to stop up the hole through which the waters of our time run out.'


This section brings together Valéry's reflections on man as a social being
and on those aspects that characterize and define human existence in comparison kingdom. Man, unlike the animals, is a plurality, characterized by variety and capable of adaptation and 'internal antagonisms' which allow him to evaluate and choose, to create or provide what he needs. All the animal's actions respond to a particular stimulus at any one time, whereas man, who can encompass the unnecessary, operates according to a 'hierarchy of the purposes of actions'.

One of the principal themes in this chapter is the attempt to define the nature of morality. Valéry's mistrust of classical ethics is as pronounced as his indictment of metaphysics, upon which notions of morality generally rely. Both dress up abstract principles as ultimate truths, whereas the thinker should look to the individual situations that have, in practice, allowed their formulation in language. For Valéry, good and evil are not absolute values, fixed for all time, but concepts that are relative to our sensibility and susceptible to change. Morality is considered an artificial code of conduct that tends to suppress man's true nature and primitive desires, an accidental amalgamation of notions that grew out of a variety of sources by historical evolution over the centuries. The reflections encompass a wide range of moral principles such as the nature of sin, good and evil, justice, judgement, virtue, guilt, crime and punishment, and extend into the domain of behaviour and the formation of personality. Consciousness is central to any morality and lies at the heart of all of man's actions, for a moral code can only exist if there is realization and acceptance of it, just as the criminal must have an awareness of his evil deed or crime for punishment and consequences to have any effect or meaning. In several notes, Valéry seeks to unpick the notions of crime and punishment from the point of view of society and from that of the criminal in order to show the contradictions implicit in the idea of responsibility. The criminal views his crime as 'something that is not his own'; it is either a 'mistake', or a 'necessity', an 'exception' or an 'exploit'; the act is irresponsible, but society judges the criminal as though he had the freedom to be responsible. Rather than considering the circumstances which drove the criminal to commit a crime, the judge attributes to the criminal the same freedom and conditions that he himself enjoys, and thus 'it's in this way that irresponsibility ends up being called responsibility'.

In some respects, however, the criminal represents an extreme case of forms of human behaviour common to everyone, since on the one hand so many of our acts are automatic reflex acts, and on the other hand, even when our acts are filtered through judgement and reflection (which imply time and the inhibition of certain impulses), we cannot measure the full impact that they will have: 'There is no act of which we know the consequences, since these are endless and endlessly varied'; and when we do learn the consequences of our acts, 'we learn but the tiniest part'. So how far does one's responsibility extend? 'If', writes Valéry, 'one's responsibility for acts is without limit, the balance of my merits and faults is nil. / If this responsibility is limited — — — it can be limited only to the extent of what I can foresee'. In other words, responsibility, as enacted in law, is simply a practical and convenient 'fiction', a piece of 'theatre', an essential simplification, according to which a person is held to be the primary cause of the consequences that ensue: 'The person who pays the bill — The person where the chain of enquiries and causes stops — The person who willed even the consequences of his action or his omission that were impossible to predict — who willed even his own obsession, his negligence.' All morality, as embodied in law, supposes that the identity of the moral agent is fixed in time. The moral judgements of Society and Religion are thus held to operate via a confusion of origins and consequences, each of which is seen within a limited frame.

Although Valéry's judgement on his fellow men can be severe when it comes to the amorphous masses (he would prefer people to be stronger, not more 'equal'), he remains a staunch defender of humanist values°, is fascinated by the extremes of human potential and demonstrates great care and consideration towards the people that he knows. The later years of the Notebooks offer a reflection on the more interpersonal aspect of responsibility and relationships, with particular prominence given to the notions of friendship, intimacy, relations between men and women. The allegory of the single atom that necessarily interacts with a greater group is invoked to render the dual social and solitary nature of man. An integral part of this analysis is the exploration of the dynamic of relationships and that which underpins the interaction 'between friends, or lovers, or man and wife'. We encounter here some very telling notes on the way that human relations may operate and develop over time. Sometimes a more intimate tone emerges with reflections on the nature of family life which, despite the constraints, has the 'ancient and powerful virtue' of the 'communion around the evening meal', the sense of intimacy and lack of pretence. At other times, relationships are explored in the form of the micro-stories that feature in the chapter SUBJECTS: a couple who had lived together on 'excellent terms' for many long years, but whose stored-up grievances break out one day; the fights between lovers, the intensity of the hatred being fed by the 'power of the love they have known. Valéry explores too the fundamental difference between men and women and what characterizes 'the system of women' and with it the rational and irrational determinants in gender relations. We can also get a sense of Valéry's social interactions in the wider society that became an increasing part of his later life, and the inevitable tension between his solitary nature and his public self. If, on the one hand, the public role becomes self-fulfilling, for 'once you've built up your public persona and the stir that it makes comes back to you and tells you how you appear to others — then you continue to play that part', on the other, 'one has. . . need of others in order to become oneself'. The contradictions are in a sense unresolvable, for the Valéry who delights in the life of the salon, who throws himself with great energy and enthusiasm into the world of fellow European intellectuals, always carries within him a sense of residual inner solitude. Once perceived, the solitude is 'portable'; a man does not 'need the to sense the gap between himself and 'the person he presents' to others. Valéry's conversations with a diverse range of people provide ample opportunity for charting the dynamics of dialogue (and non-dialogue): the hostilities between generations or nations that stem from a forearmed negation; the role played in human relations by 'the words you hold back, the eloquence and precision of things repressed'; the anger that comes from failing to address one's remarks only to 'what one would wish to be the highest in oneself'. Yet, too, there is a lively wit in abundance and warmth and admiration for many, as revealed in a heartfelt note celebrating the simplicity of 'truly great men' : 'they maintain it in their dealings with the profound and difficult things that they are intimately involved with; and with them, as with everyone else, they are open, considerate and true.'


The chapter HISTORY-POLITICS reveals a far-reaching analysis of the major issues that confronted the Western world during the first half of the twentieth century, issues that are as pertinent today as they were at the time. The notes demonstrate that when Valéry applies his 'particular way of looking at things' to the affairs of the contemporary world he emerges as a major political thinker, able to place the events and the responses in a strategic and radically different perspective. His recourse to scientific models means that he will look to analyse the underlying forces in operation in any particular situation or system, and their long-term significance. We find a trenchant analysis of the misconceptions determining wars between peoples, a severe critique of the myths on which Nation States are built, acerbic remarks about the mediocrity of politicians and the misguided accounts of historians; there are profound reflections on the nature of power, the distorting effect of economic capitalism and the crisis of values in the modern world; and there is remarkable foresight in seeing the future rise of the Asian countries, in pointing to the positive role that Europe might play if it leaves behind its 'tribal' national differences and recognizes its essential interdependence, and in acknowledging, long before women had the vote in France, the great change they might bring to public life. There are also numerous wittily pointed aphorisms: 'A nation is in a state of anarchy when the people take the government to be what it is'; 'Politics is the art of preventing people from interfering in what concerns them'; 'Ancient Greece is the most beautiful invention of modern times'; 'The principle of monarchy implies that you accept on the throne people who would be incapable of winning it for themselves.'

Valéry's thinking was undoubtedly influenced by the tragedy of two World Wars, events that leave a direct and moving trace in the Notebooks: thus in 1914: 'This time of war. Everything hanging on the newspapers. . . The person far from the conflagration thinks about the conflagration and the person at the point of conflagration thinks of calm.' And 25 years later: 'Today — Monday, 3 September, we wake up at war [. . .1 "AT THE THIRD STROKE" - it will be precisely. . . the end of a World', the notes becoming increasingly bitter as the Second World War continues, most notably in a long analysis in 1943 (XXVII, 546). But already during the last decade of the nineteenth century the principles underlying Valéry's analysis of conflict between nations are in evidence through his interest in military strategy (and especially Napoleon), through his reflections upon the power of the nation state (and Germany's growing economic might in particular) and through his early experience in London of the huge colonial machine that was Cecil Rhodes's Chartered Company. Wars are waged, argues Valéry, through simplification of the issues, the mutual ignorance of the peoples involved and exploitation by rulers of those that they rule; the populace has to be aroused to wage a war on behalf of the 'happy-stupid few' through 'publicity, education and artificial agitation'. Enmities are based on traditions and imaginary conceptions, fed by the falsifying effects of History — and, indeed, the effects of false History — working on both sides in support of the political elites. Perhaps, writes Valéry, if man knew man just a little better, there would be no more wars.

Such forces are, however, inherent in all systems of modern democratic governance: politics is above all theatre played out before the public gallery; it is a forum where appearance, presentation and rhetoric matter more than substance and education, with the result that a society becomes reduced to being 'an application, a demonstration, a generalization and specialization of Verbal Power'. Language is a tool that is used and abused in political life, as also in religion; it becomes an 'excitant' with certain 'Magic words: God, king, etc.', and in modern political regimes, which are 'founded on speech and speech effects', everything is determined according to the impressions of the public. But the French, with their 'cult of appearances', are themselves willing victims of their own self-deception. In this respect, Valéry's analysis ties in with his wider deconstruction of fiducia and his scepticism with regard to the role of 'amorphous Demos'. Democracy, asserts Valéry, functions by a law of statistical averages, it is essentially bourgeois and irretrievably bound to the rise of the mercantile state. Moreover, in equating Liberty and Equality, democracy confuses the issue since, in reality, these 'two principles work against each other. . . freedom allows the development of natural inequalities'. And on this basis, Valéry is a critic of an illusory egalitarianism which simply plays to the credulity of the masses. The notion of fiducia plays an increasingly important role in Valéry's analyses: based on purely verbal, affective and historical grounds, it signals the capital stock of credit-belief upon which social order is founded; it is manifest in all financial systems, in ideology, in moral values, in justice, punishment and so on: 'All society is fiducia — Fiducia plays a role rather similar to inertia. Social order can be expressed like this: any organized society, precisely through being ordered, conserves its fiducia — which corresponds to an economy of real forces.' Fiducia functions to the extent that it secures common belief, and so any change in the existing patterns threatens to supplant the traditional teachings of church and state with a new set of certainties.

The problem lies to a large extent — and here politicians and historians are deemed equally culpable — with the myths attaching to the idea of the Nation State. The system of nations has had a 'disastrous role', it is held responsible for the ills and the 'total ruin' of Europe in 1944, principally through a process of personification of states; these juridico-historico-political entities are accorded the characteristics of individuals, which then turn upon each other in a blind struggle for power. Nations, Valéry affirms, are doomed if they follow purely national considerations; they should 'keep quiet' about their past glories, for if they are not to line up against each other as 'essentially competitive entities' they must 'stand together' and look for the similarities between people. What is required both from historians and politicians is not a constant recourse to a nation's past, but to formulate 'policies based on its probable future'.

In some ways the indictment of historians is greater still than that directed towards politicians, if only because of what might be expected of them. For Valéry, history is merely 'the most naive form of Literature', and because of its weight of arbitrariness he finds it frankly 'repugnant'. The reconstruction of the past, the telling and the use of 'history', are mortgaged to all the perils of representation, of writing and of political manipulation. The focus upon monarchs, treaties and great events 'reduces life to its critical moments': it fails completely to take account of the routine of people's existence, the 'silent regular march that is life'. Valéry constantly returns to the failure of historians to make explicit either their own point of view or that from which documentation permits events to be observed: 'Historians seem not to know that, without changing anything in the material, there are countless ways of looking at, assembling, arranging and itemizing it.' History, as it was known to Valéry, looks for a simple relation between cause and effect, fails to account for the impact of technology upon everyday life or for the way 'things move step-by-step' rather than from one moment of chaos to another, and consistently asks the wrong questions. Some of the most telling remarks, however, point to the importance of seeking to understand what it was possible to think, to know, to predict at any one point in time ('What did people believe in year Z? . . . It's indispensab/e — to consider this implex, because it represents what is imaginable, reasonable, desirable, formidable about any period — the believable.'). The implications are far-reaching, not only in terms of the study of history itself, but for any attempt to grasp the unfolding processes at work in all forms of human activity: people's ignorance of the future is an intrinsic factor determining what they did and cannot be supplanted by the post-hoc deforming knowledge of the historian: 'In Nivôse, Robespierre didn't know what would happen in Thermidor.'


'An education that doesn't teach you to ask yourself questions is bad. It's the pupil who should ask questions — not the teacher.' Since Valéry's entire life was devoted to the effort to gain a greater understanding of the self and the interaction between the mind, the body and the surrounding environment in which they function, it is not surprising to find within the Cahiers/Notebooks a large number of notes devoted to the subject of education. His own relentless analysis of the functioning of the mind convinced him that one learns through observation, through the senses, through questioning, through the framing of tentative hypotheses. In this light, the entire enterprise of the writing can be seen as an attempt not to offer systematic answers, but to discover the right way of formulating questions. From the opening enquiry: 'What is man capable of?', a whole series of further interrogations flow: how does human potential develop, how can it be fostered, what are the constraints and the ultimate limits? How may the child be inducted into the vast sum of acquired human knowledge and yet still retain the curiosity and creativity required to ask new questions? Severely critical of the boredom and routine of the school and university teaching he experienced (a form of 'parrotry' that gave him the impression that the teachers were 'dedicated to putting [him] off what they were supposed to be instilling in [him]'), Valéry considered that education should foster the development of the whole being and seek to promote not only the intellectual capacities of the individual, but the physical, emotional and social ones to their full potential.

However, Valéry's reflections on education were developed not only as a reaction against his own early studies: the detailed and affectionate observations of his own children as they grew up played a direct and positive role. His wife's protracted illness at a time when their children were still very young, and the enforced periods of convalescence this occasioned, meant that for many periods Valéry had principal charge of the children and observed closely their physical and linguistic development. He was fascinated by young children at play, and frequently notes how they love to touch everything, manipulating objects, moving everything that can be moved. He observed their natural curiosity and their eagerness to explore the world around them, an excitement that schooling tends to eradicate: 'The age of why. Children ask 'Why?' — So we send them to school, which cures them of this instinct and conquers curiosity with boredom.' miraculous that in adulthood be successful, education should not focus upon the purely rational side of things, but must nurture the 'deep inner sense of the marvellous and the miraculous that we acquire in childhood', not least because it this that enables us in adulthood 'to take the illogical paths that are the road to invention'. It must awaken the child's interest and offer not a body of preordained knowledge but with which to find out. Valéry frequently underlines this essential, all too  often overlooked principle: in order to teach somebody something, you have attend to all t0 make the person 'feel that he needs to know it', you have to 'create attention, willingly given' and help in its formation, you have to 'awaken an interest in things that demand some effort. Create the desire'.

Education for Valéry extends beyond the bounds of school or even the family and involves an opening up to all forms of experience of the world, founded a life-long commitment to the education of the self. There is, he notes, a huge divorce between what is learnt at school and the 'experience, the amusement, the spontaneous observation of any child or young person'; he regrets the emphasis upon rote-learning and a view of education that is predominantly 'verbal and "bodiless', His comments are particular scathing when it comes to the 'farce of Humanities teaching', because of its disconnection from the lived experience of humans and the actual practice of the arts. Similarly, the separation of the Sciences and the Humanities is fiercely criticized: the fault lies, he argues, in the appropriation of knowledge and learning for other purposes, as above all something to be tested. Education is deemed to have the utilitarian value of classifying people through competitive examinations. But such a system 'shrinks the mind' which learns only what the programme requires to pass the exam. Society, through universities, makes use of knowledge as an instrument of control and measurement, and study is undertaken not as 'a source of personal refinement, but solely for the purposes of [a] career'. In a long note (XXIII, 63°- 631) Valéry analyses the implications for society of a system which enables a few 'brilliant individuals' emerging from the 'Grandes Écoles' to move effortlessly into important positions of public responsibility where they rapidly 'lose all taste for improving the mind, though not that of improving their status' and become 'mere shadows of the young men that the illusion of competitive examinations promised to the nation'. In short, 'Qualifications are acquired inertia!'

Valéry writing on education thus combines a powerful sense of human potential and the freedom of the mind, with an awareness of the need to acquire the mental and physical agility that comes from practice and the acquisition of means of action. His approach to education includes the following principles:

  • — the importance of awakening interest, creating the desire to know, so that the effort of finding out is directed towards a goal that the learner has defined;
  • — the importance of asking questions, which should be those of the child not the teacher;
  • — the sense of the pleasure to be found in making use of one's mind;
  • — the development of the sensibilities of the child;
  • — the need to allow children the freedom to explore, to make mistakes, to pursue their own interests, while at the same time encouraging the social dimension of their learning;
  • — the role played by language, which is so crucial that it might replace literary and philosophical study and elucidate the foundations of science;
  • — the recommendation that the teacher should always begin by explaining what he is hoping to achieve, what change he is hoping to bring about and why;
  • — the need to pass on to children, not facts, but operative rules or functions. Furthermore, education should not focus exclusively on preparing the young person for examinations, but have in mind the individual in later years for whom the learning is part of a 'living, functioning whole'.

Cahiers: Notebooks (Volume 5) by Paul Valéry, chief editor and translations by Brian Stimpson, translations by Paul Gifford, Norm Rinsler, Stephen Romer, Brian Stimpson (Peter Lang) In this final volume of the series we discover the most challenging issues and encounter some of the most magnificent writing to be found in the Cahiers/Notebooks as a whole. Valery, as ever, is pursuing here the project of a universally applicable science of mental functioning and of transforming his own mind into the athletically trained and supple instrument for achieving it. As his 50-year adventure of perpetual lucidity enters its final phases, so the founding axes of his project come to be insistently questioned, elucidated and recognized. The present English-language anthology, while eschewing chronology as an overall principle of organization — for Valery has a remarkable propensity for thinking about all things at all periods — has sought, at least, to reflect something of this time-conditioned paradox of the knowing mind which, turning back upon itself, returns at the last to its own sources and origins.

The themes brought together in this fifth volume offer at first view a noticeable degree of abstraction — SYSTEM, PHILOSOPHY, CONSCIOUSNESS and THETA. In each case, however, a singular inflexion, a recognizably idiosyncratic approach, or else some resonance of Valery's acute personal sensibility, alert us to the fact that the axes of the self-cognisant thought, however rigorously established and geared to objective science, are nevertheless planted firmly in a particular thinking ego. In each of the chapters presented here, we follow the key elements of Valery's own intellectual quest, traced back to their originating dynamic in a personal subject of consciousness. The overall effect of this combination of themes is thus to retrace the course of an entire mental and emotional trajectory and articulate the principles which, it will be seen, underpin the whole range of fields of investigation encountered in previous volumes.

Valery's SYSTEM is his formula for a project of thinking: a project to establish the set of concepts, operations and perspectives which, in its original conception, enabled him to envisage the mind's entry into self-knowledge and self-mastery. Though it is indeed a work of highly abstract methodology — a secretly Promethean attempt to reduce the mind, phenomenologically considered, to a set of observable functions that could be expressed in an entirely formalized, and preferably mathematical language — the System is also the extrapolation into the language of theory of the self s intensely personal experiences and of stark existential imperatives. Much the same is true of Valery's attack on the intellectual patterns of traditional PHILOSOPHY. While it may take the predominant and justifying form of a linguistic critique, this onslaught arises fundamentally from Valery's attempts to reinvigorate and revise the way that language relates to the world, thereby creating a new philosophical basis of human experience liberated from its outdated pre-packaging in cognitive or moral understanding. The theme of CONSCIOUSNESS is intimately related to both of the previous themes and shares their ambiguity. It is paradoxically the realm that not only facilitates the investigation of the mind taken to the highest degree of reflective thought, but also confronts the obverse side, the subterranean 'islands' of the mind. It accommodates the aspiration to pure mind, a luminous power of all-encompassing reflexive awareness, while also exploring the 'shadow' side of psychic and human reality. The poet of La Jeune Parque represents with suggestive brilliance just this duality of the human composite, in terms of a series of offshore or coastal islets, standing proud and apart in the composing and 'divine' light of the Sun, yet plunging their feet into dark and icy submarine depths which they share with each other. And, precisely: some of his most stirring writing, in THETA, suggests a radical reconfiguration of the notion of the 'divine' recognized as a natural and necessary category of the mind, and taking account of the dimension of representation and of the infinitely creative vagaries of the human heart.

These explorations, while complementing and giving greater theoretical substance to the chapters of a more scientific nature in volume 4, lead, at the same time, back to the chapters in volume 1 where we observe how the writing 'I' of the Cahiers /Notebooks is so closely connected to the richness and resonance of AFFECTIVITY and EROS. If there is a single leitmotif woven into the curvature of Valéry's universe of the mind's reflexivity, it relates perhaps to the accommodations which the analyst and thinker of the Notebooks comes progressively to accept, as a result of empirical observation, but more essentially, as a result of the nature and tensions of his own intellectual frame of thinking, and a recognition of the limits of the knowable as such. From the founding radical ambition to achieve in the method of the mind what Riemann achieved in Mathematics or Pasteur in Biology, we can observe how Valéry comes to acknowledge the force of those realms of experience and desire that cannot be captured within the frame of the rational, however vast and purposely all-encompassing its ambition. And so the chapters in this volume, for all their seeming abstraction, for all the sometimes tendentious disputations with other thinkers, for all the frequent denunciations of the illusions and ideological entrapment of language, chart Valery's very real confrontation with his own demons, with the forces within his own sensibility and psyche that elude the initial attempt to relegate the affect to the sidelines and to situate all such manifestations within a 'Geometry of images'.

Following the first publication in French of the Cahiers in 1957-61, there was a lively suspicion among critics that such recognitions were damaging to Valéry's enterprise of thought: a proof, for instance, that the inventor of the System had 'failed'. This view has become, with greater familiarity and understanding, obsolete. We can now recognize that there was indeed a youthful overbid, born of lively imagination driven by Romantic expectations, a sublimated form of existential despair, which is progressively abandoned in its non-viable, absolutist ambitions, giving account of its own abandonment in La Jeune Parque and other works representing Valery's adventure of the mind. The fact that Valéry did not, in the end, found a new, synthetic, all-comprehending System of knowledge based on a formal-functional science of the psyche is not to be viewed as a 'failure'. In fact, in many respects Valéry himself would have considered that he had failed if he had founded a school or expressed his science in the form of a treatise. For the inexhaustible complexity of the mind will always escape any final formulation; and Valery's own mind, correspondingly, is itself trained and shaped to be, like the mobile jigsaw it explores, a power of lucidity which is 'unitary', yet 'in a thousand pieces'. All mental activity is characterized by permanent 'self-variance; the mind is, by its very nature, in a state of constant flux and exists in a state of ever-evolving virtuality; there is not just one way of looking at things, but a whole multitude of different viewpoints, each of which (and here Valéry echoes the Principle of Uncertainty) will affect the relationship between observer and observed, reducing any possibility of a single, absolute standpoint to nil.

Even from the very earliest notebooks when Valéry's analytical ambition was at its peak, when he was concerned above all to fashion the pure, rational tools for his adventure of discovery, there are signs of a glimmering awareness that he might pass over other hidden regions of the human psyche: recognizing the difficulty of manufacturing an adequate set of tools to replace ordinary language for the purposes of his research, he acknowledges, too, a 'very profound difficulty': 'the doubt over whether I ought to restrict myself to the conscious elements — or not'.

What is ultimately fascinating, therefore, is not the 'success' or 'failure' of the System, but the fundamental and permanent interplay between the ambition to know and understand, and the accommodations consented to in respect of all that cannot be pinned down: a recognition which results in constant self-interrogation, and in a method for thinking (rather than a finished System) which is more honest, more revealing, more in tune with the aspirations and doubts that resonate in everyone and are such essential touchstones of the human psyche. This is less a 'failure' of thought than a precious education of the mind by the reality of its object.


The rubric SYSTEM takes us to the very core of Valery's project, launched from his earliest years in the 1890s and resulting from a number of different factors Within his own experience: at once a defensive reaction against the tyranny of the emotions, a somewhat despairing response to the achievements of those he admired in the fields of poetry and of music, a passionate enthusiasm for the discoveries that were being made in physics and mathematics at this crucial time when the traditional certainties of science were being overturned, and a burning

ambition to apply these to fathoming the way that the mind itself functions. 'Psychology,' he wrote around 1898, 'would be the geometry of time — i.e. a convention or the summary of the laws according to which states of consciousness succeed one another'. This question was to become a constant throughout his life; thus some 20 years later we find: 'Principles — I am looking for the principles which would govern mental functioning as a whole, just as dynamic principles govern the evolution of material systems; and then a further 10 years on: 'My main idea (which became much clearer around 1900) was to treat consciousness-knowledge as a System (in the physicochemical sense) capable of conservations and transformations'.

The approach to what he called his 'Arithmetica Universalis'2 is outlined in a letter to Gustave Fourment on 4th January 1898 (CE, II, 1463-5): setting to one side the infinite number of mental states and the discontinuities of the real world, Valery proposes to determine the limited number of mental operations that he believes underlie our way of understanding things, to seek the group of different points of view that may be brought to bear upon any object of the mind (image, idea, sensation etc.), to identify the different types of relationship that can exist between two mental states irrespective of their context (for example as complementary, oppositional, continuous, discontinuous) and to analyse the problems posed by different forms of symbolic representation. Using the vocabulary of modern mathematics he calls these patterns functions and the way that they operate within the context of human reality (defined according to the axes BodyMind-World), a certain functioning. It is precisely because these functions are abstracted from any specificity or particular content, Valéry argued, that they would be infinitely applicable: the system was an attempt to reduce everything that the mind processes to a 'theory of transformations (as general as can be)'; and, thereby, it would encompass 'all we are able to envisage about the mind — and thus — about everything'. The goal was to 'discover', to 'go to the limit', to rescue thought 'from the particularity of one of its points', to 'be able to conduct operations, transformations' and 'replace each thing by its formula or the expression of a sequence of mental operations'.

Lacking a distinctive language with which to address the problem, Valery had necessarily to have recourse to models, ones which were taken very largely from the scientific discourses he was reading so avidly. The models were numerous and varied and reflected the different analogical possibilities which fascinated him at different times of his life. Those based upon physics derive primarily from his study of thermodynamics (it is known that Valery met Lord Kelvin in England in 1894, and possibly again in 1896). The potential for the working of the mind was enormous and Valery develops a range of suggestive parallels: the idea of the conservation, transformation and degradation of energy, of energy exchange between an internal system and external forces, the notions of the economies, the loss and retrieval of energy, notions of phases and closed cycles and in particular the idea that the human mind, alone, can partially defy the laws of entropy. From the closely related world of mathematics we find many parallels based on algebraic models, starting with the very simplest early equation I + R = 0 [or K], Image + Reality = Constant, which evokes the finite nature of the mind as a closed system such that any increase in one of the areas will result in a decreased level of awareness in the other. Then too, we find the theory of groups, of phases, set theory, topology and later speculation on probability and uncertainty.

The realm of physiology provides yet another model that recurs throughout many of the chapters of the Cahiers, namely the stimulus-response mechanism, often abbreviated to D-R (demand-response). He proposed that the 'Reflex-Action type was the basic phenomenon': in very general terms, the stimulus is held to lie within the domain of the sensibility and the response in the field of acts, whether reflex or planned and the relationship between them is 'non- reciprocal'. The whole forms the notion of 'Complete Action — with its cyclical process'. The D-R system appeals to Valery because it allows a uniform, quasi-

mechanistic approach to the welter of untidy, essentially heterogeneous connect' dons between the functional system of the mind and the reactions it generates, reinforcing his functionalist approach to mental phenomena as a whole. This neat — some might argue, reductive — formula becomes for Valery a powerful, all-purpose tool for deconstructing as the 'masked complementary response of our sensibility' all those forms of thought and belief that move outside or beyond strict rationality, whether it is a question of feelings, ideas, love or religious faith.

One final set of principles should be noted here which again resonate throughout his work and have been seen in earlier volumes of the Cahiers/ Notebooks, namely the notion of the '3 Laws', the formal, the significant and the accidental. The formal is seen as a closed and restricted set of functions; the significant encompasses the boundless patterns of meaning that arise and which can 'vary according to the number of "connections"; the accidental, which Valery introduced later into his pattern of thinking, represents the domain of contingency or pure chance operating within psychic functioning. The formal can thus be related to Valéry's notion of functions, but a fundamental conceptual difficulty arises from the imperative of defining its relation to the significant. If thought by its very nature is heterogeneous, and if the System is viewed as an abstract, synchronic formalization which is thus outside time, there is a need to reinsert the universe of the mind into a structure of meaning that takes time, particularly a lived duration, into account. Hence the importance of concepts such as the cycle, the phase, attention and memory: as Valery noted in the chapter MEMORY, 'Memory is the transformation of the accidental into a formal property — which allows the significant. / The nature of the connection is formal. / The occasion that prompts it is accidental. / Its effect is significant'.

It is clear from the Cahiers /Notebooks that Valery's hope of establishing in fully realized form a unified System, operating a new language of representation from which all vagueness, all unsubstantiated historical association had been stripped out, and constituting a new science of the human mind, was short-lived, and in some sense died with the century that gave it birth. The Cahier that bears on its title-page the inscription 'Dicté a Jeannie' — a notebook launched as a collaborative enterprise by the newly-married couple in 1900 —, represents perhaps one of the last attempts to draw together his ideas in any systematic way; but even here the notes covering 60-odd pages of manuscript in a large, open handwriting, are fragmentary, culled from other contemporary notebooks, unlike the attempts in earlier years to develop a more sustained formulation of his approach. From this point on, the ambition to forge the System undergoes a gradual modulation, its epistemological overbid attenuated as the subject withdraws from his absolutist ideal. It becomes in this way something more akin to an approach to human phenomena, a method of applying the mind to its own cognisance and understanding, a fruitful instrument for thinking and analysing experience; it determines fundamentally Valéry's life-long contention that he had discovered a particular 'way of looking' at things, rooted in personal experience and abstracted to a point of general principle; but it never becomes a discursive totality, a perfected epistemological form or a new science operable by any operator. No single model can synthesize the whole and indeed, towards the very end of his life, Valéry celebrated the fact that while still being, as he wrote, 'passionately interested in that mechanics of the mind to which I always come back and tend to relate all things', no single model could or should suffice. Despite his own highly developed, essentially Cartesian sense of systematic method, he retains a strong mistrust of premature or abusive systematization, and a corresponding sense of the primacy of the real in relation to the mind's capacity to know and understand it.

Nevertheless, even as the formulation of the System becomes ever more elusive, we read in a note dating from 1900 and not included in the facsimile edition of the Cahiers, this resolute profession of faith, a testimony to Valéry's preparedness to make himself, as if through dutiful sacrifice, the supreme resonator of the forces at work in the universe:


If — you look at yourself as the instrument of everything that you know or the universe, —as one of the points on which it rests and through which it traces an expression — (of its change), nothing could be more appropriate than to attempt to make this instrument that you are as faithful and pure as possible — to use the most rigorous logic and analysis — to scrutinize the instruments that this instrument uses — the languages — to destroy unfailingly the dross of habit and common currency — and to see as your supreme goal the transparency and exact conformity of the link you are seeking between all that you know and all that you do. (CIII, 520)

What comes to the fore, as the ambitious ideal of the System recedes, is seen to be a certain ethic, a certain tenor of imploration or invocation which will also find its representation in La Jeune Parque. The individual — Valéry — must ideally, through a process of totally rigorous self-scrutiny, occupy the territory where knowledge and being are in faithful conformity and assume the task of inscribing this relation in a language as faithful and transparent as possible.


Valéry himself wryly disclaimed any right to the title of philosopher, since he saw himself quite apart from the map of knowledge and specialist competence as drawn by the academic establishment of his day. Unmistakably, however, the Notebooks show us an activity and practice of thought which, though it disdains the heavy apparatus of the systematic philosopher, nonetheless tackles many of the essential problems of philosophy. 'Founder of Negative Philosophy' says Valéry, defining his originality with a self-ironic flourish. He adds significantly: 'The most positive of all' (C, XXVII, 73).4

The reader will indeed quickly become aware of the sheer weight of restless, negative energy of Valéry's thinking. This chapter seems to engage in one long 'jeu de massacre' that catches up the entire range of inherited philosophic thought of Western, notably continental and French, speculative reason in line of descent from the Greeks, putting it through a mill of critical rethinking that leaves little recognizably standing. Problems, answers, concepts, truth claims, systems, styles of thinking, the fathers and heroes of a master-discipline of Western civilization and their key works, all are subjected to Valéry's critical — and generally dismissive — scrutiny.

The philosopher, in Valéry's view, is someone who, fundamentally, does not know what he is saying, largely for want of being aware of how the mind comes to form ideas, and make meanings. More especially, he fails to perceive and understand the ill-mastered creativity of his essential tool, which is language. He uses words that have become devoid of meaning, because he fails to recognize that their status is rooted in tradition; he fails to analyse and define his words sufficiently or to see the conventional character of language itself. Words thus solidify into entities: reason, reality, universe, cause, idea, origin, end — all of which have in fact only a relative and shifting sense, variable with context. In order to think and speak about such major notions 'we are at present using a gross and impure set of conceptual tools'; and the propositions and deductions that emerge through them are, writes Valéry, 'useless [. . ill-conceived conventions, which nobody has in fact conceived, but which simply arose from common convention'. The philosopher indulges in anthropomorphisms when he projects on to nature the categories of his own mind in the hope of catching it in the web of human thinking; or when he thinks in linear series endowed with causality, rather than thinking in terms of function, perspective and viewpoint. He stumbles and fumbles, making the structures of his own psyche into oracles, proposing misguided answers to his ill-focused and resonant perplexities about the world.

Faced with the mystery of the 'starry heavens', man projects his naive metaphysics, attempting 'from a given point (or man or observer) [. . .] to see, to form —from what is, that which has a higher intensity of being than this': such a perspective transforms 'what is' into 'what is thought to be more', projecting supposition, implication, cause or expectation. In a magnificent passage analysing the effects on the human mind of a storm seen out at sea, the writer shows that if 'the storm teaches us anything, it is, above all, about ourselves'. Or again, when observing the close proximity of two distant and quite unrelated stars, Valery notes that they are 'neighbours only thanks to me — and contemporaries too. I am the circumstance thanks to which there is some relation between them'. On such occasions man tends to pose 'a disorderly group of questions' concerning the responsibility and reasons for such phenomena.

Metaphysics claims to be a veridical discourse about Being. But for Valery it represents the epitome of empty discourse, attributing substantive value to words such as the verb 'to be', when in fact the reality of ultimate things lies outside our grasp and is open to a multiplicity of interpretations and viewpoints. The very forms and structures of thought continue to be dominated by a tradition that ascribes truth and reality to words: 'We are still living in and on a scholasticism of Greek origin, on a dialectics and a form of "knowing" based on the analysis of common language, taken at an already advanced phase and taken as valid in itself, —identifiable with thought itself.' Characteristically, Valery's procedure is to practise a 'clean-up of the verbal situation' (CE, II, 1316). In this respect he resembles the Vienna Circle and British analytical positivism in the style of A.J. Ayer or the early Wittgenstein, though without knowledge of or influence from any of these thinkers. The use of a severe 'protocol' language linked to rigorous verification, the suspicion of abstract notions promoted to the status of Ideas, the sense of knowledge as a function of a closed and limited circle of possibility defined by the operations of the mind itself these things link Valery to his unsuspected British and Austrian colleagues in a common mistrust of metaphysics, as also of classical ethics.

When language is closely examined, and the psychological, social and cultural conditions of thought are thrown on to the screen of our awareness, philosophy's pretension to truth of any ultimate sort seems to Valery entirely vain: it is partial, subjective, a matter — as Nietzsche also considered — of temperament: 'Sensualist when I wake up, criticist at 11 o'clock, Hobbesian around 4' (C//, 29). Similarly, good and evil are relative to our sensibility, as are justice and happiness. And, again following Nietzsche, whom he read extensively in French translation between 1898 and 1909, Valéry demolishes the notions of moral fault, responsibility and punishment; all justice is seen as a mercantile affair, a swapping of ill for ill or reward for reward. It supposes as referent a moral agent, entirely problematic in continuity and coherence. Valéry's critique of the notions with which we construct our view of the world is unrelenting: terms such as History, Philosophy, Politics, Cause are 'without any precision'; morality, politics, laws, aesthetic judgements, metaphysics are all 'provisional' concepts, at best pure 'expedients'; Reality, Being, Freedom are all 'pseudo-problems' of philosophy. Reality is not a fixed concept to be blindly accepted or denied, it is a product, an effect, a reac- io'simply the second member of a contrast'. The vexed question of free will is subjected to the same treatment. Falsely conflated in general thought with moral responsibility, freedom is a relative concept subject to a whole variety of constraints, inscribed in the real world and the make-up of the individual. Attention should turn instead to establishing as precise a knowledge as possible 'of the structure and functioning of the human being' from which all these notions ultimately derive. Thinking, argues Valery, is ultimately an act.

There is, we see, an active and instructive engagement with other philosophic minds. Plato gets scant credit for founding Western philosophy: too much myth, not enough critical analysis. Kant might have been on the right lines, but forgot to be reflexive and critical about language and was an absolute 'featherbrain' when it came to his 'categories of the understanding' which acquire absolute meanings and values, instead of the functional or transformational operations that Valery sees.5 Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation, together with Plato's Timaeus and all of Hegel, is consigned to the category of lyric poetry. Valery's most constant tendency is to treat philosophy as a sub-branch of literature and the creative arts. Nietzsche gets respect not as nourishment but as stimulus, as 'an intoxicant' ('when he is good, very — exciting). He just about represents what philosophy might have been had it been willing to recognize itself as an art form, but there is too, alas, 'the frenzied orchestra-conductor from the Danube', the lack of rigour, the polemical overstatements, the verbalism, the protestant moralism, the mega-prophetism, the megalomania. There are some exceptions, the ones pre-tracing Valéry's own path and confirming the rule of intellectual rivalry and aggression. Zeno, the pre-Socratic philosopher, is praised for showing in his paradoxes how abstract thought immobilizes life. Lulle and Leibniz, too, are spared: they point the way to Valery's intuition, the early basis of his own System, of a formalized and mathematically describable set of relations between the products of the mind. Descartes, for all his faults, is the hero of this intellectual comedy. True, Valery puts the Cogito through countless critical and parodic variations (showing how philosophy can be brought alive by disrespect, revivified in the act of rethinking); but the author of the Discourse on Method has the right idea — method, not 'system' in the sense of a discursively fixed totality.

Clearing away the accumulated clinker of centuries of thought, Valery's 'negative philosophy' boldly proposes a reinvigorated 'materialist' approach to Philosophy, a reform programme that would direct it either towards the state of an art with all the attendant advantages of 'liberties and formal constraints' or, alternatively, press it into usefulness. Is this art, this 'Negative Philosophy' not, in our own time — despite and because of its adversarial dialectic, and through its ever-renewed energy — 'the most positive of all'?


The question that begins this chapter —'What are the conditions for the existence of consciousness?' — indicates that Valery does not see consciousness as the immutable given, traditionally regarded as a defining characteristic of the human. It is rather, in his view, a state of varying duration and intensity produced by the coming together of certain identifiable factors, just as the course of a chemical reaction depends on the presence of the appropriate elements in the appropriate conditions. Consciousness implies the presence of a living being; but the reverse is neither uniformly nor constantly true. Within its sphere, consciousness is characterized by varying degrees of detachment and lucidity; it is also subject to intermittences. 'Consciousness — Its highest degree is the highest degree of awareness of a clear distinction between C, E, and M — in the course of coordination — It's separating and combining at the same time — cf. chemistry — purity.' It can operate only on those functions that are themselves intermittent: whatever has become a reflex, and therefore invariable, is outside its sphere. Conversely, if a reflex action is impeded or interrupted, we become conscious of it, as we are aware of breathing only when we breathe with difficulty. The highest degree of consciousness is that state of awareness that allows us to step outside our thinking, as it were, and to examine the mechanisms of the mind: 'The motto of the conscious is: I can be infinitely other. / Consciousness is the exterior of everything —the eternal outside.'

In its most active phase, it is a 'continuous act of criticism'. Thus consciousness is not the creator of our thoughts but their observer, sometimes their judge, and sometimes the director of their play: the theatre occurs elsewhere in the Notebooks as a metaphor for mental life, notably in the chapter on DREAM. The notion of thought that is self-aware and self-critical could imply an infinite regress: I think that I think. . . etc.; but Valéry notes that this movement, if extended, becomes 'purely nominal', that is to say, meaningless: 'the second degree is more or less as far as you can go.' Valery anchors the activity of consciousness to the existence of a plurality of external objects (or what he terms 'independencies'). However, it is not a direct and multiform response to the external world, but operates in an 'interval', a space between what thinks and what is thought. This implies an internal separation, a gap between 'Myself thinking' and 'Myself aware of my thinking', and the consequent maximization of non-reflex, critical thought. That this undoubted evolutionary advantage may also lead to mental paralysis is a consideration not lost on Valéry. Fortunately, consciousness is constantly called into play afresh by the flow of the unconscious from which it arises, the 'insensibility or unconsciousness that forms the continuum, the "medium" [. . .] the common substance of time. The reactions of consciousness are islands'. On those islands the drama of the thinking being, of thinking-as-being, is played out: 'I think MYSELF: therefore, I am.'

In the same way that Valéry seeks to define the continuities and discontinuities between sleep and waking, he is concerned to investigate whether all that is beyond the realm of pure consciousness may serve to tell us more about the nature of consciousness itself 'What, and how much, of all we don't think has an influence on what we do think?', he asks. But he remains very cautious about reading too much into such manifestations and is certainly no follower of those 'believers' who have greater faith in the unconscious, in inspiration and instinct than in the conscious mind. Unlike 'certain writers', he does not view the 'nervous system' of the unconscious as a 'machine for producing oracles'. Thus, as might be expected, one encounters in the Notebooks the deconstruction of the 'Fable of the Subconscious' which is considered to be no more than a 'naive idea' lurking behind the 'mystagogical opinions on thought, knowledge etc.', as though there were another being inside the being, a 'kind of Demon' pressing switches on and off within the psyche. This sense of devilment, whereby the individual is subject to the whims and conspiracies of a sometimes playful, sometimes malicious force within the self, occurs in a number of places: 'In general the Subconscious is introduced where in a game of cards you would think someone was cheating. The situation is such that there's very little chance of winning, yet someone is winning —.'

And yet, at the same time, there is a grudging acknowledgement that something is at stake which may escape the terms of the examination and for which the analytical tools are ill-suited. Can the properties of the Subconscious be stated in the language of consciousness? Is this very attempt not, Valéry wonders, contradictory? After all, empirical evidence demonstrates to him that 'a complex and appropriate response can be produced without awareness of its internal development; and sometimes suddenly — and after conscious efforts have failed; indeed, these spontaneous products of the mind can be just as valuable as anything consciously planned, if not more so. Or as he puts it in an engaging image from the very beginning of 1923: 'Our conscious state is a room that is tidied in our absence. During that time, creatures that can see in the dark re-arrange its contents, and disappear. We recognize the objects, but their order has changed —.' And many times, of course, these creatures do not only tidy things! Valery, then, comes to an accommodation with these phenomena by assimilating them to what he calls his 'concept of complementarity', or by assigning them to a category that he terms the 'virtual mind': it is a mode of the mind characterized by substitutions and connections, one in which the orders and spheres of consciousness are relative, where contraries are paired, where the extraordinary can become ordinary and the ordinary extraordinary. And thus there is, ultimately, an affirmation of the remarkable inter-communication between the various domains of the psyche: 'Every conscious thought arises between 2 unconscious ones.'


'Here is a sufficiently great theme for reflection and a rather splendid enterprise of research to be pursued: concerning the entirety of the question of the Divine or the God' (C, XXI, 788).7 The rubric THETA effectively draws together the strands running through this volume and indeed the entire Valéryan project: it demonstrates the importance of the thrust towards the unknown of the self's affective, existential nature. The systematic rethinking of all theological discourses inherited from the European past reveals a search for a new spiritual identity; while Valéry challenges established forms of religion just as vigorously as he rejects the patterns of traditional philosophy, we note, at the same time, the emergence in him of a certain mystical resonance. Both these dimensions run compellingly throughout the chapter. On the one hand we find reinforced the classic image of Valery as the obdurate rationalist, the enduring sceptic, the conspicuous adversary of the man-of-faith Pascal; and, on the other, we witness the inexhaustible, even obsessional concern with a central inner obscurity, with a dialectics of inner quest and resonant secrets, and here we find the finest qualities of Valery's intellect, sensibility and spirit at their fullest stretch.

We are struck first by the predominance of a critique. Into the misty world of divine things inherited from the idealistic and spiritualistic nineteenth century, Valery enters iconoclastically, armed to the teeth. His entire cast of thought, moreover, is moulded by the System into an 'absolute language', most fully expressed in the post-Kantian gesture of deconstructing all religious discourse as production of a closed system of psycho-organic functioning. As we might suspect, it is in the religious sphere that 'Fiducia' is seen to exercise its worst ravages. Valéry's directing hypothesis is that the being alleged under the name of 'God' is explicable as a mere product of sensibility; the infinities of power, intelligence, perfection and love attributed to God are no more than the expressions of our own powerlessness or incomprehension: 'When I said that we should be very curious as to what God did outside of his creative function, I said no more than this: that god — i.e. our idea of a god, must be examined to establish if it doesn't just boil down to a masked complementary response of our sensibility, when injustice, or impotence, or some other unbearable feeling exacerbates it.' Religion is, literally, a collective poetry of faith, part of an entire mental universe of unsuspecting fiduciarity, whose objective function is to cushion us against the shocks of the human condition. So much for metaphysics, for myths and for mysticisms; so much for texts, traditions, revelations; so much for the very act of believing, that is to say, of 'adding credence'. Religion is based upon the 'effort to believe, the will-to-believe' and the value attached to such 'faith' appears to him if not 'naive, or unconscious' then 'suspect, simulated, calculated'. The 'truth-value' posited by Christianity is not a proof but a 'credit transfer'. All faith, suggests Valery, is an error, multiplied by an energy. The error: that of founding belief upon words invoking a signified which does double duty as both idea and referent. The energy: the strange resource faith finds in the desire for personal survival, the resonant perplexities and the subsistent wounds of the human condition. Against the conviction of Pascal, Valéry affirms the 'natural rebelliousness' of the mind, its 'native inaptitude for belief'.

The most complex and fascinating harmonics of his thinking are those of his confrontation with what is called revealingly 'l'antique religion', the 'old' or 'ancient' religion of Christianity, closely known to Valéry in its Catholic and NeoScholastic form. He notes Catholicism's ambiguous mixture of allure and poverty of apologetics, like a beautiful but uninhabitable house. He expresses his perpetual fury at its incomprehensible 'mysteries; his scorn for the immense part of negligo within religio ('Keep the religious and suppress its idolatrous aspect'); his spiritual rivalry and pride; the anathema declared on religion's degradation of the divine in its principles and founding gospels. And we read of the feelings of abandonment and metaphysical dereliction directed against the God who ought to be directly and intimately perceptible to our inner sense, and who is not; the desolate indignation against the same God who has 'preferred to sacrifice his only Son rather than speak to us clearly and definitively'.

Valery's situation is in this respect determining. His reflection on divine things is rooted in the end-of-the-century climate of thinking in France, when the notion of the 'death of God' took hold. Conditioned by the persuasion of the apparently terminal death-throes of metaphysics and religions, he is led by a prophetic suspicion inherited from Mallarmé and an exultant destructiveness supercharged by his reading of Nietzsche. And, in keeping with the times, his scorn is directed not only towards the Creator, but to the products of creation: 'What kind of a god would be capable of sacrificing his son to swinish men? — Is God in fact an idolater?' The reason underpinning Valéry's non-belief lies rather in mankind: he writes of 'the contempt' he has for man and for himself, of his 'very low opinion of, or feeling towards man', and similarly asks whether humankind was 'worth disturbing a God to "create" it?' But the established church fares no better, its teachings frequently reduced to the instilment of blind, unquestioning faith through fear of punishment and death. The church 'cultivated fear of the unknown in death as one cultivates one's patch, one's garden peas', writes Valéry; when preachers connected death and morality, the result was 'an intellectual and sentimental cacophony'. Valéry asserts that the ideas and images of death, hell, Judgement, divine anger and eternity are exploited and abused by Christian religion and in doing so it 'abuses the divine'; the drama it generates is a fiction of love, the 'deification of blackmail'. If Valéry found in later years that the Church had 'mellowed' and that even 'Hell would seem to have been modernized', its targeting of the sensibility by other means is no less determined. The Gospels, likewise, come under close critical scrutiny, the exhortation to 'love thy neighbour as thyself especially so. Yet Valéry points starkly to the contrast between the Church as institution and the character and teachings of Jesus, singling out the Paternoster as an 'absolutely perfect and unified text'.

As we become attuned to this first mobilizing imperative, which involves an aggressive critique of received or inherited divine things, a more subtle and questing dialectic appears. At a critical juncture of Europe's intellectual evolution, when a world 'without suspicion' is coming to an end, Valéry undertakes to 'rethink' patiently in the light of his System a vast swathe of transcendent thought-forms inherited from the European past. This constitutes an intrinsic and fundamental dialogue engaging metaphysicians of rationalist and Greek antecedence, religious myths, various forms of mysticism, as well as the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, doctrine and liturgy; then too, social religion and the psychology of individual and collective belief — all are considered in order to assess the validity and worth of the notions of the divine they embody. One key image of his procedure presents the analyst himself as the psychic equivalent of the American physicists Michelson and Morley, evacuating from the human psyche its entire quotient of idealist-spiritualist 'ether' in order to determine what positively remains of the religious function in humankind. The horizon of this project, which is criticist in outlook and Faustian in spirit, becomes increasingly that of an Einstein-type labour to 'construct a God-invariant' and he reflects upon what the god of modern people would be like.

In 1921, after the great collective shock of the First World War, and following an intimate erotic-sentimental upheaval which led Valery back through the 'porch of the Great Questions', the intrinsic dialogue began to take literary form in a projected Socratic dialogue. His idea for the 'Peri ton thou theou' ('On things divine') was to realize an alternative divinity by exploring the transformation wrought by the pure Intellect liberated from the impediments of traditional religious questions and practices. After the opening appearance of Athikté, the naively passionate flame-woman of Dance and the Soul, the second moment was to have been dominated by the appearance of the Daimon, the bearer of the divine message, bringing to the fleeing disciples the revelation that the philosopher Socrates had died not because of drinking the hemlock, but from the realization of his own intrinsic potential for divinity. Under the auspices of this figure of his personal 'mysticism without God', Valéry intended to celebrate in conclusion his own counter-proposal in the order of things divine. But the project was never finished: proving to be too vast, too ambitious, and touching too closely the vital spiritual nerve of Valery's own adventure of the mind, the themes were reabsorbed into the central laboratory of the Notebooks.

The work of analysis and theorization takes the form in Valery's maturity of a negative theology. His critique of 'divine things' refers, variously and ambiguously, to 'God', 'the god' and God. The first notation already carries implicitly the inverted commas belonging to a subjectively referred representational construct —God, as figuring in the mirror of the mind and human speech; the second adds a functional emphasis (the god of a given person, religion or system); the third corresponds to Valéry's own notion of what a 'true God' would be like if there is — or were — such. Of the Absolute in itself, we can know nothing, say nothing.

The supreme Explicator-Respondent of the Western mind is thus dismissed beyond the enclosure of knowable things, ready to assume in the Valéryan universe the haunting and fascinating status of the absent ontological X. But if 'God' is eclipsed, withdrawn from naming by an interposed epistemological abyss, 'the god', however, does exist — 'within me' —, as an incontestable function and vector of the human psyche. Envisaged at the beginning of the Notebooks as a symbol of the irrational and maximum conceivable energy, Valéry's god-function gains in density over time, and is increasingly seen as co-substantial with the infinitely suspect and confounding enigma of 'sensibility', or 'the heart', an enigma which as analyst he seeks to penetrate, purify and master. Following the crisis of 1921, it is seen as the crux of all enigmas: the propensity to desire beyond practical usefulness and become the presence of things absent; the creative thirst engendering all the 'infinities', the 'transcendents' of the psyche and the expression of its obscure metaphysical needs. The poet-analyst questions our demon of lack and longing; he scrutinizes the enigmatic hollow of expectation ('attente') which is a call to relationality — to the point where Valéry's Other, his absent 'true God', sometimes acquires a voice. A parallel cult of psalms and prayers, and the magnificent prose poem of the 'Station on the Terrace' remain in the Notebooks as moving monuments to his concept of the pure spirituality of Absence.

More still than of the god-function, however, Valéry speaks of 'the divine'. 'I do not see a God, but I do not say that the divine is non-existent'. So little nonexistent, in fact, that the negative theologian is inclined to view in it a Kantian 'category of the mind', underlying all our notions of the supreme value or of the inexhaustible.

In all these ways, the Notebooks give voice to a certain Serpent hissing in a certain Garden. There can be few more challenging critiques, more pertinent in their time, of Western religion. By the same token, the pages in which Valery interrogates notions such as creation, incarnation, grace, sacrifice, resurrection, hope, faith and the constituting mystery of love, represent an irreplaceable document retracing the way in which, within rationalist Europe, the threads of the Judaeo-Christian understanding of the divine are confused and lost to the best minds. In such pages, the rigour, the subtlety, the high spiritual exigency of the negative theologian and 'mystic without God' call into dialogue those with and without belief a great Socratic virtue of awakening.



Paul Valéry: L`Écriture en devenir by Brian Stimpson (Peter Lang)

Cet ouvrage présente une analyse de l'écriture poétique de Paul Valery selon la perspective de la critique génétique. A travers l'examen des poèmes en prose de jeunesse et des manuscrits de La Jeune Parque et de La Pythie, Paul Valery: L'Écriture en deuenir étudie pour la première fois la théorie et la pratique de la composition chez Valery comme processus en evolution continue. Animée par une tension soutenue entre un regard de puissance et la presence de plus en plus insistante de la musique intime du moi, la « poétique du faire » qui en ressort est envisagèe comme source d'energie créatrice et de chant. Bénéficiant de documents et manuscrits inédits, ce travail entreprend d'élucider la dynamique intime du processus créa-teur, manifeste dans l'autoanalyse que Valery pratique dans le miroir du feuillet manuscrit. Il sera d'intérêt pour tout lecteur fasciné par les luttes intimes de l'écrivain avec son materiel et son propre moi.

Lorsque Vaiéry fut saisi par le desk renouvelé de l'écriture poétique en 1912, it ne pouvait s'imaginer jusqu'ou cette mouvance, qui devait donner lieu à dix ans de créativité intense, allait le metier. Si, depuis un certain temps déjà, la notion de « Grand Silence » — son prétendu abandon de la poésie, reconduit au long de vingt années d'acharnement abstrait — est envisagée par la critique selon une perspective relativisée, sinon quasi mythique, toujours est-il que l'explosion de l'energie créatrice qui se fit jour dans l'écriture poétique vers cette époque ne cesse d'ébahir de son originalité remarquable, ne cesse, non plus, de presenter un défi pour l'analyse. Les dimensions de ce qui est realise pendant ce surgissement créateur sont, à elles seules, époustouflantes : l'intention d'écrire un petit adieu d'une quarantaine de vers est outrepassée par les 512 vers de La Jeune Parque, les vingt-et-un poèmes de Charmes, le remaniement des poemes de l' Album de vers anciens, sans compter de nombreux autres poèmes qui ne seront publiés que beaucoup plus tard ou qui resteront dans ses archives personnelles. Une telle fébri-lité, multipliée exponentiellement si on considère le nombre de feuillets manuscrits qui la sous-tend, est vertigineuse. On peut comprendre que, mane en octobre 1917 lorsque cette activité n'est encore qu'à mi-chemin, Vaiéry &rive à sa femme : « On va me croire detainee — rabique ! / La Parque en mai ; l'Ode en octobre — Le volume en novembre. C'est impressionnant. Je vais me faire abimer d'urgence — »1 (Corr. PV-JV).

On peut egalement comprendre que, à l'exception du travail magistral de Florence de Lussy qui aura permis aux lecteurs, dans trois volumes d'une importance exceptionnelle, de suivre les traces de l'évolution de La Jeune Parque et des poèmes de Charmes, l'attention de la critique vaiéryenne se soit orientée, pour la plupart (mais non exclusivement), sur les brouillons de 1913 — parfois par parti pris anti-teiéologique, parfois par une volonté plus juste, plus réaliste, de cerner une zone restreinte dans le temps, dont les possibilités déjà foisonnantes se prétent à des analyses pointues et riches, susceptibles par leur complementarite de faire ressortir les multiples strates d'activité scripturale en jeu. La présente etude cherche à contribuer à ces &bats en adoptant une perspective analytique différente, et ce afin d'aborder la question du devenir de l'écriture. Face à toutes ces richesses, it nous semble qu'une etude qui envisage l'ecriture comme une interrogation à la fois ancree dans l'actualite et orient& vers un

avenir à decouvrir, qui cherche à integrer une analyse detainee des feuillets manuscrits avec des reflexions theoriques et une perspective d'ensemble qui reconnait l'importance de l'ceuvre à construire fait defaut à l'heure actuelle.

Affirmer que l'ecrit ne peut se faire d'un seul trait simultane, à la manière d'un cliché photographique (et encore là, le cas est sans doute méme moins net), est une evidence. A mesure que les parties entrent dans différents reseaux de connexion les unes avec les autres, les manuscrits font preuve d'une evolution, progressent dans le temps — ou, pour eviter tout malentendu, tout soupcon de valorisation, disons tout simplement qu'ils changent dans le temps, tracant, pour reprendre l'expression de Vaiéry, « un changement d'un avenir » (C, IV, 800). Cette evolution n'implique ni dessein preexistant, ni chronologie lineaire ; elle est un simple constat : l'ecriture n'existe qu'en devenir, un devenir qui se cherche à talons, tout comme son auteur qui s'interroge dans le miroir des manuscrits. La dynamique de la composition peut ainsi étre saisie, non en apportant une connaissance retrospective de son point d'arrivee, mais en essayant de discerner la « multiplicite de solutions possibles » qui se presentent à l'ecrivain à chaque tournant de son travail (IX, 8) : cet aspect « arbitraire » de l'acte d'ecrire represente pour Vaiéry la « possibilite méme de son travail », dont le choix se manifeste « sur le papier »2. La poesie, c'est toujours autre chose ; si le poke n'en connait pas la destination, it sait s'il n'est pas encore arrive, comme le souligne Vaiéry en octobre 1913 : « Composition litteraire. / Ce qui n'est pas encore ca, l'auteur se reprenant se relisant le soutient — arrive au passage dangereux, insuffisant — l'auteur reparait tout entier, avec toutes ses forces.. futures » (C, V, 102). Nul doute ici du role energetique du sujet ecrivant qui se decouvre dans l'avenir de son propre &fit.

Pour Vaiéry, la genèse d'une oeuvre ne suit pas un trace chronologique ou intentionnel : it se peut que la direction generale d'une ceuvre ne soit trouvee qu'« apres coup » (Corr. GLV, 1107) et, loin d'être en attente, « en puissance » (C, VI, 666), elle est le fruit d'une serie quasi aveugle de tatonnements ; si, en face du poeme termine, le poete est cense avoir eu telle intention, la difficulte, repond Vaiéry, c'est qu'« on ne saura jamais à quel instant it l'a eue » (VI, 386). Quel que soit le moment oil la direction de l'ouvrage se precise, elle est la manifestation d'un autre phenomene qui la precede, le fruit d'un hasard, en ce qu'elle fait partie d'un processus en evolution : « Pour donner cette observation toute son &endue, it suffit de remarquer que si une ceuvre decoule d'un projet anterieur, ce projet méme doit son origin à une rencontre pareille à celle de deux times. Mais beaucoup plus hasardeuse. »

Il est rare, sinon exceptionnel, qu'un critique verse dans l'analyse genetique aborde un dossier de manuscrits sans connaitre l'ceuvre à laquelle celui-ci aboutit. Cependant, l'un des apports les plus riches de la critique genetique est de permettre au lecteur des manuscrits de mettre cette connaissance entre parentheses, et de s'ouvrir à l'eventail des possibilites et des doutes, des bribes et des pistes différentes qui ont appate l'ectivain tout au long de l'« eternelle elaboration », du « divertissement infini » de l'ecriture, et dont le produit definitif n'est qu'un « accident [...] un objet qui se &gage un instant de ses ratures » (C, XXV, 552).

En aolit 1912, lorsque la possibilite de publier des textes anciens s'agite en lui, Valery dessine ce qui s'apparente à un veritable programme genetique avant la lettre ; le texte est dense, la syntaxe embrouillee semblant imiter les boucles, les retours, les meandres d'une pens& qui se cherche dans l'acte méttle de l'inscrire

Le voici, le but.

Saisir, faire sentir [au moyen, parmi, avec comme matiere et comme frame, structure fine – (des phenomenes elementaires demi psychiques, demi physiques, quasi chimiques – durees de phosphorescences memoriales, au travers desquelles d'autres choses, paroles internes, images, – puis reprise, l'heure ou une phase entendue (il y a cinq minutes) durant encore – ou un frais de doigt au lobe de l'oreille et un passage de demi idees, – de choses capables de se developper jusqu'd des idees et des nettetes, mais cette fois non, – un rappel etc. — . . .)]

quelque principale pens& – —, qui.. —

(1) traverse, se perd, renait – profite de cette absence et de ce qui l'a emplie — s'en nourrit. — qui ... (2) signifie, me renoue et affirme.

A la fois, hasard et conduite ; ou : hasard et pourtant s'aidant des hasards, les absorbant. – — &ant a chaque tatonnement et tournant de route, un changement d'un avenir.

(C, IV, 800)

II importe peu que l'objectif envisage ici soit analytique ou litteraire, car le desir de tracer le deroulement du fit d'une pens& qui, à travers les avancees et replis de ses mouvements, se metamorphose dans Véte intime de l'esprit et du corps, assume une forme dont le rythme de la modulation se marie à l'abstraction de la reflexion. Loin d'opposer definitivement l'analyse abstraite et la creation poetique chez Vaiéry, on voit que l'ecrire des Cahiers et la pratique des manuscrits de la poesie sont intimement imbriques3. Le but ultime que Vaiéry s'assigne est celui de saisir la forme serpentine de cette traversee de la pens& qui se perd et se nourrit de ce qui lui manque et qui, au moyen de ce processus explorateur, se renoue, se definit, s'affirme. Mais cette pens& est inseparable de son milieu, la mise en abime des crochets et des parentheses semblant ellemérne traduire le repliement de la conscience dans l'étre physique, psychique et sensible ; elle y est entrelacee comme la tame et la chain d'un tissu : « au moyen, parmi, avec comme matiere et comme trame, structure fine »4. La matière germinale, comme quelque « soupe primordiale », est composee d'elements fluides et ephemères, brasses ensemble (« durees de phosphorescences memoriales, au travers desquelles d'autres choses, paroles interns, images, – puis reprise [...] une phrase entendue [...] un frais de doigt au lobe de l'oreille »), le tout evanescent et insaisissable comme tin sylphe. L'ecrivain avance sur deux fronts, accueillant le hasard, prenant des directions provisoires, quitte « à chaque tatonnement et tournant de route » à s'orienter vers un autre

avenir, s'oubliant, se retrouvant, s'inspirant d'un passé à la fois reconnu et repudie. Il
semblerait que Vaiéry esquisse dans ce texte — qui aboutit à une celebration de la mu-

sique des mouvements evolutifs de la pens& — un objectif non oloigne de cette floral-
son poetique qui est sur le point d'eclore, et qu'il decrira plus de vingt ans plus tard

comme la tentative de « faire de la "poesie" avec l'étre vivant », avec les «pensees de "l'Etre vivant" », en faisant chanter ce « point on la matiere de la pens& est en jeu — devient sensible » (C, XVIII, 530-1).

Comment, donc, rendre compte non seulement de cet epanouissement de recriture poetique en 1912-13, mais egalement de son evolution telle qu'elle se manifeste dans les oeuvres et telle qu'elle se presente dans les observations theoriques pendant les annees qui suivent ? Le point de depart strategique de cette etude consiste en rhypothese que le developpement, par Vaiéry, d'une approche foncièrement experimentale de la composition poetique va de pair avec une interrogation des mouvements les plus intimes de sa propre psyche : à mesure qu'il progresse, recule, se detourne, se rejoint dans ce processus, de nouvelles perspectives s'ouvrent à lui, tandis que des eclaircissements majeurs de ses propres operations scripturales ainsi que de celles impliquees dans tout acte createur se degagent. Cette approche pragmatique se decouvre petit à petit, au fur et à mesure que le poète s'interroge, se soumet à l'analyse de ses mobiles les plus intimes : Vaiéry est à la recherche de ses propres moyens autant que de son poeme. Cette problematique exige une methodologie qui repond au besoin d'articuler le sens de l' ecriture comme processus dynamique, infiniment provisoire, s'ouvrant sur de nouvelles avenues, de nouveaux avenirs, tout en revelant des structures intimes et cachees. Des questions cruciales se posent ainsi :

1. quels sont les facteurs, \Teens dans ractualite de l'experience du poète, qui ont contribue au deferlement intense de la poesie en 1912-13, à son interruption pendant pres de dix-huit mois et à sa reprise de nouveau en 1915 ?

2. quelles sont les forces intimes en jeu dans l'esprit et la sensibilite de Vaiéry entre 1892 et 1912 ? quelle presence et quelle evolution de la creation litteraire peuvent étre discernees ?

3. quels rapports recriture des Cahiers, les reflexions sur les pratiques scripturales, la mise à nu des sources intimes de l' Arne et les bribes de vers inscrits sur maint feuillet manuscrit entretiennent-ils ? jusqu'à quel point peut-on percevoir un alter et retour entre ces diverses manifestations ? et jusqu'à quel point Vaiéry cherche-t-il une theorisation de recriture ?

Ces questions permettront d'interroger avec precision la nature du pretendu retrait dans l'abstraction entre 1894 et 1913, ainsi que revolution de la creation litteraire de Vaiéry pendant cette méme periode, afin de verifier si ces deux tendances contrastent effectivement jusqu'au point souvent allegue. Si les tensions subies et refoulees par Vaiéry vingt ans auparavant ont, certes, leur role à jouer dans la resurgence de ractivite poetique des annees 1913-17, it ne faudrait cependant pas faire reconomie des différences entre ces moments, car aux anciennes inquietudes s'ajoutent non seulement d'autres soucis plus actuels, mais egalement de nouvelles ressources, de nouvelles perspectives. Riche de son experience de la periode intermediaire, Péte de l' ecrivain est en evolution, en mouvement, semblable au poème lance vers son avenir ; plusieurs muses s'agitent en lui :

Muse de la tigueur, precise figure, limite

Muse du changement, chante Protee, adapte-toi,

Muse du trouble informe, Muse quelconque, endors, ronfle,

Muse du renversement volontaire, delivre, detache

Muse du multiforme et de l'agrandissement, muse des possibles, muses !

Muse des maints chemins qui se rejoignent —

Muse des formes, applique (CV//, 466 [1905])

* * *

Quelques precisions s'imposent pour ancrer davantage les remarques developpees cidessus dans le contexte de la critique genetique et, plus specifiquement, de la critique valeryenne. Afin de determiner une approche adapt& aux questions soulevees et de mieux situer celle adopt& dans le present ouvrage, on evoquera brievement quelquesunes des directions analytiques qui s'offrent à l'analyse des manuscrits d'une ceuvre5. Almuth Gresillon precise que la critique genetique « telle qu'elle est mise en oeuvre depuis une vingtaine d'annees, est une methode d'approche de la litterature qui vise non pas l'ceuvre finie, mais le processus d'ecriture » ; se fixant sur les manuscrits « en tant qu'ils portent la trace d'une dynamique, celle du texte en devenir », le travail du critique consiste en « la construction d'une serie d'hypothèses sur les operations scripturales »6.

Les etudes de Florence de Lussy ont fraye le chemin dans les dossiers si complexes de Vaiéry et representent une source immense de richesses et d'illuminations7. Son premier ouvrage, consacre à la genese de La Jeune Parque, ne pretend pas tracer tous les detours ni toutes les possibilites, mais opte pour la citation selective en preconisant le « texte principal » (la première version de chaque feuillet, generalement reconnaissable par son ecriture dessinee d'une main plus ferme) plutot que les « variantes, souvent frès abondantes, qui surchargent le texte » (p.9), et une orientation guidee surtout par l'identification des vers qui prefigurent le texte definitie. La strategic developpee dans la presente etude, comme on aura l'occasion de le preciser plus avant, est autre. Les deux volumes de o Charmes » d'apres les manuscrits de Paul Valery : histoire d'une metamorphose presentent une transcription fidele des brouillons avec un nombre considerable de variantes et « pour les fragments (ou strophes) manifestant un travail remarquable sur le plan de la methode, du fonctionnement de l'imaginaire, de l'efficace dans la progression, etc., [...] la quasi-totalite des variantes » (Charmes..., 1, p.10). Outre l'apport d'un grand nombre de documents autrement inconnus ou non disponibles, ces volumes sont animes par la volonte critique, à laquelle nous souscrivons entièrement, de « penetrer plus avant dans les profondeurs de cet esprit jusqu'à ce nceud conflictuel qui met aux prises en lui des sentiments violemment antagonistes » (p.13).

Dans un article majeur en 1979, Judith Robinson-Vaiéry signale l'importance d'une approche de l'ecriture qui privilegie, tout au long de la genese de La Jeune Parque, la mobilite fondamentale des elements qui la composent, qui est surtout traduite dans les hesitations prolongees de Valery en ce qui concerne la fin du poeme9. Robinson-Vaiéry souligne avec justesse le role du processus par rapport au produit definitif public en 1917, et qui ne serait qu'« une des Parques virtuelles que Vaiéry portait en lui » (p.82). Il faudrait concevoir la genese, suggere-t-elle, selon une optique qui maintient la diver-site des possibilites à chaque moment, avec « toutes ses ebauches et tous ses brouillons, dans leur merveilleux mélange d'ordre et de desordre, de travail qui sait et ne sait pas oil

it va, qui hesite, tatonne, cherche, trouve, perd et retrouve on ne sait quel flu mysterieux dont l'auteur finit par tisser ce que nous sommes convenus d'appeler son "oeuvre" ».

Les redacteurs du Cahier de Critique genetique n° 1, dans leur volonte de se demarquer de toute « visee teleologique », de toute forme « d'"etablissement de texte" », se proponent de « defaire, denouer ce qui s'en est progressivement tire et tisse, pour envisager au cceur de cette "destruction" ou "ruine", les seuls eclats de Pecriture : bribes ou balbutiements irreductibles, phenomenes elementaires mi-physiques, mi-psychiques, elements premiers d'une certaine consistance sans doute mais le plus souvent ephernères... »10. Dans la mesure ou cette approche preconise « le flow et l'incertain, le multiple et le méle », elle a l'avantage de fixer l'attention sur « le desordre du trouble et des tourbillons de mots [qui] constituent le veritable milieu de fertilite de l'invention » ; mais dans la mesure oft elle privilegie les o phenomenes elementaires... qui sont le plus souvent ephemeres », elle renonce à rendre compte de tout developpement de Pecriture : aucun mouvement vers l'avenir de Pecriture n'est envisageable.

L'article de Francoise Haffner, Micheline Hontebeyrie et Robert Pickering, « Lieux genetiques inedits chez Paul Vaiéry. Des feuilles volantes et des Cahiers aux premiers brouillons de La Jeune Parque », aborde la question cruciale des rapports genetiques entre des chantiers d'ecriture parallèles. Les différentes formes d'ecriture peuvent s'influencer reciproquement pour creer un reseau de liens qui mine les frontieres entre les notes analytiques, les remarques ponctuelles et les brouillons poetiques, et bouscule toute separation trop nette entre un travail « preparatoire » et un travail de « realisation ». Tout s'interpenetre dans ce « dispositif scriptural ouvert, materialisant l'espace d'une vaste combinatoire d'energies creatrices et sollicitant en permanence des relectures, des reprises et des reecritures independantes »11. Si la distinction entre « endogenèse » et « exogenèse »12 suscite des questions pertinentes en ce qui concerne la problematique des rapports entre les Cahiers de Vaiéry et ses manuscrits poetiques, it est cependant evident que sa pratique se ressource de toutes les possibilites sans distinction. Dans le cas de Vaiéry, comme sans doute pour la poesie en general, une separation definitive entre ce qui est inherent au travail des manuscrits et ce qui vient d'une source exterieure à l'ecriture n'est pas concevable. Tout, chez Vaiéry, quelle qu'en soit la source, est integre à son acte d'ecrire et de penser, et tout dans ses propres ecrits, poetiques ou autres, quelle qu'en soit l'origine, est susceptible de subir des mouvements - transversaux dans tous les sens :

[...] le renvoi a la puissance generatrice de certains antecedents poetiques [...] doit imperativement etre mis en relation avec le brassage d'ecritures diverses qui precede les debuts de redaction, et qui fait des enchevetrements entre les cahiers, les carnets et les feuilles volantes comme une vaste caisse de resonance pour l'imaginaire si particulier du poeme.13

Pour Paul Gifford, la continuite de reférence est ce qui relierait les tensions et les refoulements de la sensibilite du jeune Vaiéry à la forme et aux motifs du poème à venir, le tout rassemble dans un moment richement premonitoire en 1913, anime par « la divination foudroyante d'un fond de sensibilite »14. « Que se passe-t-il », demande-t-il, « lorsque, à Page de quarante ans, après un tel Silence, on a l'imprudence de laisser

resonner en soi [...] la voix poetique de ses vingt ans ? [...] C'est, tout d'abord, les secrets d'une sensibilite adolescente qui sont par là &mites » (PV 11, 81), ce mouvement reveillant alors le cartesien, le positiviste des Cahiers de son réve illusoire. Pour Gifford les motifs qui trouveront leur place dans le poeme de 1917 sont presqu'entierement prefigures dans le « proto-drame de 1913 » : « le moment illuminateur de 1913 [...] campe, presque sans bavure, le Brame essentiel de la Parque, en degageant une vaste partie de la thematique imaginaire du poeme à venir » (92-3).

II faudrait signaler, enfin, l'apport considerable des etudes poursuivies dans le cadre de l'equipe Valery de l'Institut des Textes et Manuscrits Modernes (ITEM) du CNRS, Paris15. Ces etudes, qui figurent dans les volumes recents de la serie Paul Valery de la Revue des Lettres Modernes et dans le Bulletin des Etudes Valeryennes ont apporte de nombreuses lumieres et richesses suggestives pour l'analyse des manuscrits : signalons en particulier les numeros PV9, Autour des Cahiers et PV11, « La Jeune Parque » des brouillons au poeme : nouvelles lectures genetiques ; sur les rapports entre les Cahiers et feuilles volantes de l'epoque et la poesie, on peut lire les resultats extrémement riches de tout un cycle de seminaires de l'equipe Vaiéry de l'ITEM qui fut consacre à cette problematique dans « Le laboratoire genetique — "feuilles volantes" et Cahiers », BEV, n' 98/99. On aura l'occasion d'evoquer ces nombreuses contributions au flu de notre etude.

Dans son analyse d'un poeme de Jules Supervielle, Gresillon developpe un exemple pratique de ses propos sur la critique genetique, qui n'est pas sans analogies avec la pratique scripturale de Vaiéry, Bien qu'il s'agisse d'un corpus beaucoup plus limite. A travers l'analyse des cinq feuillets manuscrits d'un poeme de Supervielle, elle met en avant l'importance de montrer à chaque moment de l'ecriture « la non-linearite complexe et les multiples virtualites inscrites dans la genese », manifestes surtout dans « les errements et fourvoiements, les points de blocage et de cristallisation obsessionnelle de l'ecriture, mais aussi les reelles alternatives, les bifurcations qui auraient pu conduire à d'autres poèmes »16.

Tel sera, on ne saurait mieux l'exprimer, l'objectif de notre travail. Si un regard pluriel sur la multiplicite des mouvements qui &latent dans tous les sens permet de sonder les forces psychiques secretes à l'ceuvre dans leur generation, it est necessaire, en méme temps, de trouver une approche qui puisse rendre compte du deroulement de l'ecriture d'un feuillet à l'autre, des liens qui se tissent et se rompent, de la constitution de fragments de plus en plus elabores, de la remise en question de la signification et de la recherche du sens. On peut donc envisager une manière d'aborder les brouillons du poeme qui ne soit ni visee teleologique, ni etablissement de texte, et qui ne consiste ni en une destruction fragmentaire, ni en la conception d'une ecriture sans avenir ; it s'agira ainsi d'examiner, à travers une serie de sondages dans les dossiers, la diversite des operations scripturales par lesquelles le possible du possible se constitue petit à petit en poeme.