[On des Esseintes]
For him, there was no such thing as schools; the only thing that mattered to him was the writer’s personality, and the only thing that interested him was the working of the writer’s brain, no matter what subject he was tackling. Unfortunately this criterion of appreciation, so obviously just, was practically impossible to apply, for the simple reason that, however much a reader wants to rid himself of prejudice and refrain from passion, he naturally prefers those works which correspond most intimately with his own personality, and ends by relegating all the rest to limbo.
By diligent self-examination, however, he realized first of all that to attract him a book had to have the quality of strangeness that Edgar Allan Poe called for; but he was inclined to venture further along this road, and to insist on Byzantine flowers of thought and deliquescent complexities of style….
Vague migratory longings spring up which find fulfilment in reflections and study. Instincts, sensations, inclinations bequeathed to him by heredity awake, take shape and assert themselves with imperious authority. He recalls memories of people and things he has never known personally, and there comes a time when he bursts out of the prison of his century and roams about at liberty in another period, with which, as a crowning illusion, he imagines he would have been more in accord.
These were works of which he had gradually grown fonder, works which by their very defects provided a welcome change from the perfect productions of greater writers. Here again, the process of elimination had led Des Esseintes to search through pages of uninspiring matter for odd sentences which would give him a shock as they discharged their electricity in a medium that seemed at first to be non-conducting. Imperfection itself pleased him, providing it was neither base nor parasitic, and it may be that there was a certain amount of truth in his theory that the minor writer of the decadence, the writer who is incomplete but nonetheless individual, distils a balm more irritant, more sudorific, more acid than the author of the same period who is truly great and truly perfect….
Little he cared about ordinary emotions or common associations of ideas, now that his mind had grown so overstocked and had no room for anything but superfine sensations, religious doubts and sensual anxieties…. Baudelaire with his thirsty, ruthless passion, whose disgusted cruelty recalled the tortures of the Inquisition, and Poe with his chaste, ethereal amours, in which the senses had no share and only the brain was roused, followed by none of the lower organs, which, if they existed at all, remained forever frozen and virgin. This cerebral clinic where, vivisecting in a stifling atmosphere, this spiritual surgeon became, as soon as his attention wandered, the prey of his imagination, which sprayed about him, like delicious miasmas, angelic, dream-like apparitions…
Many were the times that Des Esseintes had pondered over the fascinating problem of writing a novel concentrated in a few sentences and yet comprising the cohabited juice of the hundreds of pages always taken up in describing the setting, drawing the characters and piling up useful observations and incidental details. The words chosen for a work of this sort would be so unalterable that they would take the place of all the others; every adjective would be sited with such ingenuity and finality that it could never be legally evicted, and would open up such wide vistas that the reader could muse on the meaning, at once precise and multiple, for weeks on end, and also ascertain the present, reconstruct the past and divine the future of the characters in the light of this one epithet. The novel, thus conceived, thus condensed in a page or two, would become an intellectual communion between a hieratic writer and an ideal reader, a spiritual collaboration between a dozen persons of superior intelligence scattered across the world, an aesthetic treat available to none but the most discerning.