As a teenage girl, FranÃ§oise Sagan read Rimbaud, lying on the beach one morning, and experienced a life-changing moment.
Someone had written this, someone had had the genius to write it, the joy of writing it; it was beauty incarnate, definitive proof, all the evidence I ever needed of what I had suspected since Iâ€™d read my first unillustrated book â€“ that literature was everything. It was sufficient unto itself; and if others have blindly strayed into business, or into one of the other arts, and didnâ€™t know it yet, well at least I now knew. Literature was everything: the best and the worst, fatality; and once you knew this there was no alternative but to grapple with it, with words, literature slaves, our masters. You had to run with it, strain to leap up to it no matter how high it was. I felt this even after having read what Iâ€™d just finished reading, which I would never be able to write myself, but which impelled me by its very beauty to run in the same direction.
In any event, what place was there for hierarchies? If a house is in flames, itâ€™s not just the most agile and the fastest who are needed to put out the blaze. When thereâ€™s a fire, all hands carry water. As if it mattered that the poet Rimbaud had galloped past right at the startâ€¦ Since reading Illuminations I have always thought of literature in terms of there being a fire somewhere, everywhere, which I had to put out. And no doubt thatâ€™s why Iâ€™ve never been able to muster total contempt for even most calculating, mediocre, cynical, vulgar, stupid and glib writers, living or dead. I know that they too heard the alarm sound one day, and that from time to time they cannot help but run in desperate haste toward the fire; and as they stagger around it that they burn themselves just as badly as those who hurl themselves into it. In short, that morning I discovered what it was I loved, and would continue to love above all else, for the rest of my life.
— From “Reading”, in With Fondest Regards, 1985.