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Notes on Flaubert

Notes on Flaubert

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Published by Adam Fieled
A series of aesthetic analyses of Flaubert's "Madame Bovary."
A series of aesthetic analyses of Flaubert's "Madame Bovary."

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Published by: Adam Fieled on Mar 26, 2014
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04/23/2014

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  Notes on Flaubert  Adam Fieled
 
 
To take an unlikely route from Kant to Flaubert- one thing "Madame Bovary" shows us is how a large, possibly dominant segment of the human population never ascend from raw sensibility into understanding or the principles of pure reason. Emma Bovary is hollow but for the sensible levels which animate her life- what she wears, eats, who her lovers are and where/how she lives. In a backhanded way, Flaubert critiques Kant, too- demonstrating the effectual uselessness of advanced forms of cognition among a race who must, owing to the biological/genetic and natural circumstances of their birth, remain either unaware of or indifferent to the fact that advanced cognition is any way possible or desirable as a means of furthering a collective cause. Yet, the irony inhering in "Madame Bovary" is manifest- to depict what he wants to depict, Flaubert must align himself with Kant, towards advanced cognitive awareness of what hollows out/depreciates human consciousness, and how these complexes might be represented/symbolized most forcefully and dynamically. If there is a principle to be derived from "Madame Bovary," in the Kantian sense, it is that human interiority is not often developed past Kant's first cognitive level (sensibility). The human brain, though developed enough to withstand the rigors of dialectical understanding and distilled reason, is often employed lazily and without dynamic integrity, towards sensual gratification as the highest goal and sole ideal; and, when advanced cognition and symbolization ability is applied to representing this kind of stunted anti-cognitive existence, it can produce what "Madame Bovary" amounts to- a masterpiece simultaneously of tragedy and satire. The manner in which Flaubert lingers on sensuality as a mode of symbolism- foods, cloths, houses- turns positive data into a shadow-realm of the evanescent, the unreal; thus,
 
appearance/phenomena in Flaubert denies everything other than its own existence; substances and causes in Flaubert are denied, as is objectivity, in the general sense, except for the authorial figure himself, who creates this master/masterful textual appearance to appear as the one cause, the one cognitive ascension, amid his own spectral array. In laymen's terms, you can't believe in Madame Bovary (as anything but "appearance"), but you can believe in Flaubert; Tolstoy's textual tricks are both more nuanced and more extensive, whose chains of textual appearances lead in divergent directions. Tolstoy's characters are, once the ground of fiction is granted, substantial; more than mere appearances, or apparitions. What Flaubert loses in cognitive nuance to Tolstoy he gives back, at least partly, in seductiveness- the seductiveness of unexamined sensibility, the descent into pure appearances and their simplicity. Tolstoy's aesthetic principle, how he achieves maximum complexity/maximum coherence- the cognitive complexity of individuals- is one that Flaubert's principle refutes, satirically and tragically. These two constitute a fundamental representational polarity.

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