THE HYSTERICAL TIMES
2Jean Paul Sartre was so obsessed with the famed author of
that he waspossessed to psychoanalyze him over the last ten years of his writing career in anuncompleted, five-volume treatise,
The Family Idiot
. Yet Gustave Flaubert was not theidiot or hysterical neurotic Sartre supposed him to be. Sartre’s criticism has all the faultsof psychoanalysis at a great distance; that is, of analyzing an analysand whom one is notpersonally acquainted with, and basing that analysis on the diagnoses of less than ahandful of patients by other analysts, neither the analysts nor their patients beingpersonally known.
Sartre was of course intimate with the works of Sigmund Freud and appreciated hisinsights although he felt the master’s logic of the psyche was inadequate to the analysisof human existence. He alleges Flaubert’s ‘neurosis’ in
The Family Idiot
and alludes tothe Oedipus Complex in respect to Flaubert’s father, Achille-Cleophas Flaubert, whomGustave naturally adored, and who loved him in return until he became a “silly” littleplay-actor at eight years of age, when his dad’s affection was allegedly replaced byridicule. Sartre naturally cast Flaubert’s mother, who loved him always as far as her sonwas concerned, in her mythical role in the oedipal love triangle. We note that Flaubert’sfather died in 1846, when Flaubert was twenty-four, the same year his beloved sisterCaroline died while giving birth to his niece, whom he raised while living with hismother, who, in turn, died in Flaubert’s fiftieth year.Sartre thought the frustrated little playwright was fated by familial circumstances to livean imaginary life in bad faith, as a passive writer who painstakingly tries to obliteratehimself from the world drama in order to be objectively realistic, instead of a playertaking a subjectively active part on the world stage. Flaubert had withdrawn from life topaint himself out of the pictures he drew; he would be less than a fly on the wall, merelya camera obscura or pure, transparent consciousness if not nothing transcendent. It is as if he had so much faith in nothing that he believed in nothingness instead of being. Thatwould certainly be bad faith in Sartre’s book,
Being and Nothingness
. Belief or false faithin non-existence would constitute Existentialism’s cardinal sin: blasphemy! Blasphemywould be to take the name of the Not that produces existential self-consciousness in vain.The faith would be bad because it was not blind; it was not really faith because it requiredbelief: The mere effort of believing is evidence not of faith but of its lack. Knowledge isthe perfection of belief, and one can know nothing of nothing. Having bad faith is worsethan lying because liars know the truth, but here the truth simply cannot be known.Bad faith is not simply assuming the role of a waiter, where both actor and audienceknow that a role is being played. There is indeed present a sort of deception intended forthe imaginative benefit of the audience, but there is no lie because the deception isunderstood and can be disposed of instantaneously. When the waiter is perhaps a bit tooeager to please, the insincerity is not appreciated because the illusion fails. If the waiter’sMethod had self-deceived him via auto-suggestion that he was actually a waiter to theexclusion of his other roles, we might say he was living in bad faith, that he was even amadman if not neurotic.