January 2, 2009

A series of defeats

Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.

-- Orwell, "Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali."

Today verse would not be invented

Poetry is a survival.

Poetry, in a period of language simplification, of changing forms and insensibility in regard to them, of specialization -- is a thing preserved. I mean that today verse would not be invented. Nor, indeed, rites of any kind.

-- Valéry, "Literature" (tr. Louise Varèse).

December 29, 2008

Reason in its more amiable aspects

For me, Stendhal is the embodiment of the principle of prose. I don't mean literary reality, but reason in its more amiable aspects. No doubt Stendhal will survive Flaubert, because Stendhal is a point of reference for the mature, while Flaubert is a point of reference for the artist, and perhaps for the immature. Flaubert takes possession of the immature and almost develops a sense of maturity and of competence and strength.

-- Stevens, in a letter (June 20, 1945).

... Possibly this rhymes with a phrase in a letter three years later, discussing artists not authors: "fantasy on the one hand and realism on the other: evasion and evasion."