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Paul Valéry

Paul Valéry

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Ambroise-Paul-Toussaint-Jules Valéry (pɔl valeʁi; October 30, 1871 – July 20, 1945) was a French poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

, essayist, and philosopher. His interests were sufficiently broad that he can be classified as a polymath
Polymath
A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. In less formal terms, a polymath may simply be someone who is very knowledgeable...

. In addition to his poetry and fiction (drama and dialogues) and aphorism
Aphorism
An aphorism is an original thought, spoken or written in a laconic and memorable form.The term was first used in the Aphorisms of Hippocrates...

s on art, history, letters, music, and current events, he also wrote many misanthropic diatribes on human nature.

Biography


Valéry was born of a Corsican father and Genoese
Genoa
Genoa |Ligurian]] Zena ; Latin and, archaically, English Genua) is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria....

-Istria
Istria
Istria , formerly Histria , is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. The peninsula is located at the head of the Adriatic between the Gulf of Trieste and the Bay of Kvarner...

n mother in Sète
Sète
Sète is a commune in the Hérault department in Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France. Its inhabitants are called Sétois....

, a town on the Mediterranean coast of the Hérault
Hérault
Hérault is a department in the south of France named after the Hérault river.-History:Hérault is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790...

, but he was raised in Montpellier
Montpellier
-Neighbourhoods:Since 2001, Montpellier has been divided into seven official neighbourhoods, themselves divided into sub-neighbourhoods. Each of them possesses a neighbourhood council....

, a larger urban center close by. After a traditional Roman Catholic education, he studied law at university, then resided in Paris for most of the remainder of his life, where he was, for a while, part of the circle of Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé , whose real name was Étienne Mallarmé, was a French poet and critic. He was a major French symbolist poet, and his work anticipated and inspired several revolutionary artistic schools of the early 20th century, such as Dadaism, Surrealism, and Futurism.-Biography:Stéphane...

.

Though his earliest publications date from his mid-twenties, Valéry did not become a full-time writer until 1920, when the man for whom he worked as private secretary, a former chief executive of the Havas news agency
Havas
Havas is the second largest advertising group in France and is a "Global advertising and communications services group" and the sixth-largest global advertising and communications group worldwide, operating on the communications consulting market through three main operational divisions:*Euro RSCG...

, Edouard Lebey, died of Parkinson's disease
Parkinson's disease
Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system...

. Until then, Valéry had, briefly, earned his living at the Ministry of War before assuming the relatively flexible post as assistant to the increasingly impaired Lebey, a job he held for some twenty years.

After his election to the Académie française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

 in 1925, Valéry became a tireless public speaker and intellectual figure in French society, touring Europe and giving lectures on cultural and social issues as well as assuming a number of official positions eagerly offered to him by an admiring French nation. He represented France on cultural matters at the League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

, and he served on several of its committees. The Outlook for Intelligence (1989) contains English translations of a dozen essays resulting from these activities.

In 1931, he founded the Collège International de Cannes, a private institution teaching French language
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 and civilization. The College is still operating today, offering professional courses for native speakers (for educational certification, law and business) as well as courses for foreign students.

He gave the keynote address at the 1932 German national celebration of the 100th anniversary of the death of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, pictorial artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and polymath. He is considered the supreme genius of modern German literature. His works span the fields of poetry, drama, prose, philosophy, and science. His Faust has been called the greatest long...

. This was a fitting choice, as Valéry shared Goethe's fascination with science (specifically, biology
Biology
Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Biology is a vast subject containing many subdivisions, topics, and disciplines...

 and optics
Optics
Optics is the branch of physics which involves the behavior and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and the construction of instruments that use or detect it. Optics usually describes the behavior of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light...

).

In addition to his activities as a member of the Académie française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

, he was also a member of the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon, and of the Front national des Ecrivains. In 1937, he was appointed chief executive of what later became the University of Nice. He was the inaugural holder of the Chair of Poetics at the Collège de France
Collège de France
The Collège de France is a higher education and research establishment located in Paris, France, in the 5th arrondissement, or Latin Quarter, across the street from the historical campus of La Sorbonne at the intersection of Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue des Écoles...

.

During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the Vichy regime stripped him of some of these jobs and distinctions because of his quiet refusal to collaborate with Vichy and the German occupation, but Valéry continued, throughout these troubled years, to publish and to be active in French cultural life, especially as a member of the Académie française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

.

In 1900, he married Jeannie Gobillard, a friend of Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé , whose real name was Étienne Mallarmé, was a French poet and critic. He was a major French symbolist poet, and his work anticipated and inspired several revolutionary artistic schools of the early 20th century, such as Dadaism, Surrealism, and Futurism.-Biography:Stéphane...

's family, who was also a niece of the painter, Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot was a painter and a member of the circle of painters in Paris who became known as the Impressionists. She was described by Gustave Geffroy in 1894 as one of "les trois grandes dames" of Impressionism alongside Marie Bracquemond and Mary Cassatt.In 1864, she exhibited for the first...

. The wedding was a double ceremony in which the bride's cousin, Morisot's daughter, Julie Manet
Julie Manet
Julie Manet was a French painter and art collector.Born in Paris, Julie Manet was the daughter and only child of artist Berthe Morisot and Eugene Manet, younger brother of painter Édouard Manet...

, married the painter, Ernest Rouart. Valéry and Gobillard had three children: Claude, Agathe, and François.

Valéry served as a juror with Florence Meyer Blumenthal
Florence Meyer Blumenthal
Florence Meyer Blumenthal was a philanthropist who founded the Fondation franco-américaine Florence Blumenthal , which awarded the Prix Blumenthal from 1919-1954 to painters, sculptors, decorators, engravers, writers, and musicians — to promote Franco- American relations.For their altruism,...

 in awarding the Prix Blumenthal
Prix Blumenthal
The Prix Blumenthal was a grant or stipend awarded through the philanthropy of Florence Meyer Blumenthal — and the foundation she created, Fondation franco-américaine Florence Blumenthal — to discover young French artists, aid them financially, and in the process draw the United States...

, a grant given between 1919 and 1954 to young French painters, sculptors, decorators, engravers, writers, and musicians.

Valéry died in Paris in 1945. He is buried in the cemetery of his native town, Sète, the same cemetery celebrated in his famous poem, le Cimetière marin.

The great silence


Valéry is best known as a poet, and he is sometimes considered to be the last of the French symbolists. However, he published fewer than a hundred poems, and none of them drew much attention. On the night of 4 October 1892, during a heavy storm, Paul Valéry underwent an existential crisis, an event that made a huge impact on his writing career. Eventually, around 1898, he quit writing altogether, and, for nearly twenty years, Valery did not publish a single word. This hiatus was due, in part, to the death of his mentor, Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé , whose real name was Étienne Mallarmé, was a French poet and critic. He was a major French symbolist poet, and his work anticipated and inspired several revolutionary artistic schools of the early 20th century, such as Dadaism, Surrealism, and Futurism.-Biography:Stéphane...

. When, in 1917, he finally broke his 'great silence' with the publication of La Jeune Parque; he was forty-six years of age.

La Jeune Parque


This obscure, but sublimely musical, masterpiece, of 512 alexandrine
Alexandrine
An alexandrine is a line of poetic meter comprising 12 syllables. Alexandrines are common in the German literature of the Baroque period and in French poetry of the early modern and modern periods. Drama in English often used alexandrines before Marlowe and Shakespeare, by whom it was supplanted...

 lines in rhyming couplets, had taken him four years to complete, and it immediately secured his fame. With "Le Cimetière marin" and "L'Ebauche d'un serpent," it is often considered one of the greatest French poems of the twentieth century.

The title was chosen late in the poem's gestation; it refers to the youngest of the three Parcae
Parcae
thumb|#00px|Early 16th-century [[millefleur tapestry]] depicting the Three Fates under their Greek namesIn Roman mythology, the Parcae were the personifications of destiny, often called The Fates in English. Their Greek equivalent were the Moirae. They controlled the metaphorical thread of life of...

(the minor Roman deities also called The Fates), though for some readers the connection with that mythological figure is tenuous and problematic.

The poem is written in the first person, and is the soliloquy of a young woman contemplating life and death, engagement and withdrawal, love and estrangement, in a setting dominated by the sea, the sky, stars, rocky cliffs, and the rising sun. However, it is also possible to read the poem as an allegory on the way fate moves human affairs or as an attempt to comprehend the horrific violence in Europe at the time of the poem's composition. The poem is not about World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, but it does try to address the relationships between destruction and beauty, and, in this sense, it resonates with ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 meditations on these matters, especially in the plays of Sophocles
Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

 and Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

. There are, therefore, evident links with le Cimetière marin, which is also a seaside meditation on comparably large themes.

Other works


Before la Jeune Parque, Valéry's only publications of note were dialogues, articles, some poems, and a study of Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance...

. In 1920 and 1922, he published two slim collections of verses. The first, Album des vers anciens (Album of ancient verses), was a revision of early but beautifully wrought smaller poems, some of which had been published individually before 1900. The second, Charmes (from the Latin carmina, meaning "songs" and also "incantations"), further confirmed his reputation as a major French poet. The collection includes le Cimetière marin, and many smaller poems with diverse structures. 'Le Cimetière marin' is mentioned or indirectly implied or referred to in at least four of Iris Murdoch's novels, The Unicorn, The Time of the Angels, The Nice and the Good and The Sea, The Sea.

Technique


Valéry's technique is quite orthodox in its essentials. His verse rhymes and scans in conventional ways, and it has much in common with the work of Mallarmé
Mallarmé
Mallarmé can refer to:* Stéphane Mallarmé , French poet and critic.* François-René-Auguste Mallarmé , politician during the French Revolution....

. His poem, Palme, inspired James Merrill
James Merrill
James Ingram Merrill was an American poet whose awards include the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Divine Comedies...

's celebrated 1974 poem Lost in Translation
Lost in Translation (poem)
"Lost in Translation" is a narrative poem by James Merrill , one of the most studied and celebrated of his shorter works. It was originally published in The New Yorker magazine on April 8, 1974, and published in book form in 1976 in Divine Comedies.The poem opens with a description of a summer...

, and his cerebral lyricism also influenced the American poet, Edgar Bowers
Edgar Bowers
Edgar Bowers was an American poet who won the Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1989.Bowers was born in Rome, Georgia in 1924. During World War II he joined the military and served in Counter-intelligence against Germany...

.

Prose works


His far more ample prose writings, peppered with many aphorisms and bons mots, reveal a conservative and skeptical outlook on human nature, verging on the cynical. However, he never said or wrote anything giving aid or comfort to any form of totalitarianism
Totalitarianism
Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible...

 popular during his lifetime.

all respected Valéry's thinking and became friendly correspondents. Valéry was often asked to write articles on topics not of his choosing; the resulting intellectual journalism was collected in five volumes titled Variétés.

The notebooks


Valéry's most striking achievement is perhaps his monumental intellectual diary, called the Cahiers (Notebooks). Early every morning of his adult life, he contributed something to the Cahiers, prompting him to write: "Having dedicated those hours to the life of the mind, I thereby earn the right to be stupid for the rest of the day."

The subjects of his Cahiers entries often were, surprisingly, reflections on science and mathematics. In fact, arcane topics in these domains appear to have commanded far more of his considered attention than his celebrated poetry. The Cahiers also contain the first drafts of many aphorisms he later included in his books. To date, the Cahiers have been published in their entirety only as photostatic reproductions, and, only since 1980, have they begun to receive scholarly scrutiny.

Valéry is currently considered a touchstone for those interested in constructivist epistemology
Constructivist epistemology
Constructivist epistemology is an epistemological perspective in philosophy about the nature of scientific knowledge. Constructivists maintain that scientific knowledge is constructed by scientists and not discovered from the world. Constructivists claim that the concepts of science are mental...

, for instance, in Jean-Louis Le Moigne
Jean-Louis Le Moigne
Jean-Louis Le Moigne is a French specialist on systemics and constructivist epistemology. He is an alumnus from Ecole Centrale Paris.-Biography:...

's description of constructivist history.

Selected works

  • Introduction à la méthode de Léonard de Vinci (1895)
  • La soirée avec monsieur Teste (1896)
  • La Jeune Parque (1917)
  • Album des vers anciens (1920)
  • Charmes (1922)
  • Variétés I (1924)
  • Variétés II (1930)
  • Regards sur le monde actuel. (1931)
  • Variétés III (1936)
  • Variétes IV (1938)
  • Mauvaises pensées et autres (1942)
  • Tel quel (1943)
  • Variétes V (1944)
  • Vues (1948)
  • Œuvres I (1957), édition établie et annotée par Jean Hytier, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade
    Bibliothèque de la Pléiade
    The Bibliothèque de la Pléiade is a French series of books which was created in the 1930s by Jacques Schiffrin, an independent young editor. . Schiffrin wanted to provide the public with reference editions of the complete works of classic authors in a pocket format...

     / nrf Gallimard
  • Œuvres II (1960), édition établie et annotée par Jean Hytier, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade / nrf Gallimard
  • Prose et Vers (1968)
  • Cahiers I (1973), édition établie, présentée et annotée par Judith Robinson-Valéry, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade / nrf Gallimard
  • Cahiers II (1974), édition établie, présentée et annotée par Judith Robinson-Valéry, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade / nrf Gallimard
  • Cahiers (1894–1914) (1987), édition publiée sous la direction de Nicole Celeyrette-Pietri et Judith Robinson-Valéry avec la collaboration de Jean Celeyrette, Maria Teresa Giaveri, Paul Gifford, Jeannine Jallat, Bernard Lacorre, Huguette Laurenti, Florence de Lussy, Robert Pickering, Régine Pietra et Jürgen Schmidt-Radefeldt, tomes I-IX, Collection blanche, Gallimard


In English translation:
  • 1964. Selected Writings of Paul Valery. New Directions.
  • 1977. Paul Valery: An Anthology. James Lawler, ed. Bollingen (Princeton Univ. Press).
  • 1989. The Outlook for Intelligence. Denise Foliot and Jackson Mathews, trans. Bollingen (Princeton Univ. Press).
  • 2000- Paul Valéry's Cahiers/Notebooks. Volumes I- . Editor-in-chief: Brian Stimpson. Associate editors Paul Gifford, Robert Pickering. Translated by Paul Gifford. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

External links



See also


  • Bonini's paradox
    Bonini's paradox
    Bonini's Paradox, named after Stanford business professor Charles Bonini, explains the difficulty in constructing models or simulations that fully capture the workings of complex systems .-Statements:...

  • Paul Valéry University, Montpellier III
    Paul Valéry University, Montpellier III
    University of Montpellier III Paul Valéry is a French university in the Academy of Montpellier. It is one of the three successor universities to the University of Montpellier, specialising in the arts, languages and social sciences.- History :...