Home > Uncategorized > Paul Valèry: War, science, art and Leibnitz, who dreamed of universal peace

Paul Valèry: War, science, art and Leibnitz, who dreamed of universal peace

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

French writers on war and peace

Paul Valéry on global conflicts, Europe governed by American commission

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Paul Valèry
From The Intellectual Crisis
Translated by Malcom Cowley

A great deal of science was doubtless required to kill so many men, destroy so much property, annihilate so many cities in so short a time; but moral qualities were equally required. Knowledge and Duty: must we suspect you also?

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Inventors were feverishly searching their imagination and the annals of former wars, in hope of finding a way to remove barbed wire, baffle the submarines, or paralyze the flight of aeroplanes; the soul, meanwhile, was invoking all its known incantations – gravely considering any prophecy, however bizarre; seeking for auguries, refuge, consolations through the whole gamut of memories, anterior acts and ancestral attitudes. All these are the known products of anxiety; they are the disordered enterprises of the brain which flees from reality to a nightmare and from nightmare to the real, maddened like a rat in a trap.

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The facts, however, are plain and merciless: There are thousands of young writers and young artists who have been killed. There are the lost illusion of a European culture and the demonstrated inability of knowledge to save anything whatsoever; there is science, touched mortally in its ethical ambitions and as if dishonoured by the cruelty of its applications…

Today, on an immense platform which might be that of Elsinore, but runs instead from Basle to Cologne, touching the sands of Nieuport, the marshes of the Somme, the granites of Alsace, and the chalky plateaus of Champagne – The European Hamlet stares at millions of ghosts.

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If he takes a skull in his hands, the skull is illustrious. – “Whose was it?” – That was Leonardo. He invented the flying man, but the flying man has hardly fulfilled the purpose of the inventor; we know that the flying man mounted on his great swan (il grande uccello sopra del dosso del suo magno cecero) has other uses in our days than to go fetch snow from the mountain-tops and sprinkle it over city streets in the heat of summer…And this other skull is that of Leibnitz, who dreamed of universal peace…

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