This article analyzes ways in which the "quest for the absolute" is treated in two works: Balzac's novel, of the same name (La Recherche de l'absolu), and Valéry's Monsieur Teste. Both texts involve a paradoxical narrative device, by which the genius of the protagonist is communicated to the reader, not by the representation of his thoughts, but by a veiling of them--an impenetrable interiority that suggests communion with the absolute. This device is successful, to the degree that it plays upon our own desires for transcendent knowledge. Under closer scrutiny, however, we find that such texts must eventually involve a moment of violence; a disruption of the spell these "cerebral heroes" have cast.
Scott Shinabargar is an Associate Professor of French at Clark Atlanta University. His research on the relation between ethics and esthetics in the modern era analyzes textual processes that derive from transgressive concepts and gestures. Previous studies have focused on the work of Charles Baudelaire, André Breton and René Char.
"Absolute Seduction: The Faustian Motif in Balzac and Valéry,"
The Coastal Review: An Online Peer-reviewed Journal:
1, Article 5.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/thecoastalreview/vol2/iss1/5