Monday, 14th April, 2014
Definitions, which are indispensable for dictionaries only, contain of reality precisely what a net, raised at the wrong moment from the sea where it awaited its prey, contains of obscure, squirming life. Sea-weed writhes in its meshes. Lanky creatures stir their translucent claws, and here are all sorts of helices or of valvules which a mechanical sensibility keeps tight-shut. But reality, which was a big fish, with a sudden swish of its tail, flopped overboard. Generally speaking, clear, neat sentences have no meaning. They are affirmative gestures, suggesting obedience, and that is all. The human mind is so complex, and things are so tangled up in each other that, in order to explain a blade of grass, the entire universe would have to be taken to pieces; and in no language is there a single authentic word upon which lucid intelligence could not construct a psychological treatise, a history of the world, a novel, a poem, a drama, according to the day and the temperature. The definition is a sack of compressed flour contained in a thimble. What can we do with it, unless we are antarctic explorers? It is more to the point to place a pinch of flour under the microscope and seek patiently, amid the bran, the living starch. In what is left after analyzing the idea of immortality, the idea of glory will be found a shining speck of gold.
Remy de Gourmont, ‘Glory and the Idea of Immortality’ in Decadence and Other Essays on the Culture of Ideas trans. by William Aspenwall Bradley (London: Grant Richards, 1922) pp. 36-72 (p.36-7).