29 oktober 2012

James Wood - Half Against Flaubert

The failings of contemporary writers reveal certain weaknesses in Flaubert's greatness. Flaubert, for better or worse, established for us our idea of realism: a pressure of detail, a poised, deliberate chosenness. In Flaubert, the monstrous chosenness of detail is revealed through reticence. The pressure of the prose is the pressure of the thought that preceded it but wich does not lie on the page. The great descriptions in Flaubert - the great ball at La Vaubyessard in Madame Bovary, or the agricultural show in the same novel, or the Parisian barricades of 1848 in Sentimental Education - are surrounded by the ghost of avoidance, by everything that was rejected to produce this style, by the careful hiatus, by the intelligent starvation. It is the idea of paint, of depiction rather than thought or commentary: the very speck of the real. Contemporary writing - Robert Stone is an obvious example - takes Flaubert's controlled visual sweep, shaves of some of its richness, and merely cinematizes it. How would a town square in Italy or Brazil be described nowadays? I will parody the style: "In the northeast corner, a woman threw out her bucket of water, the contents of wich briefly yellowed the large, red slabs of the town square. On the other side, a priest, who had been reading the excitable morning paper, looked up and smiled, apparently to himself. His paper rustled in the small, hot breeze like fire. A piano could be heard: it was Miss Dupont's first pupil of the day." This kind of thing, or something like it, is the staple not only of realism, but of magic realism and of thriller writing. And there is good reason, because precise, observed detail is the food of any decent fiction. But Flaubert surely institutionalized this way of writing, canonized it into orthodoxy. Flaubert made it into a style: "A breeze from the window ruffled the cloth on the table, and down in the square the peasant women's big bonnets lifted up, fluttering like white butterflies' wings" (Madama Bovary)

Fra Woods essay om Flaubert i The Broken Estate, (Picador 2010) s. 61

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