An absolutely wonderful essay on the forgotten and neglected late 19th century author Marcel Schwob by Stephen Sparks who, among other gigs, contributes to the site Writers No One Reads which I have mentioned before, as I have mentioned Stephen Sparks before — a man whose passion for books makes everything he writes tantalizing and exciting. Reading Sparks inevitably sends you off on curious, bookish adventures in a dozen different directions at once.
By condemning Schwob to the category of the myopic scholar tracing obscure references through a series of increasingly arcane books and manuscripts, we risk overshadowing his emotional sensitivity, which is as keen as his erudition and is the mark of an artist who deserves a better fate. This sensitivity manifests itself in his curiosity about the individual, which is apparent in the preface to Imaginary Lives, a book once described, in a quaint (and, to modern ears, damning) romantic manner, as the “lives of some poets, gods, assassins and pirates, and several princesses and gallant ladies.” In a passage lamenting the inadequacies of ancient biographers—“Misers all,” he sighs, “valuing only politics or grammar”—Schwob emphasizes his belief in the necessity of an art that unclassifies rather than classifies, one that cares less for the sweeping generalization than it does in uncovering each individual’s anomalies:
Contrary to history, art describes individuals, desires only the unique… consider a leaf with its intricate nerve system, its color variegated by shade and sun; the imprint of a raindrop; the tiny mark left by an insect; the silver trace of a snail; or the first mortal touch of autumn gold. Search all the forests of the earth for another leaf exactly like it. I defy you to find one.