Study Guide

Paul Valéry Influences

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Edgar Degas

Sometimes you just have to spell things out, so I'm gonna do that right now. This amazing French painter was no slouch—seriously, he was one of the originators of Impressionism. But wasn't just all about painting ballerinas; had time for friends, too. In fact, he shaped one of the most important characters I ever concocted—Monsieur Teste. Teste is the protagonist in my story "An Evening with Monsieur Teste," which is exclusively focused on the guy's mind and thoughts.

How, you may ask, did Degas shape this character? Through his sense of "intellectual discipline and moral uprightness," as I once put it. M. Teste was "more or less influenced, as people say, by the kind of Degas whom I had imagined" (source).

Translation: I kind of based Monsieur Teste on Degas.

Stéphane Mallarmé

Who could drop in on this guy's literary salons every Tuesday, week after week, and not fall under his spell? We were both Symbolist poets, for crying out loud—there was bound to be some influence.

It was no hyperbole when I described Stéphane as the "purest writer who ever held a pen," (source). For one thing, the guy really understood how humans think, and he always made an effort to "give a purer sense to the words of the tribe" (source), which is to say that he really tried to put a finger on the mystical connection between words and objects, thoughts and actions.

Albert Einstein

Look, it's hard to tell some of these stories without sounding like I'm bragging, so I'm just going to grin and bear it. Naturally, Al and I were friends—we were both great scientific minds of the 20th century. Plus, we had friends in common, like the great philosopher Henri Bergson—but I digress.

Al and I both loved relativity (what's not to love?). I was, like, obsessed with his general theory because he was looking at grand networks and relationships among objects in the same way that I was.

I once asked Einstein if he recorded his ideas in a notebook—remember, I was very big on aphorisms—and he replied, "Oh, that's not necessary. It's so seldom I have one" (source). Oh, that Einstein—claiming he hardly ever had an idea!

André Gide

Yet another friend in a high place. Although he later went on to receive the Nobel Prize in literature, André "The Giant" Gide was just a "normal person" and fellow poet to me. We were committed pen pals for over 50 years—check out our correspondence if you don't believe me. We were just two crazy poetic spirits bonding over the endless wonder of words. I was shocked to hear that I actually intimidated him. Me?

Louis de Broglie

Louis is another Nobel-winning guy-pal of mine. His muse was wave mechanics, and let's just say that's a wave I was interested in catching. I just couldn't get enough of genius scientists, and Louis had this idea of "wave particle dualism," which really made my boat float.

I can't get into here and now, but I will tell you that I found his study of physics precise, subtle, and positively enlightening. I think his remark about me summed up our connection quite well:

And Paul Valéry, poet with a penetrating insight, knew how to envision, behind the dryness of experimental facts and the coldness of logarithms and theories, this triumphant conquest of the unknown, this ascendant march toward the splendor of the True, which constitutes the value and the poetry of Science. (Source.)

Here's one dude who really gets me!

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