From the preface to Remy de Gourmont’s Book of Masks (Le Livre des Masques, 1896):

Conformism, imitativeness, submission to rules and to teachings is the writer’s capital crime. The work of a writer must be not only the reflection, but the larger reflection of his personality. The only excuse that a man has for his writing is to write about himself, to reveal to others the sort of world that is mirrored in his own glass; his only excuse is to be original; he must speak of things not yet spoken of in a form not yet formulated. He must create his own aesthetics – and we must admit as many aesthetics as there are original spirits and judge them for what they are, not for what they aren’t.

Via The Daily Growler; the French is below the cut. (Incidentally, there is no accent on Remy; someone more knowledgeable in the ways of Wikipedia than I should change the title on the entry there.)
Update. Helen DeWitt has some interesting thoughts on this over at paperpools, comparing languages to games and saying “If originality is seen in terms of breaking rules, though, that presupposes that art is still comprehensible only in terms of constraints which already exist – originality is to be embedded in the sort of Oedipal drama at the heart of Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence. It’s as if one is actually incapable of understanding a form in which the rules one knows have no purchase.” Read it!

Le crime capital pour un écrivain c’est le conformisme, l’imitativité, la soumission aux règles et aux enseignements. L’oeuvre d’un écrivain doit être non seulement le reflet, mais le reflet grossi de sa personnalité. La seule excuse qu’un homme ait d’écrire, c’est de s’écrire lui-même, de dévoiler aux autres la sorte de monde qui se mire en son miroir individuel; sa seule excuse est d’être original; il doit dire des choses non encore dites et les dire en une forme non encore formulée. Il doit se créer sa propre esthétique,—et nous devrons admettre autant d’esthétiques qu’il y a d’esprits originaux et les juger d’après ce qu’elles sont et non d’après ce qu’elles ne sont pas.


  1. I moved the wiki page as requested. Someone moved it back in 2006, but someone else moved it back in January. Maybe this time it will stay moved.

  2. Thanks, Trey!

  3. scarabaeus says

    LH: so sorry to be pedantic: T. Jones signs himself Trey

  4. Scarabaeus, I think that might have been the idea: as Remy is to Rémy, so Trey is to Troy.

  5. No, a simple typo, which I shall now fix. Thanks!

  6. How can you break the rules effectively unless you can master them first?

  7. “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” C.S. Lewis

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