Atrophy of Utterance

Do the mind’s creations come down to the transfiguration of trifles?

So many pages, so many books which afforded us feeling and which we reread to study the quality of their adverbs, their adjectival aplomb.

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As for “verities,” who can lug them along any longer? We refuse to bear their weight, to be their accomplices or their dupes. I dream of a world in which one might die for a comma.

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Certainties have no style: a concern for well-chosen words is the attribute of those who cannot rest easy in a faith. Lacking solid support, they cling to words — semblances of reality; while the others, strong in their convictions, despise appearances and wallow in the comfort of improvisation.

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Default on your life and you accede to poetry — without the prop of talent.

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Only superficial minds approach an idea with delicacy.

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When we are a thousand miles away from poetry, we still participate in it by that sudden need to scream — the last stage of lyricism.

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The aphorism is cultivated only by those who have known fear in the midst of words, that fear of collapsing with all the words.

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If only we could return to those ages when no utterance shackled existence, to the laconism of interjections, to the joyous stupor of the preverbal!

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How easy it is to be “deep”: all you have to do is let yourself sink into your own flaws.

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Every word affords me pain. Yet how sweet it would be if I could hear what the flowers have to say about death!

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To cleanse literature of its greasepaint, to see its real countenance, is as dangerous as to dispossess philosophy of its jargon. Do the mind’s creations come down to the transfiguration of trifles? Is there some sort of substance only beyond words — in catalepsy or the skull’s grin?

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Dislocated monads, here we are at the end of our prudent mopes, our well-planned anomalies: more than one sign heralds the hegemony of delirium.

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A writer’s “sources”? His shames; failing to discover these in yourself, or dodging them when you do, you are doomed to plagiarism or reviewing.

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The nerve cell is so used to everything, to anything, that we must despair of ever conceiving an insanity which — penetrating the brain — would make it explode.

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No one since Benjamin Constant has rediscovered the tone of disappointment.

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With Baudelaire, physiology entered into poetry; with Nietzsche, into philosophy. By them, the troubles of the organs are raised to song, to concept. With health the one thing proscribed, it was incumbent upon them to afford disease a career.

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Mystery — a word we use to deceive others, to convince them that we are “deeper” than they are.

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The public hurls itself upon authors called “human”; the public knows it has nothing to fear from them: halted, like their readers, halfway down the road, these authors propose compromises with the Impossible, a coherent vision of Chaos.

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The pornographer’s verbal slovenliness frequently results from an excess of modesty, from the shame of displaying his “soul” and especially of naming it: there is no more indecent word in any language.

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That there should be a reality hidden behind appearances is, after all, quite possible; that language might render such a thing would be an absurd hope. So why burden yourself with one opinion rather than another — why recoil from the banal or the inconceivable, from the duty of saying and of writing anything at all? A modicum of wisdom would compel us to sustain all theses at once, in an eclecticism of smiling destruction.

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The pessimist has to invent new reasons to exist every day: he is a victim of the “meaning” of life.

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Mind is the great profiteer of the body’s defeats. It grows rich at the expense of the flesh it pillages, exulting in its victim’s miseries; by such brigandage it lives. — Civilization owes its fortune to the exploits of a bandit.

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“Talent” is the surest way of perverting everything, of falsifying things and fooling oneself into the bargain. Real existence belongs only to those whom nature has not overwhelmed with any gift. Hence, it would be difficult to imagine a more fallacious universe than the literary kind or a man more devoid of reality than the man of letters.

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No salvation, save in the imitation of silence. But our loquacity is prenatal. A race of rhetoricians, of verbose spermatozoons, we are chemically linked to the Word.

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We cannot sufficiently blame the nineteenth century for having favored that breed of glossators, those reading machines, that deformation of the mind incarnated by the Professor — symbol of a civilization’s decline, of the corruption of taste, of the supremacy of labor over whim.

To see everything from the outside, to systematize the ineffable, to consider nothing straight on, to inventory the views of others! . . . All commentary on a work is bad or futile, for whatever is not direct is null.

There was a time when the professors chose to pursue theology. At least they had the excuse then of professing the absolute, of limiting themselves to God, whereas in our century nothing escapes their lethal competence.

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What distinguishes us from our predecessors is our offhandedness with regard to Mystery. We have even renamed it: thus was born the Absurd . . .

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Fraudulence of style: to give the usual melancholies an unaccustomed turn, to decorate our minor miseries, to costume the void, to exist by the word, by the phraseology of the sarcasm or the sigh!

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Incredible that the prospect of having a biographer has made no one renounce having a life.

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Once you have inhaled Death, what desolation in the odors of the Word!

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Defeat being the order of the day, it is natural that God should benefit thereby. Thanks to the snobs who pity or abuse Him, He enjoys a certain vogue. Be how long will he still be interesting?

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“He had talent; why does no one bother about him anymore? He’s been forgotten.”

“It’s only fair: he failed to take precautions to be misunderstood.”

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Nothing desiccates the mind more than its repugnance to conceive obscure ideas.

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What are the occupations of the sage? He resigns himself to seeing, to eating, etc. . . . , he accepts in spite of himself this “wound with nine openings,” which is what the Bhagavad-Gita calls the body. — Wisdom? To undergo with dignity the humiliation inflicted upon us by our holes.

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The poet: a sly devil who can torment himself at will, unearthing perplexities, obtaining them by every possible means. And afterward, naive posterity commiserates with him . . .

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Almost all works are made with flashes of imitation, with studied shudders and stolen ecstasies.

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Prolix in essence, literature lives on the plethora of utterance, on cancer of the word.

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Before being a fundamental mistake, life is a failure of taste which neither death nor even poetry succeeds in correcting.

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In this “great dormitory,” as one Taoist text calls the universe, nightmare is the sole mode of lucidity.

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Do not apply yourself to Letters if, with an obscure soul, you are haunted by clarity. You will leave behind you nothing but intelligible sighs, wretched fragments of your refusal to be yourself.

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In the torments of the intellect, there is a certain bearing which is to be sought in vain among those of the heart.

Skepticism is the elegance of anxiety.

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To be modern is to tinker with the Incurable.

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Tragicomedy of the Disciple: I have reduced my mind to dust, in order to improve on the moralists who had taught me only to fritter it away . . .

— E. M. Cioran, All Gall is Divided
(translated by Richard Howard)

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