Study Guide

Paul Valéry Files

The Missing Aphorisms of Ambroise-Paul-Toussaint-Jules Valéry

Someone has to be that lucky graduate student whose career is made by unearthing the undiscovered archive of an incredibly famous artist or writer.

You know how its goes—there's that obscure letter in which Gertrude Stein reveals that she had a ten-year secret relationship with Ernest Hemingway; or that never-before-seen journal entry by Pablo Picasso in which he confesses that Cubism was just an avant-garde stunt to bring upheaval to modernist art; or that missing final chapter to Wuthering Heights in which Emily Brontë depicts Catherine being resuscitated in a bit of Frankenstein-style scientific conjuring so that she can reunite with Heathcliff only to realize that she never loved him, after all.

You get the point.

As described by the publishers who brought Valéry's five-volume collection of notebooks to light in 2010, Valéry's aphorisms are comprised of "notes, sketches, illustrations, fragmentary ideas, passages rarely more than a page in length [that] cover every conceivable subject: physical and mathematical models of the human mind, language, poetics, dreams, emotions, science, ethics, education, politics, power, the future of Europe" (source).

But what about the aphorisms that didn't make the cut? They've gotta be worth a look-see, right? Well, our lucky PhD-to-be has found Valéry's missing aphorisms—the ones that didn't make it onto one of the collection's 28,000 pages. Sure, some of these aphorisms are clearly unformed, unedited versions of later, more successful aphorisms, so they may not be as slick as the finals—but the sentiment is (sort of) the same. Let's take a look at what hit the cutting room floor:

"Sometimes it's just so hard to find that perfect conclusion, that ending that suits, that finishing touch worthy of the larger issues of the poem. I mean, I just find it so challenging to stick the fork in it sometimes. Maybe it's just me."

"Meeting Aubrey Beardsley, as I did today, is akin to looking into the eyes of the Grim Reaper himself. I never knew exactly what his whole Aestheticism thing was about, or why people compared it to Symbolism. Now, having met him, I can say with absolute certainty that I have absolutely no clue at all."

"They say God made everything and that God is made of nothing. Why must we make something out of this?"

"Loving your partner is a heckuva lot easier when he or she is not in your immediate vicinity."

"In the battle between the intellect and instinct, always go with what requires the least amount of effort."

"Poetry is to prose as texting is to emailing."

"Always question the deep untruth hidden in the idea that the seat cushion of an airplane will be a helpful floatation device. Just sayin'."

"I don't want to be cynical and say that people are suckers who will believe anything, but people are suckers who will believe anything."