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Flaubert and the Rhetoric of Stupidity Author(s): Leslie Hill Source: Critical Inquiry, Vol. 3, No.

2 (Winter, 1976), pp. 333-344 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1342893 Accessed: 01/10/2010 00:54
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Flaubert and the Rhetoric of Stupidity

Leslie Hill

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world historical events and characters repeat themselves, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.-MARx1 The novels of Flaubert, it is perhaps fair to say, have come to denote, in modern reflexion upon the history and development of the realist mimetic narrative, a fundamental shift in emphasis in the relationship of the author towards his material and his language. Flaubert, claims for example Jean Rousset, stands forth in his age as "le premier en date des non-figuratifs du roman moderne,"2 and although one may quarrel with the unqualified nature of this statement, it is clear that Flaubert's mode of writing as a novelist is symptomatic of an unease with the conventions of mimetic figuration such as was unthinkable in the work of his most immediate predecessors. For the writer himself, insofar as his correspondence allows the critic to judge, it was now a problem of style and of its inherent difficulties, now a question of content (of "le sujet"). Oscillating between the polarities of these various Hydra's heads--on the one hand the opacification of language and on the other hand the growing banality of contemporary reality-Flaubert arrives at an awareness of the near impossibility of a successful mimesis of reality. As he declares, characteristically, to Louise Colet, during the composition of Madame Bovary, d'ecrire.J'ai J'en arrive a la conviction quelquefois qu'il est impossible n faire un dialogue de ma petite femme avec un cure, dialogue
1. "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte," in Ausgewdihlte Schriften, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1970), 1:226. 2. Forme et signification (Paris, 1963), p. 111.

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canaille et epais, et, parce que le fonds est commun, il faut que le langage soit d'autant plus propre. L'idee et les mots me manquent. Je n'ai que le sentiment ...3 The specific drama of this shift in emphasis in Flaubert's writing can be seen as the reemergence within the realist novel of rhetoric:rhetoric understood here not as artificial bombast but as a certain labour of style ("le travail du style"), as the need to recompose, for aesthetic ends, everyday language in resonant and suggestive figures of style supported, as it were, by their inner force or intensity.4 This is to say that the particular focus of Flaubert's writing shifts from the plot and from psychological analysis as such (for, it must be stressed, the narrative levels are maintained by Flaubert and are indeed reevaluated by this change in perspective) to henceforth revolve around the inner tensions of the written sentence: 'je voudrais," writes Flaubert, "faire des livres oui il n'y ei t qu'a ecrire des phrases (si l'on peut dire cela), comme pour vivre il n'y a qu' respirer de l'air" (3:248). Flaubert's ideal is that of a prose which would possess the internal necessity and homogeneity of verse and which would affirm its stylistic force by being identifiably different from the prose of that world whence it would come and to which, inevitably, it would return. But, as Flaubert was himself to find, this project already bears within itself the germs of its inadequacy and incompletion: Quelle chienne de chose que la prose! Qa n'est jamais fini; il y a toujours a refaire. Je crois pourtant qu'on peut lui donner la consistance du vers, inchangeable, aussi rythmee, aussi sonore. Voila du moins mon ambition (il y a une chose dont je suis stir, c'est que eu en tate un type de prose plus parfait que personne n'a jamais ' moi; mais quant l'execution, que de faiblesses, que de faiblesses, mon Dieu!). [2:468-69] Flaubert finds himself confronted here with one of the constituent structural traits of prose: its inevitable inadequation to its own object. For whereas in verse, as Valery was often to argue, "les conditions metriques et musicales restreignent beaucoup l'indetermination," and "confbrent
3. Correspondance, 9 vols. (Paris, 1926-30), 3:162. All references to Flaubert's correspondence will be to this edition and will be given in the text immediately after the quotation. 4. See Correspondance, 2:345-46. For a modern approach to the relationship between rhetoric and modern literary language, see Francis Ponge, Pour un Malherbe(Paris, 1965).

Leslie Hill, fellow in Clare College, Cambridge University, is presently doing research on Flaubert and on general aspects of the modern French novel. This essay is his first publication.

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au langage naturel les qualites d'une matiere resistante,"5 in the case of prose these constraints are created and destroyed within the duration of each sentence. The prose sentence remains indeterminate and apparently arbitrary, potentially commutable, unlike its verse counterpart, into all the sentences of the world.6 While verse, by virtue of its metrical structure, is always distinguishable from everyday speech, prose can only win this privilege in the infinite process of correction, which, for being endless, is never definitive. Each of Flaubert's sentences carries the imprint of the author's confrontation with this contradiction, and the characteristic rhythms of his style derive from the tension thus created between the literality and lapidary substantiality of each sentence and the detour of connotation by which each sentence emerges, visibly and at every moment, as a citation of that corpus of language and literature that, in the form of the doxa, has always preceded the writing of pure sentences. As Roland Barthes puts it, Le drame de Flaubert ... devant la phrase peut s'enoncer ainsi: la phrase est un objet, en elle la finitude fascine, analogue a celle qui regle la maturation metrique du vers; mais en meme temps par le mecanisme ... de l'expansion, toute phrase est insaturable, on ne dispose d'aucune raison structurelle de l'arreter ici plut6t que la. parce ... Elle est comme l'arret gratuit d'une liberte infinie...: que la phrase est libre, l'ecrivain est condamne non a chercher la meilleure phrase, mais a assumer toute phrase: aucun dieu, fit-ce celui de l'art, ne peut la fonder a sa place.7 It is in this process that Flaubert's writing constitutes itself, irremediably, as a journey and an adventure through and against the doxa, through and against what he will call the "bitise" of received ideas. The notion of a self-confident transcription of reality is henceforth impossible for Flaubert. Language becomes permeated with the contagious automatism and duplicity of those commonplaces which, as Jean Paulhan notes, "sont par excellence une expression oscillante et diverse, qui prate a double ou quadruple entente, et comme un monstre de langage et de reflexion."8
5. Oeuvres, ed. Jean Hytier, 2 vols. (Paris, 1957-60), 1:1339, 480. 6. See Correspondance2:394, 3:235, 252, 321. It is in this sense that Flaubert can be said to have encountered the arbitrary nature of the novel form long before Valery, who saw in it a major failing of novel writing (see Oeuvres, 1:1468). 7. "Flaubert et la phrase," in Le degre ztro de l'&criture suivi de nouveaux essais critiques (Paris, 1972), p. 143. 8. Les Fleurs de Tarbes (Paris, 1941), p. 148. For an acute commentary of this situation, see Maurice Blanchot, Faux Pas (Paris, 1943), pp. 97-107. The notion of transcription is one of the major theoretical propositions advanced by Balzac in the Avant-propos to La Comidie humaine: "la Societe frangaise allait etre l'historien, je ne devais etre que le secretaire."

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The theme of "bitise," of course, is one that preoccupied Flaubert throughout his whole career, reaching its final formulation in the Dictionnairedes idies refues and the unfinished Bouvard et P cuchet.9 In the context of these works two questions must be asked: what is "betise"?and what is the import of Flaubert'sjourney through "betise" for the mimetic novel? Flaubert himself, in an early and now famous letter, identifies in "betise" the effect of an inordinate desire to conclude:"Oui, la betise," he writes, "consiste a vouloir conclure. Nous sommes un fil et nous voulons savoir la trame" (2:239). This is to say that stupidity, for Flaubert, is less a given content of discourse than a particular order of that discourse itself.1' It is the sign of an hasty and elliptical intervention into thought of a series of preconceived conclusions, the source of which may be situated in the doxa and in the rhetoric of verisimilitude that sustains the persuasive power of the doxa. Stupidity, as the project of the Dictionnaire demonstrates, is an endless fabric of maxims and probable syllogisms the function of which is to determine the particular and the specific, the singular and the different, as paradigmatic exempla of the larger discourse of encyclopaedic universality expressed in the verisimilitude of received ideas. It is in this sense that one can see in Flaubert's notion of "beitise"the denunciation by the writer of an especially vulgarised form (founded upon scientific positivism and upon the self-confidence of the middle classes) of the Aristotelian concept of verisimilitude, which, built around the rhetorical figures of the probable syllogism-the enthymeme-and the exemplum (paradeigma), is directed towards winning adhesion to a particular thesis by appealing to generalities and probabilities, and which constructs its arguments from material drawn from the doxa." It is this rhetoric of persuasion by verisimilitude that
9. Dictionnaire des idees refues, edition diplomatique etablie par Lea Caminiti (Paris, 1966). Bouvard et Picuchet, edition critique precedee des scenarios inedits etablie par Alberto Cento (Paris, 1964); all subsequent references to this work will be given in the text. For a general survey of the theme of"betise" in Flaubert, see Genevieve Bolleme, "Flaubert et la betise," in her Le second volume de Bouvard et Picuchet (Paris, 1966). 10. Cf. Valery, Oeuvres, 1:1452. 11. The concept of verisimilitude is a difficult one and one which has received much critical attention in recent years. I have taken the term here to refer to the complex network of constraints by which the mimetic novelist, like the rhetorician, is able to engage his audience in a contract of mutual recognition and to persuade them of the "sense of reality" of his narrative, that this is a plausible interpretation of reality, worthy of belief (compare Aristotle, Poetics, 1454a). It is here that Aristotle's elaboration of mimesis and of the art of rhetoric is decisive. Both in the Poetics (1461b) and in the Rhetoric, Aristotle distinguishes two concepts with regard to the manner in which the artist or the rhetorician solicits from his audience the belief in the justness of his reconstruction of reality. The first concept is that ofpithanon, the plausible or the persuasive. This corresponds to the speculative consideration of what strategy will be most forceful in any given case. Rhetoric is indeed defined as "the faculty (dunamis)of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion (pithanon)" (1355b). As such, pithanon is the sign of a desire to convince, a

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Flaubert, in the various discourses of the lover, the dreamer and the politician, will throw into ironic relief in MadameBovary and L'lducation sentimentale. But if "betise" is an order of discourse and a rhetoric, with roots reaching back to Aristotle, how is the writer to reject this rhetoric when his own language, as I have suggested, is ceaselessly drawn back, by its very transformability, into the endless net of received ideas? For stupidity is not merely elliptical in its implicit appeals to universal probability, but it is also infectiously metonymic, and by its contiguity with the writing of the artist can transform this writing into pure stupidity.12 Indeed, Flaubert himself was to experience this infectious quality of "betise" in the composition of Bouvard et Picuchet: "j'ai peur d'avoir la cervelle epuisee," he writes; "c'est peut-Ztre que je suis trop plein de mon sujet et que la betise de mes deux bonshommes m'envahit"(7:189, italics mine). If stupidity lies in the wish to conclude, what can be more stupid than concluding about the stupidity of stupidity? If, then, "bktise" is to be understood as an inherent disposition of verisimilar discourse, and by the same token, of the mimetic novel, the desire to move beyond the realm of stupidity can have but serious consequences for the position of the novelist towards his own language. If all meaning can become assimilated by contagion to the rhetorical order of stupidity, where is the novelist to take up his stand? Flaubert's correspondence sketches a dual strategy in response to this question. The first element of this strategy is irony. Flaubert refuses the temptation of condemning stupidity from a secure position of intellectual superiority: the polemical rage of Voltaire, for instance, who is the privileged exemplum of this mode of artistocratic irony, with its "rictus
decision on the part of an individual in a particular situation. For this desire to convince to become fully operative in the context of an audience, it needs to be recast not as a plausibility, but as a probability, as eikos. Aristotle defines eikos as "a thing that usually happens: not ... anything whatever that usually happens, but only if it belongs to the class of the 'contingent' or 'variable.' It bears the same relation to that in respect of which it is probable as the universal bears to the particular" (1357a). Eikos is on one level a collection of contents, of topoi. But it is more than this. For otherwise this would mean that works deriving from different historical contexts would become unintelligible to the uninitiated reader. Eikos is a patterning of discourse, a rhetorical syntax, based upon the integration of the singular in the universal, and translated in the text by the enthymeme (and the maxim) and the exemplum. The homogeneity of the mimetic novel derives from the way in which the desire to convince (pithanon) is mediated and dissimulated by a totalising, "natural" eikos, when, in other words, the narrator is "objective." It is when these two dimensions are dissociated, as in Bouvard et Picuchet, that all manner of disturbance is generated. (All quotations from the Rhetoric are from the translation by W. Rhys Roberts, in The Worksof Aristotle, ed. W. D. Ross, vol. 11 (Oxford, 1924). 12. On the metonymic nature of realist writing, see Roman Jakobson, Studies in Child Language and Aphasia (The Hague, 1971), p. 69; and Jacques Neefs, "La figuration realiste," and the mimetic novel Poetique 16 (1973): 466-76. It is here that the complicity of "b&tise" is apparent.

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epouvantable" and its "science superficielle";13 in short, its haste to conclude is precisely that which earns Voltaire his place in the Dictionnaire. Flaubert prefers to elaborate, as Barthes has often suggested, a more implicit and tacit mode of irony working within the language of stupidity rather than beyond it.14 In this perspective, what is written should not differ, in its literality, from the encyclopaedic fabric of "betise" itself but should throw stupidity into ironic relief by the insistent activity of a certain rhetoric of style, operating through discontinuity and elliptical contrast, through unmarked changes in viewpoint and tempo, multiplying the intervals of sense in a refusal to conclude. The object of this irony would be to unfold all fixed symbolic or metaphoric relations into a series of metonymic itineraries of sense, which, by transforming narrative linearity into the conflictual interplay of differing interpretations of events and details, would show how conclusions are drawn and how they are ironically exceeded by the play of the text.'5 The dictionary of stupidity, in this manner, would be coextensive with its critique and would draw its polemical actuality from the indeterminacy of this paradox: as Flaubert himself proposes in a letter that I have already cited, with reference to the Dictionnaire: Ce livre complktement fait et precede d'une bonne preface oti l'on indiquerait comme quoi l'ouvrage a ete fait dans le but de rattacher le public a la tradition, a l'ordre, a la convention generale, et arrangee de telle maniere que le lecteur ne sache pas si on se fout de lui, oui ou non, ce serait peut- tre une oeuvre etrange, et capable de reussir, car elle serait toute d'actualite. [2:237-38] But in order that an irony of this kind may become effective, the novelist needs to maintain a fully recognisable and verisimilar traditional narrative structure. This is the second pole of Flaubert's strategy that will be developed decisively in Bouvard et Pecuchet and which renders this work irreducible to any modern notion of the "anti-novel" that critics have advanced in recent years.16 Indeed, without this prerequisite of narrative coherence as "regulative Fiktion,"'7 the work would be no more than a satiric fantasy fully digestible, as a genre, by the rhetoric of
13. Dictionnaire des idiesrepues, p. 208. 14. See Roland Barthes, S/Z (Paris, 1970), pp. 104-5. 15. See Marcel Proust, "A propos du 'style' de Flaubert," in ContreSainte-Beuve (Paris, 1971), pp. 586-99; Alison Fairlie, "Some Patterns of Suggestion in L'lducation sentimentale," Australian Journal for French Studies 6, nos. 2-3 (1969): 266-93; Raymonde Debray-Genette, "Les Figures du recit dans Un Coeursimple,"Poetique (1970): 348-64; and Jonathan Culler, Flaubert (London, 1974). 16. See for example A. Frescaroli, "I germi dell'anti-romanzo in Bouvard et P&cuchet," Aevum 40 (January-April, 1966): 138-55. 17. Nietzsche, Werke,ed. Karl Schlechta, 3 vols. (Munich, 1954), 1:206.

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"betise." As Flaubert, with reference to the novel, replies to a letter from Turgenev, Malgre l'immense respect quej'ai pour votre sens critique ... je ne suis point de votre avis sur le maniere dont il faut prendre ce sujet-la. S'il est traite brievement, d'une fagon concise et legere, ce sera une fantaisie plus ou moins spirituelle, mais sans portee et sans vraisemblance, tandis qu'en detaillant et developpant, j'aurai l'air de croire a mon histoire, et on peut en faire une chose sierieuse et meme effrayante. [7:178] The mordant ambivalence of Flaubert's critique of "betise" derives from the indeterminate mobility of this dual strategy. The dialectic that Flaubert elaborates between the maintenance of the novel form and the effraction of that rhetoric of verisimilitude upon which it is founded allows him to preserve the intelligibility of his text while operating a critical reevaluation of the mimetic novel as such; the reader is faced, in Bouvard et Picuchet, as Barthes argues, with "un etat tres subtil, presque intenable, du discours: la narrativitie est deconstruite et l'histoire reste cependant lisible."'8 Bouvard et Pcuichet is, in this way, both a traditional novel and a displacement of the novel form, its anamnesis and critical reformulation. In short, the question for Flaubert, in writing Bouvard et P&cuchet, can be summarised as the attempt to exploit the very proximity of his own discourse with that of "betise": to turn against the elliptical and metonymic rhetoric of stupidity the elliptical and metonymic rhetoric of his own writing. It is by pursuing this paradoxical enterprise that Flaubert can be said to have brought literary realism to its culmination and to have supplied the basis for its inversion, and, moreover, to have combined these conflictual tensions within the same text. It is by its unwavering insistence upon this duplicity of Flaubert's writing that Bouvard et Picuchet stands, Janus-like, upon the horizons of modernity and of traditional mimesis, and its corrosive power derives precisely from this parodox, from the possibility of writing paradoxically, that is, against the doxa. Critics have, of course, often underlined the elusiveness of this "strangely repelling and alluring text,"19 and our task here is to examine the effect upon the traditional novel of this fascination and to account for the unease suscitated in the reader by this work. I have chosen, as the object of this inquiry, the fifth chapter of the novel, which relates Bouvard and Pecuchet's confrontation with literature. This chapter is composed of a complex intermeshing of three asymmetrical voices or discourses: those of Literature (novels and
18. Le plaisir du texte (Paris, 1973), p. 18. 19. Victor Brombert, The Novels of Flaubert (Princeton, 1966), p. 259.

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drama), of Criticism (theorists, grammarians and rhetoricians) and of the Reader (mainly Bouvard and Pecuchet themselves). The dissymmetry of this configuration of voices lies in the position of the "Reader," whose discourse englobes the others and filters them through a certain rhetoric of "betise." It is in this sense that Bouvard and Pecuchet are the authentic protagonists of the novel, and it is upon their discourse that the reader must, perforce, concentrate his attention. One may begin by attempting to establish a rhetorical synopsis of their reactions to literature. Their itinerary can be divided into two segments: their confrontation with art and with critical theory. But I shall limit myself here to a necessarily fragmentary summary of their reading of novels, with the ambition of reconstructing some of the enthymemes of stupidity enacted by the protagonists of the text: 1. The works of Walter Scott produce "comme la surprise d'un monde nouveau" (p. 395); the effect upon the reader is to resurrect as living people what were previously "des fantimes et des noms" (p. 395); therefore the works of Scott are an exact resemblance and illusion of real history. 2. The historical novels of Dumas are exciting, leaving the reader "sans une minute pour la reflexion" (p. 396); other works, like those of Soulie, are less colourful; therefore an historical novel that is not colourful and exciting is a boring novel. 3. Some novels by Scott and Dumas are historically inexact; but good historical novels suscitate the illusion of an exact resemblance to real history; therefore Scott and Dumas are unscientific and confused (pp. 396-97). 4. The novels of Rousseau and Constant, on the other hand, are concerned with human emotions; but convincing novels must describe the historical milieu of their plots, and not merely concentrate upon feelings; therefore psychological novels send the reader to sleep (p.

398).
5. The novels of Balzac provide a striking image of the complexity of "la vie moderne" (p. 398); the talent of the novelist lies in his powers of observation; therefore a novel is interesting in that it allows the reader to "descendre plus avant dans la connaissance des moeurs" (p. 399). 6. The novels of Balzac provide a striking image of the complexity of "la vie moderne" (p. 398); but the novelist's function is to transcend the limitations of middle-class banality; therefore only that art that exalts the reader far from the "miseres de ce monde" (p. 399) is worthy of consideration. Clearly there can be no question here of attempting to constitute a catalogue of the enthymemes and maxims of stupidity that Flaubert has

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dispersed within his text. This would be a nearly infinite task and could only be accomplished on the basis of an immense programme of reading; moreover, by obliging the reader to decide what was "betise," this enterprise would earn him a privileged place in the Dictionnaire. And if the corpus of "betise" is impossible to reconstitute in this way,20 it is an indication on Flaubert's part that the essence of his novel lies in the treatment of "betise," that "il n'y a pas de Vrai. Il n'y a que des manieres de voir" (8:370). What, then, is the role of the fictional perspectivein which Flaubert has cast this journey through "betise"? It is readily apparent that none of the enthymemes that the above synopsis has attempted to reconstruct from Bouvard et Picuchet is present in the text as such, but that each is fused by Flaubert into a syntactic sequence, observable both on the level of style and of narration. Perhaps one of the most striking examples of this syntax is the long third paragraph of this fifth chapter, from which was reconstructed enthymeme 1, and which recounts the genesis of a mimetic illusion: Les hommes du passe qui n'etaient pour eux que des fant6mes ou des noms devinrent des etres vivants, rois, princes, sorciers, valets, gardes-chasses, moines, bohemiens, marchands et soldats, qui deliberent, combattent, voyagent, trafiquent, mangent et boivent, chantent et prient, dans la salle d'armes des chaiteaux, sur le banc noir des auberges, par les rues tortueuses des villes, sous l'auvent des echoppes, dans le cloitre des monasteres. Des paysages artistement composes, entourent les scenes comme un decor de theitre. On suit des yeux un cavalier qui galope le long des greves. On aspire au milieu des genets la fraicheur du vent, la lune eclaire des lacs oui glisse un bateau, le soleil fait reluire les cuirasses, la pluie tombe sur les huttes de feuillages. Sans connaitre les modeles, ils trouvaient ces peintures resemblantes, et l'illusion etait complete. L'hiver s'y passa. [P. 395] On a manifest level, this passage retraces the manner in which the historical novel, by a profusion of detail, suscitates what, as the final lines emphasise, is no more than an illusion of mimesis. But if the reader considers the underlying syntax of this description, a radically different dimension to Flaubert's writing emerges. The insistent parallelisms of the style, with its repetitive series of nouns and verbs, tend quite decisively to dissolve this illusion of reality into a certain play of language.21 The metonymic automatisms of Flaubert's style, which almost seems to
20. See Claude Mouchard, "Terre, technologie, roman," Litterature 15 (October, 1974): 65-74. 21. See the comments on Flaubert's syntax in the novel in Manfred Hardt, "Flauberts Spaitwerk: Untersuchungen zu Bouvard et Pecuchet,"Analecta Romanica, no. 27 (Frankfurt, 1970).

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generate itself as a "defilement continu, monotone, morne, indefini,"22 effectively decompose the conventions of mimesis as conventions,and, by the temporal shifts from the imperfect to the present, show how Bouvard and Pecuchet (for this passage is a narration of their experience of reading) are themselves dissolved as sources of intellection, enraptured in the anonymity of "on."23 The rhetoric of persuasion by verisimilitude that, in the form of the implicit enthymeme, suscitates the illusion of mimesis is not transcribed but enacted, fictionally and dramatically, by the protagonists of the novel in a process that slides beyond the "betise" of hasty intellection. In this way the syntax of Flaubert's style, by refusing to allow Bouvard and Pecuchet to assume any position of commanding superiority towards the mimetic illusion-which they undergo rather than consciously create-places them in an ambivalent situation, that of being the uncomprehending actors of a rhetoric that precedes and traverses them.24 This is to say that their role as dynamic novel protagonists is sharply curtailed, and their function as focal centres of the novel-and this is the measure of their own particular stupidity-resides in the extent to which they allow themselves to be possessed, in turn, by the various encyclopaedic discourses that compose the primary material of the novel. This is one of the major displacements to which Flaubert subjects the traditional narrative form, and one that is present already, in nuce, in his earlier novels; indeed, in Bouvard et Pecuchet, affirms one critic, "nicht auf Personen oder Charaktere kam es Flaubert an, sondern auf die M6glichkeit, einen stereotypen Geschehnisablauf auf immer neuen Lebensbereichen durchspielen zu k6nnen."25 Bouvard and Pecuchet become the sum of those discourses which, in a stupid inability to master, they traverse. It is here that the nature of their stupidity as novel protagonists may begin to be circumscribed. I have already argued that Flaubert's repetitive style tends to annul them as subjects of intellection. The same is true of the continuity of the novel as a whole. For the manner in which they pass from one discourse to another, from one adventure to another, is not commanded by a series of conscious decisions, but rather by a perverse oscillation from enthusiasm to disappointment. Flaubert does not motivate the continuity of the novel according to some methodical, en22. Proust, p. 587. 23. Cf. Alison Fairlie, "Flaubert et la conscience du reel," Essays in French Literature4 (November, 1967): 1-12, who suggests that "pendant des moments d'absorption totale en quelque chose d'exterieur au moi, les forces trompeuses ou paralysantes de la conscience de soi sont suspendues" (p. 4). 24. It is in this way that Bouvard et Pecuchet stands in a similar transitional and critical position as Cervantes' Don Quixote. See Michel Foucault's brilliant analysis of this novel in Les Mots et les choses (Paris, 1966), pp. 60-64; and idem, "La Bibliotheque fantastique," in Flaubert, edited by Raymonde Debray-Genette (Paris, 1970), pp. 171-90. 25. Hardt, p. 53.

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cyclopaedic pattern (and, after all, the subtitle of the work, if we are to believe Flaubert's correspondence, was to be "Du defaut de la methode dans les sciences" [8:336]), but rather exploits the tradition of the nineteenth-century novel according to the psychologyof the protagonists. The kernel of this psychological motivation of the novel is in the pulsating rhythm set up by the alternating aspirations and desires of Bouvard and Pecuchet.26 The most striking instance of this ironic return to the psychology of desire, typical of the nineteenth-century novel, within the critique of "betise," is the scene where Bouvard, with exemplary stupidity, attempts to woo Madame Bordin with the aid of Moliere and Victor Hugo (pp. 402-3). This oblique reinterpretation of the desire to persuade present in the rhetoric of verisimilitude (and already indicated by Aristotle's use of the term pithanon) allows Flaubert to show, parodically, how its only claim to universality reposes upon an individualised desireto convince. Henceforth the enthymemes of stupidity appear in the novel in an ironic light, as pure rhetoric; far from being all-inclusive, verisimilitude betrays a partisan reading of reality, for "la Vraisemblance depend de qui l'observe, est une chose relative, passagere" (p. 411). A dehiscence, properly scandalous to all traditional notions of mimesis and verisimilitude, is opened here between the desire to convince and the discourse aimed at assuring that conviction. The reader is confronted with the paradoxical situation of an eikosdeprived of its underlying force and reinscribed as an agglutination of cultural stereotypes and of a pithanon that no longer supports these stereotypes but which is reinscribed in the form of the perverse willingness of Bouvard and Pecuchet to be convinced. The stupidity of Bouvard and Pecuchet, it is now possible to argue, lies in the way that they encounter civilisation with the sole motive of their own pleasure, and the conclusion that they reach at the end of this fifth chapter, that "la moralite de l'Art se renferme pour chacun dans le c6t' qui flatte ses inter ts" (p. 415), is symptomatic of their own activities. But it is precisely for this reasonthat the rhetoricof the doxa remains, for them,a closed world, upon the circumference of which they move without ever being able to conclude upon the reasons for their successive failures. It is to the extent that, in the eyes of the doxa, they are stupid that they elude the universal circle of "betise." Their stupid inability to be objective destroys the very notion of objective stupidity itself. What thus is at stake in the novel is the conflict between the perverse stupidity of Bouvard and Piecuchet and the universal stupidity of the doxa. By recomposing the circle of scientific knowledge and received ideas in a fictional form, Flaubert decisively displaces the epistemological security of science and the doxa.27His novel dramatises, as Nietzsche was
26. See Claude Vivien, "Copie," Le Nouveau Commerce9 (1967): 29-43. 27. See Raymonde Debray-Genette, "Flaubert: Science et ecriture," Littkrature 15 textes critiques," ibid., 52-64. (1974): 41-51; and Jacques Neefs, "Salammbb:

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to write, with specific reference to the theme of"betise" in Flaubert, "die Philosophie der 'Regel' im Kampfe mit der 'Ausnahme.' "28 The writing of Flaubert elaborates the beginnings of that paradoxical science (but is it not the force of Bouvard et Pecuchet to be paradoxical?) which would be fictional in its effects and which would be the science of the particular, of the exteriority of the exception to the universal rule, of that movement of difference which is original to all phenomena and their condition of existence: "Pas de reflexions! copions! II faut que la page s'emplisse, que le 'monument' se compl2ete-e'galite de tout, du bien et du mal, du Beau et du laid, de l'insignifiant et du caracteristique. Il n'y a de vrai que les phenome'nes.29 This is the essential lesson that Flaubert, through Bouvard et Picuchet, leaves to the writers of modernity. How can one write if language and novelistic discourse have already been devoured by the verisimilitude of mimesis, by the doxa and the stereotype, by "cultural language become nature"?30 Only by pitting against the metonymic order of "betise" and mimesis the disorder of a certain "metonymie creatrice"31 that relaunches and renews the narrative as an endless pursuit through meaning and cultural discourse, unfolding and interpreting the concatenations of sense that are the essence of "betise"; by living the activity of writing as a constant re-reading of the texts of the past, by operating at each turning of the text the rupture between the old and the new, the universal and the singular, between mimesis and its effraction. "Il existe chez Flaubert," wrote Charles Du Bos, "comme une intensite de la stupeur, et en general une prodigieuse intensite de tous les etats dits negatifs. II part, si l'on peut ainsi s'exprimer, de la positivite du negatif."32 A specifically modern adventure begins here: a pursuit through sense and non-sense, into the margins of the self and society, an itinerary of writing that penetrates into the limits of the human, as Kafka was to write, "an den Grenzen des Menschlichen fiberhaupt."33 It is Flaubert's achievement to have inscribed the beginnings of this process within the narrative text of mimesis.
28. Werke,2:683. Compare Valery, Oeuvres, 2:64. See also Bouvard et Picuchet, p. 552, de "Bouvardet Picuchet" (Naples, and the commentary given by Alberto Cento, Commentaire 1973), p. 114. 29. From a scenario sketching the conclusion to the novel, Bouvard etPkcuchet,p. 125. 30. Culler, p. 161. 31. Roman Jakobson, Questionsde poktique(Paris, 1973), p. 136. See Jacqueline Risset, "La Poetique mise en questions," Critique 322 (March, 1974): 223-34. I (Paris, 1922), p.162. 32. Approximations 33. Entry for 28 March 1911, Tagebiicher1910-23 (Frankfurt, 1967), p. 41. It is, of course, the same Kafka who (10 February 1915) notes that "ich schreibe 'Bouvard et Picuchet' sehr frfihzeitig" (ibid., p. 331).