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Inspired by the paintings of Da Vinci, Valéry described a monster of pure freedom, without mistresses, creditors, anecdotes, or adventures. No dream intervenes between himself and the things themselves; nothing taken for granted supports his certainties; and he does not read his fate in any favorite image, such as Pascal’s abyss. Instead of struggling against the monsters he has understood what makes them tick, has disarmed them by his attention, and has reduced them to the state of known things. “Nothing could be more free, that is, less human, than his judgments on love and death. He hints at them in a few fragments from his notebooks: ‘In the full force of its passion,’ he says more or less explicitly, ‘love is something so ugly that the human race would die out (la natura si perderebbe) if lovers could see what they were doing.’ This contempt is brought out in various sketches, since the leisurely examination of certain things is, after all, the height of scorn. Thus, he now and again draws anatomical unions, frightful cross-sections of love’s very act.” He has complete mastery of his means, he does what he wants, going at will from knowledge to life with a superior elegance. Everything he did was done knowingly, and the artistic process, like the act of breathing or living, does not go beyond his knowledge. He has discovered the “central attitude,” on the basis of which it is equally possible to know, to act, and to create because action and life, when turned into exercises, are not contrary to detached knowledge. He is an “intellectual power”; he is a ‘man of the mind.’ (21-2)


Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Sense and Non-Sense.  Trans. Dreyfus, Hubert L. and Patricia Allen Dreyfus.  Northwestern University Press 1964. 

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Lexicon Entries

The Most Blameworthy Ignorance
The Red Ink
A Fundamental Quality of an Act

Works and Days





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