Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Politics of Thought

Sometimes I feel as though the thoughts I call my own are all contained in books I haven't read yet.

Writing in his Notebooks [1], over a hundred years ago, Paul Valery says:
"When faced with something which greatly interests me - an accomplishment in any form - I react badly. I'm angry for not having discovered it - and for being given it gratis, when I would so much like to have discovered it with great effort myself. Thus I set infinitely more store on obtaining things for myself than on handed-down possession. I do not like to inherit. One never possesses as totally as when one has conquered or created - or when one thinks one has."

I know exactly what he means. And I HATE him for having said it.

The sting in the tail, of course, is in those last six words. What's worse than having an idea handed to you gratis is discovering that someone's already had the idea you think you had, only articulated and / or executed it infinitely better than you ever could [2].

[1] Am reading Valery's Cahiers. He is now officially my favorite blogger ever.

[2] Or, as Eliot puts it: "And what there is to conquer / By strength and submission, has already been discovered / Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope / To emulate". See what I mean?


Confused & Baffled said...

yee..ee...s. i hate it when that happens. i only end up dissing myself for not having faith in me.

Tabula Rasa said...

dissertation scooped, eh?

Falstaff said...

c&b: At least you take it that way. My usual response is - why do I even bother?

TR: No risk of that, since I don't have one yet *evil laugh*.

Tabula Rasa said...


Anonymous said...

Well falsie, enlighten the mortal world about 'your 08 IR-resolutions' and whether you did a good job as far as 07 Ir-resolutions are concerned.

??! said...

This is the second time in recent months that you've posted about this, and it surprises me more that you actually are surprised by such events.

Considering the billions (trillions?) of people past and present, isn't it likely that any thought-pattern we think of hasn't been thought of before? And better so?

Ironically, the same thought was my first attempt at an Urf.

Falstaff said...

anon: Ah, irresolutions. Let's see. I don't have a favorite drink and I didn't travel to Europe, or read In Search of Lost Time. I am close to having a dissertation topic and half way through Paradiso, having completed Inferno and Purgatorio, and I did change the blog format. So there.

As for this year: let's just say my New Year's Irresolution is to come up with new irresolutions for myself.

??!: Second time? Really? When did I post about this before?

And I'm not surprised, really. More struck by the irony of the recursion here than anything else.

Also, well, it's not so much about someone else having had the same thought. It's about some great writer having had the same thought and expressed it so much better than one could. The probability of that is lower, surely, though probably still fairly high.

??! said...

Sorry, the link didn't come through in the last comment. This is it - you on Orwell, not so long ago.

Anonymous said...

Falsie: I remembered that Orwell thing too. That's the trouble with writing too much. Eventually you'll start reading your own blogposts somewhere and have the same reaction as you do with Valery and Orwell "Aargh. Why didn't I think of that??" And so on in some wierd recursive loop.

On the one hand, isn't it flattering that your readers remember your throwaway thought gems and you don't? (though that might also be the definition of either senility or of a tedious party guest -you know the one who tells his/her favorite story every time till someone interrupts "Dear we heard it all before").

Happy New Year to you too.


Falstaff said...

??!: Thanks. I'd forgotten that. Does this mean I never posted that one about Zagajewski and buying Beethoven in a socialist record store?

n!: Thanks. I'd forgotten that. Does this mean I never posted that one about Zagajewski and buying Beethoven in a socialist record store? (you know, I have a feeling I asked someone else that question recently. Maybe you have a point about the senility)

Happy New Year to you too!