Author: Castro, Brian
Date published: September 1, 2011
Journal code: AJFS
Et pourquoi ne pas concevoir comme une oeuvre d'art l'exécution d'une oeuvre d'art?
At the age of seven I took piano lessons from a new teacher. She lived on the other side of Hong Kong, in a free-standing house on top of a hill. These bungalows were rare, and they belonged to the élite and the wealthy. I took a bus and then a ferry and then another bus. At the age of seven I learned to be alone in one of the most crowded places on earth. I was apprehensive of this piano teacher, a Shanghainese prodigy who was going to teach me Mozart and Schubert. She terrified me with her humourlessness, her severe hairdo - a bun held together with a tortoise's shell - her melancholic obsession with the keyboard and with her flowers, which spilled their petals over the floor. In order to counteract this funereal hour in which I failed once again to perform, I used to take along with me a plastic toy soldier, only an inch high, kneeling on one knee with his rifle, and I would place it in the garden before knocking on the door. When I came back out and had somehow survived the lesson, I would retrieve it... an object that was not a symbol, not representing an allegory of survival, but a contract. It held a parallel story: redemption from bourgeois authority, from the rule of the father and the harsh realities of failure. I lived vicariously through this object in the many familial crises I faced that year, investing in a piece of plastic that was cold and dispassionate. It existed in a primal world elsewhere, and carried the significance of death. When I think of that repeated act of guardianship week after week in the garden, when I think of how I lamented my own absence, my not being able to be-in-the-world, I also remember how I secretly celebrated its "thingness", an indifference to self, a productive triumph of imaginative narration dangling on the end of a profoundly reflective melancholy.
In the years since, literature has become this "thingness", a transitional object perhaps, a cathexis or investment in writing-as-object, which has never left the scene of its grieving. It took the place of a lost or missing life. Margaret Gibson alights on this notion of the transitional object mediating nothing:
These objccts arc not just mediating between "I" and "you", "self' and "other", "here" and "there", they materialize, whilst trying to "fill in" the psychic cxperiencc of this gap or spacing. In other words, there is an existential dimension to the transitional objects in that they mediate nothingness.1
On 16 January 1852, in the midst of working on Madame Bovary, Flaubert wrote in a letter to Louise Colet:
Ce qui me semble beau, ce queje voudrais faire, c'est un livre sur rien, un livre sans attache extérieure, qui se tiendrait de lui-même par la force interne de son style, comme la terre sans être soutenue se tient en l'air, un livre qui n'aurait presque pas de sujet ou du moins où le sujet serait presque invisible, si cela se peut.2
Earlier in the same letter, he writes:
Il y a en moi, littérairement parlant, deux bonshommes distincts: un qui est épris de gueulades, de lyrisme, de grands vols d'aigle, de toutes les sonorités de la phrase et des sommets de l'idée; un autre qui fouille et creuse le vrai tant qu'il peut, qui aime à accuser le petit fait aussi puissamment que le grand, qui voudrait vous faire sentir presque matériellement les choses qu'il reproduit [...]3
In what seems like a paradox, the "nothing" and the "materially " felt reveal something different when placed in the context of Gibson's "transitional objects". They fill a psychic space while incorporating the alienation of melancholy. I employ the word alienation to cover what other researchers have divided into the finer categories of depersonalisation, derealisation and sadness,4 for in non-psychotic sadness the self sees its sadness as something taking place outside of it, without having a relationship with it. My toy soldier, for example, carried the responsibility of sadness for the self... as does Flaubert's "intelligent starvation'*5 of his descriptions of provincial scenes, experiences displaced from any individual's affective focus. Objects are carried by scents tainted with a melancholy alienation, perhaps because they are so subliminal, yet so materially present in their association with the loneliness of the reader's reception:
Un peu plus bas, cependant, on était rafraîchi par un courant d'air glacial qui sentait le suif, le cuir et l'huile.6
Giorgio Agamben, in his book Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture,7 calls this ascesis a "sacrificial task":
Rimbaud's programmatic exclamation "I is another" (Je est un autre) must be taken literally: the redemption of objects is impossible except by virtue of becoming an object. [...] The creative activity and the creator cannot be spared the process of alienation. In modem poetry, the emergence into the foreground of the creative process, and its establishment as an autonomous value independent of the work produced [...] is above all an attempt to reify the nonreifiable. [...] What reactionary critics of modem art forget when they reproach it with dehumanization is that during the great periods of art, the artistic center of gravity has never been in the human sphere.*
On another front, both Paul Valéry and, more recently, James Wood have critiqued Flaubert's writing as fetishising the visual, as a distilling of essence to style itself:
[...] the danger of Flaubert's heavily visual details is that they flatter the visual over the unseen, the external over the interior (and Flaubert is not really a great novelist of interiority), that writing becomes primarily, and in some cases only, a way of making us feel "almost materially the objects [it] describes." Furthermore, in addition to the tyranny of the visual, comes the tyranny of the detail. Paul Valéry, who did not care for Flaubert's fiction, commented sourly in a notebook of 1924: "another vice of this style - there's always room for one more detail." Flaubert gave birth to the orthodoxy that the finest style of writing is a procession of strung details, a necklace of sensualities.9
I would like to argue in this essay that Flaubert's "strung details" are not entirely an aspect of style, but exist as transitional objects in the process of creation, both orienting and disorienting the idea of value. Flaubert's journey towards the conception of Madame Bovary may have depended on such details memorialising loss, details linked to a time which is both unrepeatable and without a future, now stripped of their resonance, a reification of words in a desolate, primordial, psychic landscape. The "nothingness" is essentially a desire to write, not in order to communicate anything, but to grieve for a totality which is now fragmented. It is what survives in the crucible of making: the work of art and simultaneously, its loss - of perfection and aura, in the same way as details no longer guarantee symbolic value. This reflection of greatness accompanying the author's journey on the road to the making of art leaves a residue of aspiration so familiar to all writers, an illusion mobilized into an excited semi-consciousness of the already created object, only to fall back into the abyss of melancholia, inertia and failure. The process is self-sacrificial. As Agamben says, it is "an attempt to reify the nonreifiable". Like the movement of a pendulum swinging between the expression of loud-mouth and truth-seeker, writing makes no progress except in the marking of time. It is both being and nothingness, waiting until the test of time, which does not take place in the lifetime of the writer, to grant it a monument. The latter is a lost object which is mourned in advance (since present greatness is always unattainable), and not an object which is a reminder of loss.
Criticism, on the other hand, is more available, since one works with and upon a subject-in-the-world. It is a cognitive procedure. There are guide-posts, former critiques, ideas which spin out generously when the fish are running. But writing a novel while being conscious of its need to change is to work without a net, pushing forward in the dark, demolishing every idea in order to get to the heart of nothing. Straddling critique and style in an era when the novel was very much part of the bourgeois economy, Flaubert saw self-alienation as a new creative pathway. He understood that the possession (and procession) of objects existed as a double agency to ridicule nostalgia and to mourn the passing of their aura.
Flaubert was, of course, ahead of his time in his fictional examination of fetish-objects and in his practice of letter-writing... a kind of ficto-criticism which sparked his darker purpose. (He preferred to write to his lover Louise rather than to make love with her.) One activity critiqued the other. Madame Bovary could be read as a realist novel, but it could also be regarded as a treatise on "liquid" love10 and on melancholy. Flaubert's lost world could only be traversed by the sufferings of writing, situated in a stasis of longing... in camera ... in the darkroom of the autonomously textual, ensconced in virtual mobility (no longer a paradox in our time). The world is available in his room, whereas Emma, his puppet, is ushered into the world outside. The two could never coincide. In one sense, he had objectified himself for having suffered, and as such had made of himself a subject of study, somewhat untouchable; the classic Burtonian view of the figure of melancholy."
Flaubert heard the coming of modernity; the static of a media-infused world; its trivia and faux-ideals, its language signifying nothing. His art could be described in the same way Susan Sontag wrote about the work of August Sander, whose photographic portraits The Face of Our Time was impounded by the Nazis for being anti-social: "What might well have seemed anti-social to Nazis was his idea of the photographer as an impassive census-taker, the completeness of whose record would render all commentary, or even judgment, superfluous."12 Flaubert was something of a census-taker, not a moralist. He was an empathie collector of the old, unattainable world. He savoured lost craftsmanship and apprehended things in their essence as transitional objects, linking the comfort of the unattainable past with the empty anxiety of the present. The craft implicit in the architecture of modest country houses ("des fenêtres basses, dont les gros verres bombés sont garnis d'un noeud dans le milieu, à la façon des culs de bouteilles").13 is set against the tastelessness of the notary's house, with its ridiculous "rond de gazon que décor un Amour, le doigt posé sur la bouche".14 The new world refused him the totality of a living whole and so his enterprise was to make irony out of those melancholic objects, to collect in his capharnaiim the refuse and disjecta of loss:
[...] Ia parole humaine est comme un chaudron fêlé où nous battons des mélodies à faire danser les ours, quand on voudrait attendrir les étoiles.15
This rosary of melancholic touchstones, this metonymy of melancholy (in that things will last longer than human lives, yet fall into worthless kitsch), coincides with the performances he put on regularly in front of his mirror, mindful of the entropie erasure of time and, therefore, of future interpretation and reception. He was fond of the mirror as an instrument of paradox and parody. It allowed him to set himself apart from his claustrophobic class, though he would find other strategies, such as a willed neurosis and psycho-somatic apoplexy. He rehearsed feeling and catastrophe in order to produce art and to reproduce loss, but this mobilisation of affect was depersonalised and, it seems, rationalised. Indeed, the process can be read as a trajectory from rehearsal through reflection to reification, justifying Valéry's question: "Et pourquoi ne pas concevoir comme une oeuvre d'art l'exécution d'une oeuvre d'art?"16
Lacan's mirror-stage is not just a discovery of a mistaken totality by a fragmented self, it is the estrangement of art when it re-discovers fragmentation, or the failure of the whole. Failure is inherent to the artistic work, not just as its critique but because failure allows it to resist closure, or pronouncement, or conclusiveness. Like a pendulum, a divided being brings judgment back to a fleeting mid-point, enhancing the indeterminacy of extremes. Similarly, the mirror resists intention or totalisation. Raising your left hand in the mirror translates it to the right hand of the image. Agency is immediately lost; reason and reality diverge; the subject and object are non-identical. The object is more than itself. As Susan Buck-Morss points out, "only by the mediation of conceptual reflection could this relationship be understood, precisely because it was not immediately 'given' in experience".17 Cognition is necessary, but it comes after the passive experience. This concretised experience and cognitive depersonalisation was essentially Flaubert's original discovery in the writing of Madame Bovary... a rational praxis which does not take a moral standpoint in his contradictory dialectic.
The form is made possible because the author is a divided self in more ways than two. Flaubert's famous phrase Emma Bovary, c'est moi is a complication of several layers of interpretation and dissembling on his part. If the author knows that he is a divided being, then his character will be even more ignorant of her own mistake (she cannot be more knowing than the author - and in the case of Emma, a mistaking of art and life and of art and art, something Flaubert never admits to doing - is essential to understanding his play-acting). Emma will do what he cannot do; she will act inappropriately, precisely because the author is as indifferent to her as he is fascinated by his own split self.
Before that, preparing to write his great novel, Flaubert expressed his fear of paralysis, of disorder, of a melancholia residing deep within the artistic process. He will not act for fear of mediocrity. He will do nothing. At least, for the foreseeable future. He needed to be an abject object, to assemble the medley of adhesive selves around the mirror's essential emptiness. He worked painfully and slowly, dogged by an epilepsy which also left a residue: the loss of a verbal memory.1* He co-opted the voices of others. He was at a remove, desiring a world elsewhere but not being in either. He was a "desiring-machine", at one with its objective: the production of the work of art,19 but was bogged down with inertia and convictions of failure. Sartre links Flaubert's mirror-behaviour with femininity and passivity, but I suggest that Sartre's slippage into gender stereotypes masks a deeper connection Flaubert had with the matrix of melancholia and self-exile. In his early work Novembre, Flaubert gave an indication of these desires:
[...] j'aurais voulu être femme, pour la beauté, pour pouvoir m'admirer moimême, me mettre nue... et me mirer dans les ruisseaux.20
Sartre, in his monumental study, L'Idiot de la famille, concludes that:
[...] son être étant aux mains des autres, il tente de le récupérer en se faisant, par sa complaisante soumission, un objet fascinant pour ses bourreaux et, du coup, pour lui-même.21
Jean Starobinski suggests that classic representations of Melancholia almost invariably depict women with downcast eyes, leaning forward: "Pencher est issu de pendicare, fréquentatif de pendere, il dérive de pensum, participe passé de pendere."*1 To hang, to lean, to be pendant over the void, lowering the eyes in front of the abyss of reflexion, makes the mirror a participatory object of melancholy and its desiring gaze, a conceit Baudelaire deployed repetitively in allegorical fashion. It depicts the interiority of a world elsewhere, unattainable, primordial, containing nuances of death, yet attributable to Woman as a source, perhaps of strength:
-Je vois ta mère, enfant de ce siècle appauvri,
Qui vers son miroir penche un lourd amas d'années,
Et plâtre artistement le sein qui t'a nourri!23
The melancholy mirror is a longing for something that went before us, the weight of art, which no longer exists in an age of reproduction. Art used to provoke, but now, as though one mirror were placed against another, the mise en abîme not only reflects the emptiness of the copy and the loss of aura, but also infinitude, and if there is hope in infinitude, it is in revival. Flaubert placed his faith in the possibility of being understood in the future by those whom he called "the happy few".24 In a letter to Madame Léonie Brainne, he demonstrated the positivity he found in the legacy of the woman-in-the-mirror. He objectifies himself: "Ne suis-je pas un 'féminin', comme vous dites! Lesbos est ma patrie, j'en ai les délicatesses et les langueurs."25 What he echoes here is not the equating of passivity with femininity, as Sartre may have argued. It is a longing for reification through antiquity. Baudelaire revived the Lesbian heroine from Greek antiquity as the heroine of modernism.26 In his study of Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin makes the connection abundantly clear:
The lesbian is the heroine of modernism. In her an erotic ideal of Baudelaire - the woman who bespeaks hardness and mannishness - has combined with a historical ideal, that of greatness in the ancient world. This makes the position of the lesbian in the Fleurs du mal unmistakable. It explains why Baudelaire for a long time had the title Les lesbiennes in mind.27
The melancholy mirror is both disconnection and election, depersonalisation and future discovery; that only in being part-object, in hardness, was there a possibility of greatness. It is an ideal that relies on the putative and virtual future of art. ("Nos seules victoires, dit-il a Louise pour la consoler d'un échec, sont celles que nous remportons devant notre glace."28) This virtuality, laden with irony, can also be found in the linguistic performatives of dislocated peoples, which gives them the agency to speak the taboo as comfort: some time in the future they will have a monument dedicated to their heroic departure. It is a gesture that has no arrival.
In a letter to Louise Colet on 13 August 1846, Flaubert writes:
Je porte en moi la mélancolie des races barbares, avec ses instincts de migration et ses dégoûts innés de la vie qui leur faisaient quitter leur pays pour se quitter eux-mêmes.29
"Qui perd gagne", as Sartre points out,30 is the unspoken principle Flaubert follows: a negative dialectic of self-destruction and non-identity, of the disintegration of an organic whole, which contains the seeds of creation. It is something that can be paraphrased as: "I can never approach the Greats; the world in all its folly, will never grasp my art; reason and reality can never coincide; therefore I will exile myself, but in the future I will be understood." Flaubert exploits destitution. He plays at despair, performs abjection, pretends to predict death as one does a novel's outcome. Everything is negative, but in time, in the reversal of this lost time, in the mirror-image of the abyss, will rise the mountain of awe: the work that paradoxically expresses the decline of the reception of art while enacting the production of its greatness. In other words, the desired object is both more and less than itself, and the writing of Madame Bovary will return election to aesthetics while demonstrating that art had become commodified. This is Flaubert's double agency.
His mirror singles him out from the others. As Sartre noted:
Non qu'on ne puisse rien apprendre d'un reflet: on y observera, dans une certaine mesure, ce qui a rapport à l'être-au-milieu-du-monde [...]; l'être-dans-le-monde, jamais.31
In a footnote to this point, Sartre adds:
C'est par cette raison que nos photos ou un film où nous figurons sont plus révélateurs pour nous qu'une glace. L'attitude que j'ai prise devant le photographe, les gestes que j'ai faits devant la caméra, ils sont miens, je les reconnais mais je peux les observer dans la mesure où, dans le moment queje regarde, je ne prends plus celle-là, je ne fais plus ceux-ci: mon image, libérée de moi, tend à devenir celle d'un autre, et je tends à lajuger avec les yeux des autres.32
Flaubert, the subject of only a few photographs in his lifetime, one of which was taken by his friend Maxime du Camp during their trip to Egypt, would have hidden from the camera-eye levelled upon himself. What he desired was to be the object which reflected the world: the mirrored lens itself. He hated photography, since he believed no media was truer than any other... and it was being argued at the time that photography was a "true art". H is resistance may have been because he employed the very same technique of capture. The proto-photographic and pre-cinematographic sequences he deploys in Madame Bovary is the capture of a visual emotion by the impersonality of the camera: "L'air, passant par le dessous de la porte, poussait un peu de poussière sur les dalles; il la regardait se traîner, et il entendait seulement le battement intérieur de sa tête, avec le cri d'une poule, au loin, qui pondait dans les cours."33 The camera eye in this case diminishes rather than intensifies Charles Bovary's consciousness because there is no authorial voice-over as a follow-up, no consequence except a kind of emptiness and pathos, a reminder of loss held in juxtaposition with a hen laying an egg. Charles is cut short, but it is we who employ empathy against our wishes (because, after all, he is a fool), and this contradiction is a classic melancholic nuance - both resistant and rational. This flurry of activity and silence, this textual photograph, is a melancholic object. Layered beneath the door is irony, entering as commentary upon the marital relationship, unspoken and seemingly uninvited. This impersonal lens works in conjunction with Flaubert's pioneering free indirect speech, combining commentary with unspoken pathos. It is a kind of documentary avant la lettre, albeit containing mockery. He also employs the documentary in a more direct way through italics (both a literal and metaphoric compression of intention and intensity), and used to advantage this calligraphy which emphasized, as well as parodied, the empty aspirations of the bourgeoisie. Madame Bovary is littered with these empty, mocking phrases, made all the more ridiculous when italicised:
D'ailleurs, avec du toupet, un homme réussit toujours dans le monde.**
In his letter to Louise Colet on 16 January 1852, Flaubert writes that:
C'est pour cela qu'il n'y a ni beaux ni vilains sujets et qu'on pourrait presque établir comme axiome, en se posant au point de vue de l'Art pur, qu'il n'y en a aucun, le style étant à lui tout seul une manière absolue de voir les choses.35
[...] je sais voir, et voir comme voient les myopes, jusque dans les pores des choses, parce qu'ils se fourrent le nez dessus.36
His desire, as Sartre notes, is "to be matter", and his style was also his voice, his being, down to the italicised impersonality. At the end of Part II of the 1856 (second) version of La Tentation de saint Antoine, Flaubert writes:
J'ai besoin d'aboyer, de beugler, de hurler! je voudrais vivre dans un antre, souffrir de la fumée, porter une trompe, tordre mon corps, - et me diviser partout, être en tout, m'émaner avec les odeurs, me développer comme les plantes, vibrer comme le son, briller comme la lumière, me blottir sur les formes, pénétrer chaque atome, circuler dans la matière, être matière moi-même pour savoir ce qu'elle pense [...]37
There is a fragmentation here of the self as style - a scattering, a staccato rhythm; it is something Louis-Ferdinand Céline would exploit over a hundred years later in order to perpetrate his literature of suicide - the victim sacrificed to the relentless social being of language, which, when broken down to object-like communication, becomes fragmented, elliptical, repetitious, agonistic. Flaubert was the first to explode the illusion of the self through style and was scarified in return.38
I recently re-read Madame Bovary, this time not in the original French, but in an English translation by Lydia Davis.39 There is something to be gained in translation (yet again), because for one thing, it wrests the original from older translated renditions to suit the spirit of the age; for another, it depersonalises reading. This is in itself a curiosity. The practice of betraying forerunners in translation is a critique of the romantic involvement of the reader in the text, performed here by Lydia Davis with surgical grimness. It also helps that the translator is a working novelist. This time around I experienced, while reading, the inert mass of Emma Bovary's material world and the indolence of her heart. Her deluded romanticism is highlighted by Davis's clarity of vision: objects take on a new focus in the light of the twenty-first century ... their quick disposability, their disponibilité or availability for chance re-interpretation, their repetition and interminably routinised occurrences ... and in their representation, the spareness of language-becoming-object. One can think of the works of Francis Ponge or Maurice Blanchot resounding with such empty yet existential conundrums. In a review of Lydia Davis's translation, Jonathan Raban notes how Flaubert's words had, in past translations, been rendered into clichés to fit with what we think is Flaubert's satirical play, rather than be seen for their brutal objectification. Flaubert was known to have had an abiding interest in the language of the media of the time, in its reduction of language to boredom. But is Davis shining a light on something else, rather than on the boredom of the vernacular? Could she be rendering more accurately Flaubert's own desire for reification? Raban writes:
When the caddish (and grandly self-styled) Rodolphe Boulanger de la Huchette first enters Emma's life, he's accompanying a nameless farmworker in his employ who wants to be bled by Charles Bovary because he's experiencing, in italics, des fourmis le long du corps. In Marx's translation, this is rendered as "a tingling all over"; in Steegmuller's, "prickly all over"; in Wall's, "pins and needles everywhere"; and in Mauldon's, "pins and needles all over." All four take the same tack, finding a suitably stale English phrase to approximate Flaubert's original. Davis, true to the words of her author, has "ants all up and down his body," which, to an Anglophone ear, sounds rather too lively a description of the paysan"s complaint. Which is more "accurate": fidelity to the text, or fidelity to the shopworn character (as I take it to be) of the expression? Variations on this question recur again and again when reading Davis's translation.40
Raban goes on to make the observation that the translation is:
written [sic] in a deliberately post-modernistic spirit, exposing its own means like the pipes and ducts in a converted loft, and Davis's unusual willingness to talk about her alienation from the novel is in keeping with that spirit.41
Davis's translation is not so much about fidelity as about a portrayal of praxis: alienation creates an empty inadequacy and this non-fulfilment of the comfort of familiar metaphors paradoxically transports melancholy. The broken contract with the comfortable and the shop-worn contracts the bizarre, and in that space appears an affect which can only be uttered from a distance: melancholy ... as we find throughout Madame Bovary:
Then her physical desires, her cravings for money, and the fits of melancholy born of her passion, all merged in a single torment; - and instead of putting it out of her mind, she clung to it more, provoking herself to the point of pain and seeking every opportunity to do so.42
This is more than a mockery of romantic melancholy. It is also an insight into the melancholic's repetition-compulsion. Davis's "provoking herself to the point of pain" is a slightly more alienating translation of "s'excitant à la douleur",43 which can incorporate arousal, something less ambivalently melancholic and more perverse.
In a provocative essay, Jacques Rancière puts forward the case that Flaubert's depiction of Emma's confusion of art and life, of her undifferentiated collection of kitsch and the "mystic languor" of art amounted to a pitiless condemnation of her ignorance as a "deadly evil".44 He argues that Madame Bovary showed how investing objects with such desire (the commodification of them), erased the boundary between the material and the ideal, that such a lack of judgment could only lead to a pronouncement of judgment by the author in order to salvage Art. It's why Emma had to be killed off. Again, this nineteenth-century notion of "deadly evil" can be read in another way. As Davis's translation makes clear, the spare object (or architecture) of the novel is emphasized rather than the wilted linguistic tropes of metaphor or heavy-duty irony, and this restores a residue of melancholic ambivalence to the text. Kitsch (risible certainly) goes together with an unfocussed nostalgia and a lingering sense of loss. The melancholia of antiquity and its inscription upon objects (for example, Flaubert's fantasy of Rome) is now lost in the commonality of cliché. Rancière's is a moral, social and political reading of Emma Bovary as the "bad artist", made hysterical through her misinterpretation. Davis's translation, however, is one conducted between austerity and dislocation, between the real and the oneiric, and her Emma is "located in the no-man's-land between narcissistic self-love and external object-choice".45 Emma Bovary may possess the blotting pad and the artistic writing-case. She may own paper sconces for her candles, blue vases on the mantelpiece, an ivory work-box and a silver thimble, but these are not so much representations, all the more pitiful, of the trappings of uselessness, as they are the objects of lost meaning, allegories of the absence of aura, their practical diminishment in the wake of the paralysis of melancholy. In the same way, Diirer's engraving of Melencolia /(1514), with her compass and keys, are reminders of a past and perhaps of a non-existent and primordial world for which one longs but can never recover, whether it be the world of genius or greatness or artistic vision. They are signs of uselessness and failure. It is a repetition-compulsion to revisit this pain of loss.
It is possible to track Flaubert's writing journey through these melancholic strains to revisit how things, inanimate objects, were steadfast in their melancholic constancy and were redeemed to an indifferent meaning, while human faithlessness fluttered towards its own end, bringing about an end to any emotional adherence, including the pain of loss. Could anything be recovered from such a negative (and dare one say, inhuman journeying), such a demolition of subjectivity? Had Flaubert run aground on his own bad faith, a belief in a world elsewhere as an empty vehicle for production? After all, he longed for lavish furniture in exactly the same way,46 but he had to intentionally reconstruct his heroine's material consumption in order to depersonalize himself. But is it still the loss of a totality that concerns Flaubert, who invests his character not with a "deadly evil" but with unawareness? Perhaps it is also a realization of the fragmentation of self as agent. Walter Benjamin saw each fragment, each slice, each quotation, each ruin of history as a gesture towards redemption, demonstrating that objects themselves can be collected and classified without cynicism. Again Susan Sontag makes the connection between photography and collection: "In principle, photography executes the Surrealist mandate to adopt an uncompromisingly egalitarian attitude toward subject matter. (Everything is 'real.') In fact, it has - like mainstream Surrealist taste itself-evinced an inveterate fondness for trash, eyesores, rejects, peeling surfaces, odd stuff, kitsch."47 Surely Flaubert's redemption from his own melancholy is not in the punishment of Emma as a bad judge of art? Surely he is not writing as her judge and executioner, not as a moralist, but as a melancholic fellow-traveller for an unmoumed process: the end of aura, of totality, of greatness ... the beginning of fragmentation and of the commodity ... something salvageable only in the myopic examination of exploded objects by becoming one with them, distilling their essence and psychosomatically identifying with them? Flaubert preserves his style by deriding his own melancholy, allowing it to drift into self-mockery. And yet, there is a certain cosiness in all of this spite and spleen: a melancholic room, a cast-iron stove, a cherrywood bed - the familiar and at the same time, the alien, is what makes for a melancholy uncanny. These objects sit alongside Charles Bovary's loneliness; his slowness; his barely-being-in-the-world; his failure. They embellish Emma's ideal of love which is both facile and grievous, seeding attraction with alienation, underpinning the condition of modernity: the chafing against choice unfulfilled, the constant yearning for possibility. This is modern melancholia, a mobile, shifting affect reaching from one event to the next and journeying onward to elsewhere - the serial commodification of love and desire.
Flaubert will not revisit this ground after Madame Bovary. From then on, it will be the comedy of production, rather than the gravity of loss. His last work, the unfinished Bouvard et Pécuchet, stamped the imbecility of the age in its encyclopaedic collection of so-called knowledge, a collation of useless information. Encyclopaedic and episodic, it is overwhelmingly splenetic. There is no sense of plangency or melancholia as there is no longer a lost object. The aura is over. In the twenty-first century there are signs of a return to a paradigm of parody-without-judgment; a nostalgia for national subjectivities, for totalities, homelands, antiquity and imagined communities... everything Flaubert had abandoned as illusory in the wake of the rise of the bourgeoisie. (As Vladimir Nabokov pointed out, the word bourgeois was, in Flaubert's vocabulary, equivalent to the word philistine.4*) The tSvorId elsewhere", while still virtual, no longer serves literary production as an ideal. As Rebecca Comay suggests, it is now memorials which do our mourning for us.49
At the age of eleven, after having emigrated to Australia, I set up a platoon of plastic soldiers for a huge ground-battle in the neighbour's backyard, a quarter of an acre of dirt and vines. My friend and I were the children of war, garnered with the useless information of destruction: we collected cordite from cartridges, powder from firecrackers and phosphorus from disused flares. In our dangerous game, everything was burnt. Pools of molten plastic lay on patches of blackened earth. At the end of it, we were extremely uneasy and dissatisfied. The burning of the transitional object was the beginning, for one of us at least, of a literary career ... of depersonalization; of derealisation; of continuous destruction in creation. My friend became a barrister, schooled in the demolition of dissembled selves. Both of us, I think, realised our monkish melancholia lay in the impact of an anti-romantic theatre; the double refusal, as in the ancient Greek word akèdia, of the self and of the social.
University of Adelaide
1 Margaret Gibson, "Melancholy objects". Mortality, 9: 4 (2004), 285-299 (p. 288).
2 Gustave Flaubert, OEuvres complètes, tome 13, Correspondance /850-1859 (Paris: Club de l'Honnête Homme, 1974), p. 158.
3 OEuvres complètes, ?. 158.
4 Iria Alvarez-Silva, Javier Alvarez-Rodrigue/, Sergio Alvarez-Silva, M.J. Perez-Echeverría, Antonio Campayo-Martinez, "Melancholic Major Depression and Epilepsy", Medical Hypotheses, 69(2007), 1046-1053.
5 James Wood, The Broken Estate (New York: Random House, 1999), p. 45.
6 Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (Paris: Garnier, 1971), p. 227.
7 Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture, trans. Ronald L. Martinez (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), p. 50.
8 Stanzas, p. 50.
9 James Wood, The Broken Estate, p. 44.
10 See Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003).
11 Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (New York: New York Review Books, 2001 ).
12 On Photography (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), p. 60.
13 Madame Bovary, p. 72.
14 Madame Bovary, p. 73.
15 Madame Bovary, p. 196.
16 Paul Valéry, OEuvres //, édition établie et annotée par Jean Hytier (Paris: Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1960), p. 1362.
17 Susan Buck-Morss, The Origin of Negative Dialectics (Brighton, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1977), p. 73.
18 See Henri Gastaut, Yvette Gastaut, and Roger Broughton, 44Gustave Flaubert's Illness: A Case Report in Evidence Against the Erroneous Notion of Psychogenic Epilepsy", Epilepsia, 25:5(1984), 622-637 (p. 634).
19 See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus (London: Continuum, 2004), p. 34.
20 Flaubert, Novembre (Paris: Clancier-Guénaud, 1988), p. 33.
21 Jean-Paul Sartre, L'Idiot de la famille, Gustave Flaubert de i821 à 1857, tome I (Paris: Gallimard, 1971), p. 684.
22 Jean Starobinski, Im Mélancolie au Miroir: Trois Lectures de Baudelaire (Paris: Julliard, 1997), p. 48.
23 Charles Baudelaire, La Lune offensée, in les Fleurs du Mal, ed. Edward K. Kaplan (Delaware: LinguaText, 2010), p. 281.
24 L'Idiot de la famille, p. 681.
25 OEuvres complètes, tome 16, Correspondance 1877-1880, p. 278.
26 See Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, trans. Harry Zohn (London: Verso, 1983).
27 Charles Baudelaire, p. 90.
28 Jean-Paul Sartre, L'Idiot de la famille, Gustave Flaubert de 1821 à 1857, pp. 680-681. (In an interesting transference, Sartre speaks for Flaubert, rather than quoting the latter's words.)
29 OEuvres complètes, tome 12, Correspondance 1830-1850 (Paris: Club de l'Honnête Homme, 1974), p. 494.
30 L'Idiot de la famille, Gustave Flaubert de 1821 à 1857, tome II (Paris: Gallimard, 1971), p. 1923 ff.
31 L'Idiot de la famille, tome I, p. 680.
33 Madame Bovary, p. 23.
34 Madame Bovary, p. 8.
35 OEuvres complètes, tome 13, Correspondance 1850-1859, ? 159.
36 OEuvres complètes, tome 13, p. 158.
37 Gustave Flaubert, La Première et la Deuxième Tentation de saint Antoine 1849 et 1856 (Paris: Club de l'Honnête Homme, 1973), p. 387. (This second version is more laden with suffering, less joyful and energetic.)
38 Consider Achille Lemot's famous 1869 cartoon of Flaubert himself, in hospital scrubs, dissecting Emma's corpse.
39 Madame Bovary, trans. Lydia Davis (London: Viking, 2010).
40 Jonathan Raban, "Flaubert Imperfect", The New York Review of Books (October 14, 2010), para 7 of 28, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/oct/14/flaubert-imperfect/
41 "Flaubert Imperfect", para 25 of 28.
42 Madame Bovary, trans. Lydia Davis, p. 94.
43 Madame Bovary, p. III.
44 Jacques Rancière, 44Why Emma Bovary Had to Be Killed", Critical Inquiry, 34 (Winter 2008), 233-248 (p. 239).
45 Agamben, Stanzas, p. 25.
46 In his letter to Louise Colet on 29 January 1854, he writes: "Élançons-nous dans l'idéal, puisque nous n'avons pas le moyen de loger dans le marbre et dans le pourpre, d'avoir des divans en plumes de colibri, des tapis en peau de cygne, des fauteuils d'ébène, des parquets d'écaillé, des candélabres d'or massif, ou bien des lampes creusées dans l'émeraude." (OEuvres complètes, tome 13, Correspondance i850-1859 [Paris: Club de l'Honnête Homme, 1974], ? 462.)
47 On Photography, ? 78.
48 Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Literature (New York: A Harvest Book, 1980), p. 126.
49 Rebecca Comay, "The Sickness of Tradition: Between Melancholia and Fetishism", in Walter Benjamin and History, Andrew Benjamin (ed.) (London: Continuum, 2005), p. 92.