Body of Wood
Body of Wood Friday 16 July 1852. Sunrise. The end of the night. It rained. It isn't raining anymore. Large slate clouds run across the sky. Flaubert hasn't slept. He goes out into the garden at Croisset: lime trees, then poplars, then the Seine. An outbuilding on a bank beside some water. He's finished Part One of Madame Bovary . That Sunday, he would write Louise Colet how at dawn on Friday he'd felt strong, serene, blest in sense and in purpose. The dawn wind does him good. He has a tired
... . He has a tired fat handsome face, a calm fat handsome face. He loves writing. He loves the world. "Deprived of a party, country, house, personal life, etc., he made writing his only reason to live, and it grips one's heart how seriously he takes the written world." These words of Pasolini's pertain to Gombrowicz. But they might just as well be applied to Flaubert, and one's heart would not be gripped any less, maybe more. For, if Flaubert had a personal life (as Gombrowicz did after all, but then Pasolini always goes very fast), he pretended not to have one; just as he pretended to have no house, country, freedom, mother named Caroline, orphaned niece also named Caroline, Seine at the end of the path, rolling on before his eyes, sharecroppers' hillside groves, heaps of disciples and flatterers, well-meaning interns hard at work on his behalf in the corridors of Paris journals and salons: all things Gombrowicz truly did not have, that he, Flaubert, had. Flaubert pretended to have none of all that, that which he had, and for him this pretension became real; he patched together a mask which comprised his skin, and with which he wrote his books; skin and mask had been so well glued that when he wished to retire it, he found nothing more in his hand than an indissoluble mixture of flesh and cardboard under the thick clown moustache. Perhaps it wasn't truly the clown that he played so much as the monk, and not just to the stands, but in his own eyes and to himself: he was not only a defrocked friar with the guys or on the street; he donned the silk babouches when he went home too. He dispossessed himself of the Seine that rolled on before his eyes; the [sic] -a journal of literature, culture and literary translation Literary Refractions No. 1 -Year 5 12/2014 -LT.3 ISSN 1847-7755; doi: 10.15291/sic/1.5.lt.3 2 small girl who lived on her feet, whom he puts to death in all his books, he hardly saw her; the loveliest girls of his day, the finest too for sure, who wanted him, so that he happened to come -he dispossessed himself of them, whether he came or opted to come no more, which amounted to the same thing; no apples from Norman orchards, no trees deep in the woods, no unlaced Louise Colet, no lilies, no young laughter, no Louise Colet weeping at his door, he kissed it all off, laughed over it and kissed it off, cried about it and kissed it off, he was not there. In fact he had nothing, he was deprived of everything, since it was in his head . Unshod, Le Carme knows why he has kicked off his stockings. He knows why he passes bootlessly through this life: he is not from here, the true life is elsewhere, he knows for sure that naked feet warm up under God's breath, cadavers and icy souls warm up. We pass, God does not. Le Carme takes his God very seriously. This seriousness isn't conducive to laughter. It pours the heart full. The Mask of Croisset, Flaubert, also knows why, long ago, he surreptitiously kicked off the silk babouches that he nonetheless still wore on his feet; he had a sort of god before whose eyes he passed barefoot: the god of the fat barefoot friar in silk babouches on the Seine's banks was art . We pass, art does not stay. It scarcely warms at all. The air of time breathes it. In this life and in the other, it alone gives us that mixture of flesh and cardboard which we find at our fingertips, vaguely sated, terrified, this disgusting mixture we caress and get a feel for, whenever it occurs to us to make sure we've still got a face left, somewhere behind that long moustache. Flaubert took art very seriously. This seriousness is conducive to laughter. It grips the heart. This grip which conduces to laughter is what we undergo in the presence of misery. Flaubert is our father in misery. We are all children of this misery. It has no doubt existed more or less ever since humankind has written, but he gave it a fleabite, and because of him it has become pat and laughable. He discovered the mask the way the Neapolitans discovered Pantalone and Pulcinella, the way the unknown versifier of the Romance of Alexander discovered the French alexandrine in 1120, the way a good fellow named Féréol Dedieu discovered the garter belt in 1878. He made us a mask. We're all children of his misery, whether it be put on by -and no less true in -Mallarmé, Bataille, Proust, Genet, Leiris, Duras, and Beckett; or be it so well put on that it becomes more than true -because real, truly true -in Verlaine and Artaud. In Rimbaud we don't know. We don't know, and we don't [sic] -a journal of literature, culture and literary translation Literary Refractions No. 1 -Year 5 12/2014 -LT.3 ISSN 1847-7755; doi: 10.15291/sic/1.5.lt.3 3 worry except halfway, whether the misery is true or put on in Céard, Barbusse, Bove, Chardonne, Guérin, Guibert, Gary: in all those miniscule bird names one hardly reads anymore. Maybe, once again, this misery might come to be feared, and get locked up: so far denied as to return, late in the day, a direct hit in the gullet, like it did for Sartre by way of Flaubert. The seriousness with which we take writing grips the heart. With delight, a few weeks after his Meditation Upon the Death of Mary , Maurice de Guérin imagined himself metamorphosed into a tree: "To expatiate with a vigor freely chosen among the elements, to envelop oneself, to appear strongly rooted before men, grandly indifferent, not to render anything unto chance except vague deep sounds, like those of dense boughs that imitate sea-murmurs: this station of life strikes me as worth the effort, fit to be set up against men and the fortunes of the day." That leaf is not a mask. It is not misery. We can't truly say that it's serious, either. Yet it is a serious aim. It is a station of life that strikes me as worth the effort. To write Madame Bovary and Saint Julien , not to render anything unto chance except vague deep sounds, to become a tree that the wind clutches and rocks, is a goal one can push oneself onward towards, by that most human of means: words. To have left humanity, to proffer the sounds of leaves, a gong, avalanches; to have left humanity, to submerge it, cover it over with one's shadow, cover it over with one's noise, conceal it with one's foliage, that is worth the effort. and he gives all things curiosity, heart, joy, dynamism, ingenuity. I give him the body of a colossus, a giant. And in his young years, a blond irresistible beauty -quickly withered away: but you can't have it all. I offer him the power and energy to please his own likes, men and women, to give of himself and to receive of them in return, to make them laugh and cry, to loosen -without numbering -his heartstrings. To this trove I add plenty of pride, vanity, boasting, sloth, cupidity, a sprig of hysteria. I give him, from infancy, a passion shared widely enough: a taste for Letters. I am also obliged to give him -since it is in the same parcel, or envelope -the will to triumph in this world by means of Letters. Here I complicate the game. Onto his legs, I tie a millstone: someone whom they all aimed at, an impossible father, who drove everybody from Lamartine to Bloy into a jealous rage. Victor Hugo. This monster, who found a way to live as four and write as ten, a hundred, at once: who manned the oven at the mill, who stood at God's right hand in the legions of Satan, in verse and prose, with the girls and at Guernsey; who integrated by his verses all one could write before, and adapted it to his own way, who, in his own manner, surpassed it, without batting an eyelid. To this Leviathan, the writers of his time were pilot fish, whom he treated, consequently, with grand patience, mansuetude and indifference. Between the bait of Letters and the incommensurable obstacle Victor Hugo, I put him in a springe.