French Symbolist Poet, Novelist, and Influential Critic
"Consciousness, which is the principle of liberty, is not the principle of art. We listen badly to a symphony when we know we are listening. We think badly when we know we are thinking. Consciousness of thinking is not thought."
"We live less and less and learn more and more. I have seen a man laughed at for examining a dead leaf attentively and with pleasure. No one would have laughed to hear a string of botanical terms muttered over it."
"True religion is a matter for belief and not for controversies. It is a matter of experience and not of historical or philosophical demonstrations."
"Art includes everything that stimulates the desire to live – science, everything that sharpens the desire to know. Art, even the most disinterested, the most disembodied, is the auxiliary of life. "
"Aesthetic emotion puts man in a state favorable to the reception of erotic emotion. Art is the accomplice of love. Take love away and there is no longer art."
"Conformism, imitativeness, submission to rules and to teachings is the writer's capital crime. The work of a writer must be not only the reflection, but the larger reflection of his personality. The only excuse that a man has for his writing is to write about himself, to reveal to others the sort of world that is mirrored in his own glass; his only excuse is to be original; he must speak of things not yet spoken of in a form not yet formulated. He must create his own aesthetics "
"If the secret of being a bore is to tell all, the secret of pleasing is to say just enough to be - not understood, but divined."
"In order to understand life it is not only necessary not to be indifferent to men, but not to be indifferent to flocks, to trees. One should be indifferent to nothing."
"Extraordinarily excessive sensuality it may be... but it all comes down to the same thing in the end, and one means is surely as good as another, since the end obtained is always the same. In any case the exceptional, endlessly repeated, is no different than the banal; and unceasing recapitulation can add nothing, in the end, to the sum of experience. I am weary and hopeless three times the dupe. Why have you trained me in the shame of abominable sins? "
"Intelligence, that sublimation of the sensibility, that organ of the need to know, is sterilized sensibility."
"It is well-nigh obvious that those who are in favor of the death penalty have more affinities with murderers than those who oppose it."
"Industry has operated against the artisan in favor of the idler, and also in favor of capital and against labor. Any mechanical invention whatsoever has been more harmful to humanity than a century of war."
"Knowledge has its end in itself, apart from any idea of life and propagation of the species."
"Man begins by loving love and ends by loving a woman. Woman begins by loving a man and ends by loving love."
"Money is the sign of liberty. To curse money is to curse liberty -- to curse life, which is nothing, if it be not free."
"Man associates ideas not according to logic or verifiable exactitude, but according to his pleasure and interests. It is for this reason that most truths are nothing but prejudices."
"Science is the only truth and it is the great lie. It knows nothing, and people think it knows everything. It is misrepresented. People think that science is electricity, automobilism, and dirigible balloons. It is something very different. It is life devouring itself. It is the sensibility transformed into intelligence. It is the need to know stifling the need to live. It is the genius of knowledge vivisecting the vital genius."
"Nothing exists except by virtue of a disequilibrium, an injustice. All existence is a theft paid for by other existences no life flowers except on a cemetery."
"Since art is the expression of beauty and beauty can be understood only in the form of the material elements of the true idea it contains, art has become almost uniquely feminine. Beauty is woman, and also art is woman."
"To be a member of such a crowd ... is not much to be far removed from solitude; the freedom of everyone is assured by the freedom to which everyone else lays claim."
"The human mind is so complex and things are so tangled up with each other that, to explain a blade of straw, one would have to take to pieces an entire universe. A definition is a sack of flour compressed into a thimble."
"The vainglory of wishing to understand is dangerous, immoral and, above all, old-fashioned. The modern way – perhaps the final way - is to say: Go forward, without knowing why, as quickly as possible, towards an unknown goal! To act and think are opposites which identify one only in the Absolute. To accomplish all one's movements – of the head, the arms, the legs – without ever quite attaining the status of a puppet, but with a certainty that gives one a feeling of rightness: that is what is nowadays held up as the ideal. Be citizens of Universal activity! Forget to be conscious of ourselves! The blind horse gallops without hesitation, not knowing where it is going, not caring where it has been: so let up put out our eyes! "
"Try to put well in practice what you already know. In so doing, you will, in good time, discover the hidden things you now inquire about."
"When a man gets up to speak, people listen, then look. When a woman gets up, people look; then, if they like what they see, they listen."
"Women are the simple, and poets the superior artisans of language ... the intervention of grammarians is almost always bad."
"Abstractions do us much harm by impelling us to the quest of the absolute in all things. Joy does not exist, but there are joys: and these joys may not be folly felt unless they are detached from neutral or even painful conditions. The idea of continuity is almost self-negating. Nature makes no leaps; but life makes only bounds. It is measured by our heartbeats and these may be counted. That there should be, amid the number of deep pulsations that scan the line of our existence, some grievous ones, does not permit the affirmation that life is therefore evil. Moreover, neither a continuous joy would be perceived by consciousness."
"Ah! I wish I had the courage to work for the debasement of my contemporaries. What good work it would be to defile their daughters: to insinuate something obscene into the infantile hands which caress each paternal beard and cheek; to poison them, even at the risk of perishing ourselves; to do as those Spanish monks did, who drank death in order that they might persuade the French rabble which had violated their monastery to do likewise."
"And there is neither beginning nor end, nor past nor future; there is only a present, at the same time static and ephemeral, multiple and absolute. It is the vital ocean in which we all share, according to our strength, our needs or our desires."
"As a matter of fact, when it comes to seeing, men display two tendencies: they see what they wish to see, what is useful to them, what is agreeable. The second is the tendency toward inhibition; they do not see what they do not wish to see, what is useless to them, or disagreeable."