Who is François Mauriac? Google knows: French novelist of the last century’s first half, long-beaked Nobel laureate in a taupe bowler hat. So does Wikipedia, one click away: leftist firebrand, Catholicpenitent,biographerof de Gaulle, successor to Proust. Ten more clicks for the books, their themes; the descendants, their agonies; the rivals, their allegations.
But skimming isn’t reading, and, for that matter, Internet-skimming isn’t skimming: thirteen clicks into Mauriac and we’re so blanketed by information that it’s impossible to make distinctions—work versus life, trivial versusimportant. Mauriac is his Wikipedia page.
Now read “The Knot.” François Mauriac: a man with not a mind, but “minds”; not “minds,” but “coils”; not “coils,” but china plates stacked in “a pinewood country cupboard.” Whose mind centripetally orders the most distant “territory”; who surveys from within that dark, clawed spiral—now figured as an eye resting on the knotted shelf—the endless curves of rivers and jagged depths of quarries. Who becomes, at the heightened center of the poem, the hot, groaning station from which the train cars of his ideas issue—poised,improbably, to climb the mountain of his ambition. This is a man of tortured, obsessive control.| | | Next → |