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A Literature of Inimitable Relics

Contrary to history, art describes individuals, desires only the unique. It does not classify, it unclassifies. No matter how much they may engage us, our generalizations may be likened to those pursued upon the planet Mars, and three lines drawn to intersect them might form a triangle on all the points of the universe. But consider a leaf with its intricate nerve system, its colour variegated by shade and sun; the imprint of a raindrop; the tiny mark left by an insect; the silver trace of a snail; or the first mortal touch of autumn gold. Search all the forests of the earth for another leaf exactly like it. I defy you to find one. There is no science for the teguments of a leaf, for the filaments of a cell structure, the winding of a vein, the passion of a habit, or for the twists and quirks of character.

That a man’s nose is broken; one of his eyes higher than the other; an arm shrunken; that he habitually eats chicken at a certain hour or prefers Malvoise to Chateau-Margaux… there is something unparalleled in the world. Thales might have exclaimed philosophically as well as Socrates, but he would never have scratched his leg in precisely the same manner before drinking the hemlock draught. Great minds and their ideas are humanity’s common heritage. Actually, great men themselves possess only that which is bizarre about them. To describe a man in all his anomalies a book should be a work of art, like a Japanese print whereon the image of a tiny caterpillar, seen once at one particular hour of a day, is found eternally recorded.

—Marcel Schwob, Imaginary Lives

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