We often describe a literary, aesthetic work as unique. I don’t know, I’m not sure. It’s likely. We can’t imagine another Rimbaud, another Mallarmé. Once you reach modernity with all its creative neuroses, with Rimbaud’s cry “I is another” (je est un autre), you can no longer assert, as the scientist does, “Tomorrow someone else will make my discovery if I don’t do it myself.” In the sciences, the collectivity is good fortune. Even if you are a quite mediocre scientist— and believe me, they exist— but are in a good team, the escalator goes up, the flying carpet takes off, you’re carried along. And next Monday we may know something we didn’t know this Monday. The arrow points to the future. For us, a contrario, 90 percent of what we teach is from the past.

– George Steiner, A Long Saturday: Conversations (2014)


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