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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

hide your devil

Thomas Bernhard’s biographer, Gitta Honegger, has noted that Bernhard was deeply influenced by his reading of Paul Valéry’s Monsieur Teste. She writes: “Valéry never recovered from his amazement about the spectacle of his own intellect,” mocks E.M. Cioran. If one replaced “amazement” with “laugher,” the statement could apply to Bernhard.” According to Honegger, the idea of Monsieur Teste – of an intelligence so high that it could only take as its highest object – itself – and in so doing erase itself, really impressed Bernhard.

Honegger quotes a passage from the Portrait of M. Teste section that describes the the characteristic trajectory of action performed by Bernhard’s early heros:

- Jealous of his best ideas, of those which he believed to be the best – sometimes so particular, so much his own that expressing them in the vulgar, instead of the intimate language gives us on the outside only the most feeble and false idea of them. – And who knows if the most important ones for directing a mind are not as singular to that mind, as strictly personal as a garment or an object adopted to one’s throws – who knows if the true philosophy of someone is… communicable?

- Jealous, then, of his diverse clarities – T. thought: what kind of idea is it to which one does not attach the value of a secret of state or of a secret of art? and thus one must have the shame as for a sin or a pain – hide your god – hide your devil.


LI brings this up because we found, while searching about, a pdf of the entire M. Teste text on the web, here. And we’ve been reading it. It has been a long time since we read this text – I call it a text rather than novella, because it is not like a novella. It is more like Valéry’s essay on Leonardo. It is as much a ‘text’ as a corn flake is purely a breakfast cereal. No fucking around.

At one time, in the twenties and thirties, Monsieur Teste had quite a reputation. But Cioran’s judgment on Valéry reflects the more contemporary view. And it is true, there is a coldness that run’s like the purest fish blood through Valery’s work. There’s a wonderful moment in Sartre’s essay on Nizan where he simply dismisses Gide and Valéry as the very archetypes of intellectual preciosity and futility.

But the thing is, M. Teste is, in spite of everything, rather beautiful.

I’ll have some more excerpts later.

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