josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

newest | archives | search | about | wishlist | flickr | email | rss

7 Nov '19 06:05:00 AM

'But before considering more fully what the order of historical event, as represented by the Revolution of 1848, means in the novel, it may be well to complete the discussion of interference and chiasmus by a word on style indirect libre, whereby interference and chiasmus come to inhabit the text in its very verbal texture. As the best recent critics of Flaubert have shown, traditional discussions of style indirect libre as a technique for reporting speech and its characteristic patterns, rhythms, and key words without recourse to direct quotation and without overt indication of an authorial-narratorial voice—discussions that see the technique as part of an increasingly sophisticated mimesis whereby the novel appears to "write itself" in the absence of the author—fail to appreciate the most radical consequences of Flaubert's practice, which are indeed consonant with the interference of systems and orders as I have sketched it. To understand how this is so, we ought to take the time to demonstrate how Flaubert uses style indirect libre to avoid and prevent direct attribution of what is spoken and reported, as a technique of irresponsibility, in that it refuses to designate who is responsible for any given statement. Brief illustration will have to suffice. To take first a relatively simple example, an evening in Mme Dambreuse's drawing room following the marriage of her "niece" (in fact her husband's illegitimate daughter) Cécile:

That evening, a few friends came by to congratulate her and to condole with her: she must be missing her niece so much? It was a very good idea, though, for the newlyweds to have gone on a trip; later, difficulties, children come along! But Italy didn't live up to the idea one had of it. Granted, they were at the age of illusions! and then, the honeymoon embellished everything! (p. 401)

The lack of attribution here—we don't even know who the "few friends" are, though we could no doubt reconstruct the cast of characters from other Dambreuse gatherings—signals the commonplace nature of what is said, its status as cliché, belonging to everyone and to no one. The commonplace statements are presented in the imperfect tense, the usual tense of indirect discourse, but with a use of punctuation, question marks and especially exclamation points, which in Flaubert's usage seem to be almost musical notations of "voicing": they suggest the notation of those phrases which are being only indirectly quoted. And the sentence on the newlyweds' trip violates—in a manner once again typical of Flaubert—the normal structure of verb tenses in indirect discourse by moving into the present with surviennent ("come along"), as if voice broke through the reportorial convention to assert its presence.

Flaubert creates here the voice of a collectivity, and the lack of an answer to the question, who is speaking? does not much concern us, since what is being said is so banal. Nor are we much concerned here to say why we find the sentiments uttered banal—why we automatically read them with the distance of irony—so obvious does the point seem. Yet we should note that the passage gives no overt indications of ironization: our judgment that it is to be "taken ironically" must derive from our recognition of the perfect banality of the reported speech—a recognition of Flaubert's artistry in creating the perfectly stupid. This was indeed a basic Flaubertian ambition, mentioned many times in his correspondence, perhaps best expressed in his goal for the Dictionnaire des idées reçues, in which he wished to construct a book where "there would not be a single word invented by me"—where both the entries and their definitions would be made of the sottises, the stupidities, of others—and the reader would stand in the uneasy position of being uncertain whether to read it ironically or not. Thus would the dream of the perfectly disguised author be realized.'

6 Nov '19 05:01:03 AM

'It is perhaps striking that from the moment the work becomes the search for art, from the moment it becomes literature, the writer increasingly feels the need to maintain a relation to himself. His feeling is one of extreme repugnance at losing his grasp upon himself in the interests of that neutral force, formless and bereft of any destiny, which is behind everything that gets written. This repugnance, or apprehension, is revealed by the concern, so characteristic of many authors, to compose what they call their "journal." Such a preoccupation is far removed from the complacent attitudes usually described as Romantic. The journal is not essentially confessional; it is not one's own story. It is a memorial. What must the writer remember? Himself: who he is when he isn't writing, when he lives daily life, when he is alive and true, not dying and bereft of truth. But the tool he uses in order to recollect himself is, strangely, the very element of forgetfulness: writing. That is why, however, the truth of the journal lies not in the interesting, literary remarks to be found there, but in the insignificant details which attach it to daily reality. The journal represents the series of reference points which a writer establishes in order to keep track of himself when he begins to suspect the dangerous metamorphosis to which he is exposed. It is a route that remains viable; it is something like a watchman's walkway upon ramparts: parallel to, overlooking, and sometimes skirting around the other path—the one where to stray is the endless task. Here true things are still spoken of. Here, whoever speaks retains his name and speaks in this name, and the dates he notes down belong in a shared time where what happens really happens. The journal—this book which is apparently altogether solitary—is often written out of fear and anguish at the solitude which comes to the writer on account of the work.

The recourse to the journal indicates that he who writes doesn't want to break with contentment. He doesn't want to interrupt the propriety of days which really are days and which really follow one upon the other. The journal roots the movement of writing in time, in the humble succession of days whose dates preserve this routine. Perhaps what is written there is already nothing but insincerity; perhaps it is said without regard for truth. But it is said in the security of the event. It belongs to occupations, incidents, the affairs of the world—to our active present. This continuity is nil and insignificant, but at least it is irreversible. It is a pursuit that goes beyond itself toward tomorrow, and proceeds there definitively.

The journal indicates that already the writer is no longer capable of belonging to time through the ordinary certainty of action, through the shared concerns of common tasks, of an occupation, through the simplicity of intimate speech, the force of unreflecting habit. He is no longer truly historical; but he doesn't want to waste time either, and since he doesn't know anymore how to do anything but write, at least he writes in response to his everyday history and in accord with the preoccupations of daily life. It happens that writers who keep a journal are the most literary of all, but perhaps this is precisely because they avoid, thus, the extreme of literature, if literature is ultimately the fascinating realm of time's absence.'

5 Nov '19 02:32:04 AM

'… the act of simply writing those words fills me with terrible sadness.'

30 Oct '19 06:00:29 PM

An example is nothing without its implications.

12 Oct '19 05:14:58 AM

'You're not dead yet, Bob.'

12 Oct '19 02:16:36 AM

Snow, barely.

6 Oct '19 05:20:02 PM

'His dedication is our reward.'

17 Sep '19 09:05:20 PM

'Well where do you want the voice to come out?'

12 Sep '19 10:17:42 PM

'… if the fortunes are the reverse of that, the ant will return to its colony for another day at dawn.'