• Stones & Other Texts (an excerpt)
  • Roger Caillois, Translated by Valentine Umansky
  • [6] Flint Magazine Issue 1+2
  • 06/2018
  • Asset 6

(Image by Richard Weston)

 

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An excerpt of Stones & Other Texts, translated in its entirety into English for the first time by French curator and critic, Valentine Umansky.

Stones & Other Texts is available online at DittoDitto.
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Dedication
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I speak about stones that have always lain outside or that sleep in their deposits, in veins, at night. They have not aroused the interest of the archeologist, nor the artist or the diamond merchant. No palace, statue, jewel, no dyke, embankment or tombstone was built from them. They are neither useful nor famous. Their facets decorate no ring or diadem. They do not bear lists of victories, or state laws, in indelible numerals. They are not boundary markers or steel, and do not earn credit or deference from bearing with bad weather. They only attest to their own presence.

Architecture, sculpture, glyptics, mosaic, jewelry did not utilize them. They date from the beginnings of the planet, and perhaps emerged from another star. If so, they bear the traces of the space coercion and of their dreadful fall. They arose before mankind; and man, as he developed, did not mark them with his art or with his industry. He did not manufacture them, giving them a somewhat trivial purpose, luxurious or historical. They only perpetuate their own memory.

They were not carved to design faces, men, animals, or fables. The only tools they know are the ones that reveal them: the hammer cuts to highlight their latent geometry; the grindstone polishes to reveal their grain or enhance their subdued colors. They remain what they were, sometimes younger and more easily readable, but always true to themselves: nothing but themselves.

I speak about stones that nothing ever altered besides the violence of tectonics and the slow erosion that started with time, with them. I speak about gems, before sculpture, of nuggets before they are melted,
of the profound gel of crystals before the intervention of the gem cutter.

I speak about stones as algebra, vertigo and order; stones as hymns and quincunxes; stones as stings and corollas, on the brink of dreams, catalyst and image; about this stone, a cascade of hair, opaque and stiff, a drowned person’s strand, dripping on no temple; in which the sap becomes more visible and vulnerable in the midst of a blue vein; about those stones, similar to de-crumpled paper, noncombustible and sparkled with uncertain sparks; or, to the most hermetic vase in which a liquid dances, leveled behind absolute walls, and whose preservation would have required cumulated miracles.

I speak about stones older than—and which outlast—life itself, standing on the cold planets on which they came to being. I speak about stones that do not even have to wait for death and that have nothing to do besides letting sand slide on their surfaces, along with rain shower, backwash, storm, and time.

Men envy their longevity, their severity, their intransigence and their radiance, their smoothness and impenetrability, and their capacity of being full even as they are shattered. They are fire and water combined in the same immortal transparency, in which emerges sometimes an iris or a mist. To men—in whose hands they stand—they bring a sense of purity, a coldness and distance known to celestial bodies, and all kinds of serenities.

As one speaks about flowers, leaving botany, gardening and flower arranging aside, still having a lot to discuss, so will I overlook mineralogy, ignoring the arts that give stones a purpose. I speak of bare stones—fascination and glory!—that both hide and yield up a mystery, slower, more immense and more profound than the fate of a short-lived species.

Roger Caillois
January 1966.