A Successful Fragment

Stéphane Mallarmé, letter to Paul Verlaine, 16 November 1869

Patient as one of the alchemists, I’ve always imagined and attempted something else, and would be willing to sacrifice all satisfaction and vanity for its sake, just as in the old days they used to burn their furniture and the beams of their roofs to feed their furnace for the magnum opus.

What is it? Difficult to say: simply a book, in several volumes, a book that is truly a book, architecturally sound and premeditated, and not a collection of casual inspirations however wonderful that might be…So there, dear friend, is the bare confession of this vice which I’ve rejected a thousand times…But it holds me in its sway and I may yet be able to succeed, not in the contemplation of this work as a whole (one would have to be God-knows-who for that!) but in showing a successful fragment…proving through finished portions that this book does exist, and that I was aware of what I wasn’t able to accomplish. [via]

Double Language

Maurice Blanchot, letter to Georges Bataille, 1962

For my part I can see […] that I must always respond to a double movement, both aspects of which are necessary but nevertheless irreconcilable. One (to express myself in an extremely crude and simplistic fashion) is passion, the realization and the expression of totality, in a dialectical process; the other is essentially non-dialectical, does not concern itself at all with unity and does not tend towards power (towards the possible). This double movement necessitates a double language in response, and, as for any language, a double intensity: the first is a language of confrontation, of opposition, of negation, so as to reduce any opposition and so as to affirm the truth in the end, in its generality, as a silent measure (through which the demand of thought passes). But the other is a language which above all speaks, which speaks above all else and outside anything else; it is a language which comes first, is without agreement, without confrontation, and ready to welcome the unknown, the stranger (the poetic demand passes through this language). The first names the possible and wants the possible. The other responds to the impossible. Between these two movements, which are at the same time necessary and incompatible, there is a constant tension often very difficult to sustain and, in truth, it is unsustainable. But one cannot give up, through prejudice, on one or the other, nor on the unmeasurable search that necessity, and the necessity of uniting the incompatible, demands of men. [via]

Un livre sur rien

Gustave Flaubert, letter to Louise Colet, 16 January 1852

Ce qui me semble beau, ce que je voudrais faire, c’est un livre sur rien, un livre sans attache extérieure, qui se tiendrait de lui-même par la force interne de son style, comme la terre sans être soutenue se tient en l’air, un livre qui n’aurait presque pas de sujet ou du moins où le sujet serait presque invisible, si cela se peut. Les œuvres les plus belles sont celles où il y a le moins de matière. […] C’est pour cela qu’il n’y a ni beaux ni vilains sujets et qu’on pourrait presque établir comme axiome, en se plaçant au point de vue de l’Art pur, qu’il n’y en a aucun, le style étant à lui seul une manière absolue de voir les choses.

What seems beautiful to me, what I should like to write, is a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would be held together by the internal strength of its style, just as the earth, suspended in the void, depends on nothing external for its support; a book which would have almost no subject, or at least in which the subject would be almost invisible, if such a thing is possible.