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Reviews35 1 The Family Idiot: Gustave Ffoubert, 1821-1857, Volume 3, by Jean-Paul Sartre; translated by Carol Cosman; 644 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989, $39.95. Together with its companion volumes this third volume (originally printed in French as part 2, books 2 and 3) continues an excellent English translation of the most obsessive philosophical study of a literary sensibility and vocation published in this century, if not in any century. The length is daunting, but then so was that of TL· Gulag Archipehgo; maybe we will eventually get an abridged version of The Family Idiot in one paperback as we now have with Solzhenitsyn's multi-volume work. Until then we have Sartre's 2801-page "true novel," and volume three is an excellent place to index its overall quality because of its sustained reading of Madame Bovary. Also covered here are Flaubert's school years and literary beginnings. TL· Family Idiotis a final showcase for the phenomenological psychology which came to dominate Sartre's style and interpretive approach. This phenomenology , which always evinces the melodrama of Sartre's early discovery that intentionality is exposure and exteriorization amid the realm of the objective or reified, readily adapted over the years to the Marxian and Freudian influences on Sartre's work. TL· Family Idiot seeks to sketch out as the shadow of writing the haunting senses of the "practico-inert." Sartre's analyses also richly characterize the discourse and world of Flaubert through his moods, the affective lining of the aesthetic imperative. Most striking are the analyses of Flaubert's "ethic of passivity," which Sartre sees as "the heteronomy of spontaneity, as a flow directed by passive syntheses." Sartre explains: "The words are still lacking, but what he [Flaubert] extols, alone in his time, is the decentering ofthe subject, the refusal of conscious meditation, the giving over to spontaneity conceived as other" (p. 577). Flaubert's theory of style is summarized by Sartre in terms of two goals: "the coherence ofa directed discourse and the unrealization ofthis discourse through formal beauty, never to lose sight of the one or the other on pain of falling either into incoherence or into pure information" (p. 503). And then there is Madame Bovary, which Sartre calls "a cosmic novel" (p. 177), one in which "Gustave likes to envisage life as a brief madness of the inorganic" (p. 171). The famous love scene in the carriage is described as a grotesquely comical failure of transcendence, an "enchantment ofinanimate bodies" (p. 172). "Seen from above, Leon and Emma are plunged into the anonymity of matter, their names are no longer even uttered, the carriage and its rolling motion represent copulation in general and the human race without intermediary contemplated from a distance by a being who can no longer comprehend its doings and thus takes his place outside humanity" (p. 173). Sartre attributes this fictional scene to Flaubert's need to depict his own experience with Louise Colet. Ina footnote 352Philosophy and Literature Sartre reminds us: "I am saying what Flaubert thinks and what he makes Emma think, not what I think" (p. 169). But his literary criticism is nothing if not a blend of the brains of Sartre, Flaubert, and Emma Bovary. Such criticism was sanctioned by Baudelaire's reading of Madame Bovary which Flaubert himself appreciated with die remark: "You entered into the arcana of the work as if my brain were yours." Later of course Flaubert confessed to being Madame Bovary. Hermeneutics and deconstruction, conceived by many scholars as mutually exclusive, are alike insofar as diey downplay lived experience and psychologism while endorsing brands of linguistic apriority. Perhaps TL· Family Idiot, as a biographical criticism which traces a career of creative compulsion in the thick ofle vécu, never forgetting the relation between the individual imagination and praxis (however clouded by passive syntheses), can best be appreciated in the way it monstrously contests these critical schools. One had almost forgotten that the French were good at concrete criticism—it has been that long since the publication of Sartre's books on Baudelaire (1950) and Genet (1952), not to mention Jean Prévost's formidable La Création àiez Stendhal...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 351-352
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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