The impulse to keep a journal without having anything to put in the journal: you get a log book recording the day’s sunrise and sunset, and otherwise showing nothing but the strain of building oneself a temple. (What detractors say about Valéry’s Cahiers; all you see is him play-acting the sort of man whose cahiers are read by posterity.) Reading extracts from Leopardi’s Zibaldone is humbling. He doesn’t have time to watch himself think; he doesn’t know how not to think.
Unless his art is in that very effect?
Strength, originality, richness, sublimity, and even nobility of style can to a great degree come from nature, character, and education; or as a result of the latter those stylistic habits may be acquired in short time, and once acquired they can be put into practice with no real trouble. It is different with clarity and, especially nowadays, simplicity—by which I mean the quality almost identical with naturalness and the contrary of perceptible affectation of any kind in material, style, and composition. Clarity and simplicity (and thus charm, which cannot exist without them, and is for the most part, and often, merely another name for them) are entirely and always the work, the gift, and the effect of art. They are the basic, indispensable, indeed absolutely necessary, excellences of any writing: without them all the other virtues are worth nothing; with them no writing, though it possess these alone, is ever contemptible. Clarity and simplicity, which must appear most natural, spontaneous, easy, and most easily achievable—qualities which it may be said consist precisely in completely concealing art and avoiding the faintest suggestion of the artificial and labored—these very qualities are precisely those which only art can produce. They are achieved only by study, are the most difficult to acquire the habit of, and are such that, once the habit is acquired, it cannot truly be put into practice without the greatest pains.
Zibaldone, 26 July 1823, tr. Ottavio Mark Casale