Skip to content

Index: Dossier: Remy de Gourmont

Promenades littéraires, 1.

Remy de Gourmont: ‘To-day, when political liberty tends to be restricted, literary liberty follows the same course; the latest young writers are almost all Socialists, moderate, disciplined, and practical. They support the government (which is their affair); fifteen years ago we did not even know there was a government. We enjoyed the liberty of writing, the liberty of living, every liberty, and thought of nothing but expressing our way of thought even if it was a little mad.

‘But decadence—what an error! ‘

Selections from ‘The Problem of Style’

Gourmont: ‘A writer when he is writing should never think of his masters or even of his style. If he sees, if he feels, he will say something; it may be interesting or not, beautiful or mediocre, the risk must be taken….Style is feeling, seeing, thinking, and nothing more.’

The ‘secular monk’ in the rue des Saints-Pères.

Richard Aldington: ‘…the very essence of Gourmont’s thought is that he placed himself quite apart from doctrines and parties. It was a Nietzschean effort to rise “beyond good and evil”. But this uncompromisingly individualist judgment does not necessarily reduce Gourmont to a minority of one. Inasmuch as every one of us is an individual, inasmuch as we exist more or less apart from collective bodies and opinions, Gourmont speaks to us. He speaks to us not as members of groups, not as citizens, but as individuals. He does not assert that he had anything valuable to tell us; he does not pretend to solve anyone’s problems, offers no panacea, makes no promises, cares nothing whether he is read or not, or, if read, whether anyone accepts or rejects his thought.’

The problems and pleasures of ‘Le Probléme du style’

John Taylor: ‘Needless to say, in our present era, structuralist and post-structuralist readings of literature are hardly Gourmont-ish in flavour. Yet it has just occurred to me: are some of Roland Barthes’s sensitive, sensually attentive readings perhaps rather Gourmont-ish and therefore exceptions to this rule?’

‘A greater writer than in fact he ever became…’?

Paul Cohen: ‘In our increasingly specialized world, where the sum of human knowledge has grown so prodigiously, our polymaths no longer have the range of Leonardo da Vinci, Athanasius Kircher, and Benjamin Franklin. We still, however, find the occasional figure such as semiotician-anthropologist-novelist Umberto Eco, chemist-novelist-playwright Carl Djerassi, and painter-writer-composer Tom Phillips. Gourmont, though, was not only one of these, but also a man who deliberately abandoned intellectual consistency for the excitement of the free play of ideas.’

Promenades littéraires: 7ième série.

Remy de Gourmont: France ‘may still observe with a certain amount of complaisance the intellectual subsidence to which the Anglo-Saxon world has been reduced by the taste for religious nonsense. These nations with their great physical activity are perhaps on the way towards reducing themselves to the mechanical condition of ants or bees. The intelligence is there concentrated on a few practical points; everything which is disinterested escapes it. Hence an absence of culture which places them at the mercy of every religious imposture. Messiahs, prophets, mystic healers, raisers of the dead, swarm in these environments which are lacking in the critical sense.’

Remy de Gourmont.

Ezra Pound: ‘I believe he has never once made an over-statement, or, for that matter, an under-statement of his thought. I don’t say that he has always been right. But he had this absolute fairness, the fairness of a man watching his own experiment in laboratory. And this absolute fairness, this absolute openness to all thought, is precisely the most difficult thing to attain.

‘M. de Gourmont carried his lucidity to the point of genius. All ideas, all works of art, all writing came to him, and he received them all graciously, and he praised graciously, or ignored graciously. And he wrote beautifully and graciously from himself. He was the friend of intelligence. He had not lost touch with “les jeunes.”’