[NetBehaviour] Great Valery essay on Leonardo

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Mon Sep 20 20:13:10 CEST 2021


Hi all,

I just found a cool essay by Paul Valery called "Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci," which he wrote in 1895 at the tender age of 24 and updated in 1930.

Valery focuses on many of the aspects of Leonardo's technique which I believe are part of his principle of Esperienza, including metaphor (in both the cyclical and permutative sense), proprioception, irreducibility, and more.

He also investigates Leonardo's understanding of the machine, and how it both does and does not pertain to the design and "construction" of aesthetic experience.  (Giorgio di Santillana, historian of science and colleague of Norbert Wiener at MIT, would later in his 1961 essay "Leonardo: Man Without Letters" expand on Valery's insight to include the phenomenon of "machines making machines" that permeates our lives today.)

Valery also discusses Leonardo's conception of "the paradise of the sciences" which appears to mean something like an ethos, techne, and aesthetics of sustainability.  Another fun surprise is his reference to what amounts to meditation:  "Ten minutes of simply considering one’s own mind."  🙂

It's not an essay I have seen frequently mentioned but is definitely worth a look!

All best,

Max

PS -- the essay is available on JSTOR, but here are a couple of intriguing excerpts:

a. "More than one critic has spent a lifetime changing [their] definition of the beautiful, or life, or mystery.  Ten minutes of simply considering one’s own mind should suffice to destroy those idols of the cave and make one realize the inconsistency of attaching an abstract noun, always empty, to an always personal and strictly personal vision."

b. "Edgar Poe, who in this century of literary perturbation was the very lightning of the confusion, of the poetic storm, and whose analysis sometimes ends, like Leonardo’s, in mysterious smiles, has clearly established his reader’s approach on the basis of psychology and probable effects.  From that point of view, every combination of elements made to be perceived and judged depends on a few general laws and on a particular adaptation, defined in advance for a foreseen category of minds to which the whole is specially addressed; and the work of art becomes a machine designed to arouse and assemble the individual formations of those minds."

c. "I can see Leonardo da Vinci exploring the depths of this mechanism, which he called the paradise of the sciences, with the same natural power with which he dedicated himself to the invention of pure and misty faces.  And that same luminous territory, with its docile throng of possible beings, was the field of those activities which slowed down and solidified into distinct works of art.  Leonardo himself did not feel that these expressed different passions."


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