Roberto Calasso

from la folie

valéry expressed the hope that one day there might exist “A Unified History of Things of the Spirit,” which would replace every history of philosophy, art, literature, and the sciences. As always with his boldest visions, he went no farther than mentioning it. And, coquettishly, he hid it in a “Digression” that in its turn was part of the unrestrained digression that is Degas Danse Dessin Of the “Unified History” he dreamed of he gave only one example: “In such an analogical history, Degas would stand between Beyle and Mérimée.” A masterful coup de main aimed at bringing Degas back to his vocation as a “loner without remorse.” Immediately after, Valéry offered a cameo of the “analogical history” that had flashed through his mind. Still on the subject of Degas, he wrote that “his drawing treats bodies with the same love and the same harshness with which Stendhal treats people’s characters and motives.” Since then, “analogical history” has not made much progress. It remains an ever-more-urgent desideratum in an intellectually debilitated epoch such as the present.