twitter instagram email rss

Made with Hugo and the Cocoa theme
© Patrick O'Donovan 1986–2019


Vigny’s stones

… and now read more (or request an eprint)

Posts and papers by category


‘La bonne raillerie?

12 October 2019

On La Bruyère

Fiction and the reality of forms: Conrad on James

28 September 2019

In one of his critical studies, published some fifteen years ago, Mr. Henry James claims for the novelist the standing of the historian as the only adequate one, as for himself and before his audience. I think that the claim cannot be contested, and that the position is unassailable. Fiction is history, human history, or it is nothing. But it is also more than that; it stands on firmer ground, being based on the reality of forms and the observation of social phenomena, whereas history is based on documents, and the reading of print and handwriting — on second-hand impression. Thus fiction is nearer truth. But let that pass. A historian may be an artist too, and a novelist is a historian, the preserver, the keeper, the expounder, of human experience. As is meet for a man of his descent and tradition, Mr. Henry James is the historian of fine consciences.

Notes on Life and Letters

Bruno Latour…

22 September 2019


… with Michel Serres, Gilbert Simondon, Federico Fellini, Charles Trenet

Bateau ivre

21 September 2019


18 September 2019

—Sat next Miss Randal & had much talk about Lord Byron—She said Lord B. was much wronged by the world—that he took up wickedness as a subject, just as Chateaubriand did religion, without either of them having much of the reality of either feeling in their hearts.—She told me that Lady Davy once actually said to her—’well—you really ought to like me for you know I am considered the English Corinne.’ ‘Indeed (answered Miss R.) I was not aware of that—but words suffer so much by translation, it is not wonderful I should not have discovered it.’

Thomas Moore, Journal, 21 May 1821

On secrets

17 September 2019

Les secrets ne périssent pas.

Dominique Aury, Lecture pour tous

De face

16 September 2019

A French novelist of manners

6 September 2019

… imagine a French novelist of manners the curve of whose work should bestride the cataclysmic period from the execution of Louis XVI to the battle of Waterloo. Out of the savage crimes and senseless destruction of those brief years a new world was born, differing as radically from the old world which it destroyed as that strange amalgam of forces that grew out of the fall of the Roman empire differed from the civilization it overthrew; and great must have been the difficulties of the humble story-teller seeking to reconstruct the setting of his tales from the fragments of a shattered world. It is easy to see why Stendhal dealt with, and dismissed, the battle of Waterloo in the first pages of La Chartreuse de Parme, barely suffering his hero to skirt its periphery before hurrying him on to a world as yet unaffected by such convulsions!

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth


23 August 2019

Ancients and moderns

21 August 2019

Is the view of nature and of social relations which shaped Greek imagination and Greek [mythology] possible in the age of automatic machinery and railways and locomotives and electric telegraphs? Where does Vulcan come in as against Roberts & Co., Jupiter as against the lightning rod, and Hermes as against the Crédit Mobilier?

Karl Marx, On Literature and Art


24 July 2019

Tout ce qui est se devine.

Constant, Adolphe

On machines

5 July 2019

L’automatisme pur, excluant l’homme et singeant le vivant, est un mythe et ne correspond pas au plus haut niveau possible de technicité: il n’y a pas de machine de toutes les machines.

Gilbert Simondon, ‘Prospectus’, Du mode d’existence des objets techniques


3 July 2019


10 June 2019

L’infaillibilité, ils trouvent ça ridicule, désuet comme la tiare, à oublier… Mais on ne devrait pas étiqueter les reliques. Plutôt les remployer. Si un homme a pu être en certaines conditions tenu pour ‘infaillible’, c’est qu’il y a une possibilité humaine, et l’un de nous le peut. En vérité je vous le dis l’un de vous me comprendra. En quoi suis-je ‘infaillible’, quand? En ‘poème’. Son infaillibilité consiste en sa possibilité de dire juste, de toucher vrai. […] Quand un poème est bon (beau, vrai), il est infaillible.

Michel Deguy, Écologiques


6 June 2019

On stones

6 June 2019

Écritures des pierres: structures du monde.

Roger Caillois, Pierres

The ecological thought

15 May 2019


Timothy Morton on the true scope of the ecological thought.


20 April 2019

Chaque lecture est pour tous

30 January 2019

Nous sommes tous des voyageurs perdus entre les vagues et les nuages, il nous faut vite l’eau douce, les fruits frais, le sol qui ne bouge pas, et les autres, inconnus et semblables, qui sont au bout de tous les périples. Ces points fixes où l’on reprend haleine, et que les marins appelaient jadis atterrages ne sont les mêmes pour personne, et cependant sont communs à tous. Chacun y reconnaît quelque chose d’essentiel, mais aussi de fraternel; chacun lit pour soi, mais aussi pour les autres; chaque lecture est pour tous. Ce commerce se passe à l’obscur, entre le livre et le lecteur. Le livre rejette à l’auteur, parfois l’auteur au livre. Il n’y a pas de règle, à peine de choix, parce que les livres fourmillent d’appels. Certains se font entendre sans cesse, d’autres, une fois seulement. Mais qu’ils n’aient jamais de fin, qu’ils durent plus que les forêts, plus que les pierres même, cela suffit à convaincre: tous nos secrets sont là.

Dominique Aury, Lecture pour tous


20 January 2019

Eyes closed

28 December 2018

‘La condition préalable à l’image, c’est la vue’, disait Janouch à Kafka. Et Kafka souriait et répondait: ‘On photographie des choses pour se les chasser de l’esprit. Mes histoires sont une façon de fermer les yeux’. La photographie doit être silencieuse […] ce n’est pas une question de ‘discrétion’, mais de musique.

Roland Barthes, La Chambre claire

Wolfgang Tillmans

19 December 2018

… at IMMA


24 November 2018

Los Angeles

28 October 2018

In Los Angeles: ‘You’re alone in the world. Do something interesting. […] Who cares if you can’t identify with Los Angeles? It doesn’t need to be made human. It’s better than that’ (Geoff Manaugh).

North London

20 October 2018


15 October 2018


What is la francophonie‌? ‘‌Un meuble à plusieurs tiroirs‌‘— with Aurélie Filippetti, Christine Ockrent, François-Xavier Bellamy and Jean-Noël Jeanneney (from 37’30”)

Cork glass

22 September 2018

‘You need to have lived here’

21 September 2018


Hard Border, with Stephen Rea, written by Clare Dwyer Hogg

Pascal Quignard: literature and the unconscious

19 September 2018

La littérature quitte l’oralité, mais elle doit aussi quitter la signification simple, de cela quelque chose de plus inconscient doit renaître.


16 September 2018

A feast, not a fast

2 September 2018

I tend to prefer instances of eccentric interpretation to the task of chastening these by criteria of correctness. It is not so much of a libertarian attitude that motivates me as the pleasure of allowing texts to lead my thoughts, and to work them through collectively in class. When deciding among interpretative choices, I abandon the rejected or marginal ones only reluctantly. Interpretation, I feel, should be a feast, not a fast.

Geoffrey Hartman, A Scholar’s Tale: Intellectual Journey of a Displaced Child of Europe

The Burren

19 August 2018

The blank page

16 August 2018

malgré la fiction de la page blanche, nous écrivons toujours sur de l’écrit

Michel de Certeau, L’Invention du quotidien, i, Arts de faire

Limits: Serge Gainsbourg

6 August 2018

Je connais mes limites. C’est pourquoi je vais au-delà.

Roland Barthes on ‘l’homme parlant’, between freedom and constraint

4 August 2018

L’homme ne serait, à la lettre, qu’une tactique.
On François Flahault, La Parole intermédiaire

Source: Gallica (right click to enlarge)

The follies of Benjamin Constant

2 August 2018

Non, ce journal est un dépôt de folies.
Journaux intimes, 10 December 1814

mai, toujours mai…

14 July 2018

Cette fièvre de retours, sans doute ne puis-je ici que la précéder, mais en ayant tenté, et ce sera ma présomption — ou mon excuse — de l’avoir quand même esquivée.
Jean-Christophe Bailly, Un arbre en mai

In Paris

6 July 2016

In town

4 July 2018

The excellent annual conference of the Society for French Studies

The salience of forms

15 May 2018

[…] insofar as one can distinguish between form and content, it is form that reveals more about European literature’s intracontinental and intercontinental connections, and it is through attention to form that literary criticism can make a distinctive contribution to the larger study of culture, society, and history
Walter Cohen, A History of European Literature: The West and the World from Antiquity to the Present

In Glasgow

15 April 2018

Andreas Gursky…

13 April 2018

… in London

Train delayed

11 April 2018

In Newcastle, for the annual conference of the Society of Dix-neuviémistes

La lecture

17 March 2018

On ne peut donner à la domination universelle lucifère un contrepoids visible sans qu’il sacrifie à son règne.
   On ne peut lui opposer un mur d’enceinte ou une levée sans que sa puissance d’extension ne la rompe aussitôt.
   Cet océan est dénué de rivages.
   Tout est immergé.
   Poissons qui montent encore à la surface. Une goulée pour ne pas mourir.
   Goulée: lecture
Pascal Quignard, Les Ombres errantes


8 March 2018


6 January 2018

It is of great importance now that writers and other artists should try to keep a certain world-mindedness… Without the literatures you cannot have a sense of history, and history is like the balancing-pole of the tightrope-walker (it looks only a nuisance, but without it he would fall off); and nowadays we very much need the longer balancing-pole of not national but world history.
William Empson (quoted in the ODNB)