Paul Valéry - Cahiers/Notebooks

Paul Valéry


Editor in Chief: Brian Stimpson
Associate Editors: Paul Gifford/Robert Pickering

Volume 1-5

Valéry’s Cahiers/Notebooks are one of the most remarkable and original works in twentieth-century thought, a unique form of writing, unparalleled in scope and form. Day in day out, in the silence of dawn, over more than 50 years, Valéry pursued his inner quest to determine the creative and cognitive mechanisms of the mind. By the time of his death in 1945, there were 261 notebooks, amounting to some 28,000 pages.

The Cahiers are the modern equivalent of the ‘Notebooks’ of Leonardo da Vinci or in some respects of Diderot’s Encyclopédie: notes, sketches, illustrations, fragmentary ideas, passages rarely more than a page in length cover every conceivable subject: physical and mathematical models of the human mind, language, poetics, dreams, emotions, science, ethics, education, politics, power, the future of Europe. Lyrical passages, writing of extreme beauty and sensitivity, prose poems of extraordinary descriptive power run alongside humorous aphorisms and the most abstract kind of analysis. But throughout, one guiding question that is of concern to everyone is constantly reposed in a multiplicity of forms: ‘What is the human mind and how does it work?’

The originality of Valéry’s approach was his determined attempt to explore all forms of knowledge and creativity in terms of the inner dynamics of the Self.

My great work, he writes, seems to have been, from the Notebooks, the search for expression of everything through observations of myself. I – without name – I, simple negation – (Not-I).(C, XXV, 466)

The crucial notion of the ‘I’ foregrounds the relation between a perceiving subject and all it perceives: the observing (and self-observing) consciousness is the common factor linking the three areas of Body, Mind and World that form our existence. And the Notebooks themselves are the graphic trace and reflective mirror of his enquiry, the space where he interrogates the question of human potential and its limits: My ‘Cogito’ – – ‘What is a man capable of?’ to which a second question is invariably added: How does that ‘work’?

Paul Valéry in England

The links between Valéry, Great Britain and the United States are innumerable: his early visits to England, his passion for London and for Oxbridge, his admiration for Rhodes and brief period of employment in the British South Africa Chartered Company… On a personal level he was in contact with many of the leading figures of his time, either in England or as they passed through Paris. But even more striking was the significance of his reading of the works of many British and American writers, scientists and philosophers, both in the original language and in translation.

Scientific readings played a particularly important part in the development of his ‘system’ and include a large number from the English-speaking world: in physics Newton, Hamilton, Crookes, Lord Kelvin (whom he knew), Faraday, Maxwell, Gibbs, and later major figures in atomic and quantum physics such as Wilson, Blackett and Dirac, and in relativity, notably Michelson; in astronomy and cosmology Eddington; in mathematics Sylvester and specially Russell; and in biology Darwin. Equally, one notes the impact on his thinking of British philosophy (in particular Bacon and Locke) and his striking role as a precursor of Wittgenstein and the British school of analytical philosophy, as well as parallels with William James in the area of psychology.

In terms of literature and the arts, the list is no less extensive, ranging from his meetings in London and the bustling artistic salons of Paris with Beardsley and Whistler, to his association with Meredith, and later with Joyce and Eliot. His familiarity with English and American literature was extensive, from Shakespeare and Defoe to Poe, Dickens, Stephen Crane, Hopkins, Kipling, Conrad, Wells, Huxley and many others; we see too the interest in Whitney in the field of linguistics, and a keen delight in the paintings of Turner viewed in the galleries.

At the same time, the knowledge of English political and economic theory and practice relative to those of other emerging superpowers such as Germany and Japan, make of Valéry perhaps the strongest bridge between French and English thought in the crucial period of intellectual and social change between the end of the nineteenth century and the end of the Second World War.

In all these ways, and many more, it becomes abundantly clear that the interplay between Valéry’s thought and the whole English-speaking world is a source of constant enrichment to the thinking and the writing that are articulated in the Notebooks.

‘Sometimes I think and sometimes I am.’


The translation is based on the French edition prepared by Judith Robinson-Valéry for the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, which presents a selection from the complete Cahiers according to chapter headings and classifications established by Valéry during his lifetime. But it differs from that edition in a number of respects: some additional texts have been added, particularly from the rich and formative early years; the critical apparatus benefits from the latest developments in Valéry studies (especially through the participation of the editors in the C.N.R.S. Valéry research teams in Paris); and the grouping of chapters has been varied. Valéry himself, while generally sure about the headings to which the notes belonged, often hesitated about the order to put them in, for the work is open-ended and an infinite number of connections are possible within it. The present edition has modified the order of chapters, respecting the affinities between related ones, while regrouping them into five thematic volumes. As a result, new resonances arise, fresh perspectives open up, which are completely in tune with the original.

This presents the rigorously intellectual but also personal and affective dimension of the writing. We witness the systematic mental training and exploration of the self’s relation to the external world. Autobiographical issues, notions of subject and identity, which prefigure the most modern literary and philosophical developments, reflect the permanent and tragic struggle with the force of his own emotions and the quest for communion with the other.

Volume 2 focuses upon cultural, literary and artistic aspects, with a constant interaction between thought and creativity. Valéry’s development of an æsthetics of the subject and a phenomenology of perception are manifest not only in the analysis of creative processes and artistic products, but in the sketches, prose poetry, experimental prose fictions of his own writing.

The understanding of mind is explored here in relation to the self’s sensory and emotional responses and its memory processes. Valéry’s lifelong interest in dreams and dreaming, his analysis of conscious and unconscious reflexes, the imagination and the interrelation of Body Mind and World, offer a fascinating counterpoint to the contemporary developments in Surrealism and psychoanalysis.

Basing his approach in a radical examination of language, Valéry’s notes offer rich perspectives on key areas of scientific progress: modern mathematics, atomic and quantum physics, relativity, the uncertainty principle, space-time interrelationships. But man is seen too as an organism relating to his environment. Valéry here emerges as a probing analyst of political power and action, a radical educationalist and a social scientist.

Valéry systematically interrogates some of the fundamental questions of knowledge, consciousness and belief that continue to preoccupy us today, seeking always to unmask the stategies behind traditional ways of thinking. At the same time some of his most magnificent writing suggests a radical reconfiguration of the notion of the ‘divine’ as a natural and necessary category of the mind.

* * *

The Notebooks facilitate – and even require – different approaches to reading. Whatever one’s speciality or personal intellectual preoccupations, the titles of the chapters and the analytical index offer a wide choice of writings to stimulate or orient one’s thinking: an unlimited number of permutations are possible among the 31 themes. The thousands of fragments allow the reader to choose different reading strategies – continuous or discontinuous, thematic or synthetic – and to vary and alternate them so as to create new dynamic relationships and structures. Furthermore, Valéry’s fragmentary form of writing (as in Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Kafka and many other key figures in the modern period) is in complete harmony with contemporary approaches to literature, characterized, as here, by a constant tension between the partial and the complete, the finished and the unfinished, and including the world of prose, poetryandtheatre.

About the author(s)/editor(s)

Brian Stimpson is Professor of Twentieth-Century French Literature at Roehampton Institute London.
Paul Gifford is Buchanan Profesor of French at the University of St Andrews.
Robert Pickering is Professor of French Literatureat the Université Balise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand.

The Editors have published a number of books about Valéry including Paul Valéry and Music (B.Stimpson), Valéry - le dialogue des choses divines (P.Gfford) and Paul Valéry: la page, l’écriture (R.Pickering). Paul Gifford is editor, with associate editor Brian Stimpson, of Reading Paul Valéry: Universe in mind (1998). All three editors are members of the C.N.R.S. Valéry research teams in Paris and contribute to the ongoing edition of Paul Valéry’s Cahiers 1894 - 1914 (Paris, Gallimard, 1988-), co-edited (from vol. 7) by N. Celeyrette Pietri and Robert Pickering.

Selling price for the complete edition

Selling price for the complete edition after release date.

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Overview of the individual volumes:


Valéry, Paul

Cahiers / Notebooks

Editor in Chief: Brian Stimpson
Associate Editors: Paul Gifford and Robert Pickering
Please note that you can only subscribe to the five-volume set

Frankfurt/M., Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2000 (Vol. 1 and 2); Volume 1-5 approx. 600 pp. each
ISBN 978-3-631-34880-2 hardback (Hardcover)


Valéry, Paul

Cahiers / Notebooks 1

Editor in Chief: Brian Stimpson
Associate Editors: Paul Gifford and Robert Pickering
Translated by Paul Gifford, Siân Miles, Robert Pickering and Brian Stimpson

Frankfurt/M., Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2000. 654 pp., num. fig.
ISBN 978-3-631-34881-9 hardback, clothbound (Hardcover)

Cahiers / Notebooks 2

Valéry, Paul

Cahiers / Notebooks 2

Editor in Chief: Brian Stimpson
Associate Editors: Paul Gifford and Robert Pickering
Translated by Rachel Killick, Robert Pickering, Norma Rinsler, Stephen Romer and Brian Stimpson

Frankfurt/M., Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2000. 594 pp., num. fig.
ISBN 978-3-631-36763-6 hardback, clothbound (Hardcover)

Cahiers/Notebooks 3

Valéry, Paul / Stimpson, Brian (ed.)
Associate Editors: Paul Gifford, Robert Pickering and Norma Rinsler

Cahiers / Notebooks 3

Editor in Chief: Brian Stimpson
Associate Editors: Paul Gifford, Robert Pickering and Norma Rinsler
Translated by Norma Rinsler, Paul Ryan and Brian Stimpson

Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2007. 621 pp., 7 fig., 2 of them in colour
ISBN 978-3-631-36764-3 hardback, clothbound (Hardcover)


Valéry, Paul

Cahiers / Notebooks 4

Translated and edited by Brian Stimpson, Paul Gifford, Robert Pickering, Norma Rinsler and Rima Joseph

Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2010. 692 pp., num. fig.
ISBN 978-3-631-36765-0 hardback, clothbound (Hardcover)

Cahiers / Notebooks 5

Valéry, Paul

Cahiers / Notebooks 5

Translated and edited by Brian Stimpson, Paul Gifford, Robert Pickering and Norma Rinsler

Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2010. 601 pp., num. fig.
ISBN 978-3-631-36766-7 hardback, clothbound (Hardcover)