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152Philosophy and Literature phes, misspellings (principle twice as an adjective), erroneous names in footnotes, and so on. Perhaps the press is to blame for some of these; its copyreaders may need to exercise more vigilance. Tulane UniversityCatharine Savage Brosman The Family Idiot: Gustave Flaubert, 1821-1857, Volume 4, by Jean-Paul Sartre; translated by Carol Cosman; 357 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991, $34.95. One wonders how many nonspecialist readers will have had the patience to follow Sartre's analysis of the twists and turns of Flaubert's aesthetic thought and neuroses to reach this fourth volume of Carol Cosman's fine translation of LIdiot de la famille, originally published by Gallimard as part three, books one and two. The focus of this volume is the "inner revolution," the "conversion to optimism" which resulted from Flaubert's epileptic crisis near Pont-1'Evêque, enabling him to break in a certain way with his family past and bourgeois careerism. Stricken with a so-called nervous illness, he could now devote his life to writing and reading. For Sartre, however, focus is something slippery and involutive, a veritable telescope into l'être-dans-le-monde vécu. What he says ofFlaubert, that "the human microcosm in his person becomes cosmic" (p. 322), is even more true for Sartre himself as he bears down on Flaubert's life to conjure baroque panoramas of empathy. To describe Flaubert's illness as a choice and enabling condition, to show that losing can be a form of winning, a passive commitment or strategy, Sartre fully "relives" the tension between the sensibility of a hopelessly literary person and the cultural-artistic milieu from which he turns inward and to which he contributes. Nervous illness or alienation from one's own epoch would be the productive condition of an empathy that relives, for example, Carthaginian psychology and the antique world during the preparations for Salammbô. Flaubert tries to "think antique—to grasp at the root of the mineral feelings" (p. 323) of the ancients. Such efforts and strange fruit of empathy greatly intrigue Sartre, as does the public significance of personal meaning. Sartre's compulsive hermeneutic of le vécu and the "singular universal" reminds us that the legacy of optimism which anticipated Vaclav Havel's discourse of "personal responsibility to and for the world" was that of the reputedly grim existentialists. Sartre has been accused of going too far in his attempt to stitch together an intentional matrix out of Flaubert's maladies and creative anxiety. Scholars such as Neil Hertz get understandably frustrated by the creative writer in Sartre Reviews153 who bonds with Flaubert to offer a story of obscure energies and vistas. Yet until the recent appearance of such books as Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson, biographies with impressionistic brio were mosdy excluded from scholarly consideration . Howe and Sartre have done criticism a service by putting the very scope and function of biography into question for the next generation of scholars. There are surprises in Volume 4—for example, Sartre's analyses of a certain pantheism and oneiric reading habit within Flaubert's aesthetic. Hazel Barnes has pointed out that matter and life intermingle for Flaubert to invoke a surplus of sens beyond signification. Moreover, Sartre says, Flaubert read in order to dream, and dreamed in order to live and write. Reading was not "attentive deciphering" but a "directed oneirism" (p. 259), giving Flaubert visions of perfect (total) art and artists, his own "oneiric cosmogony" (p. 263). Shakespeare "was not a man but a continent; there were great men in him, whole crowds, landscapes" (p. 258). Of the ancient world in Homer and Sophocles, whose archaic impulses somehow fed into his own aesthetic, Flaubert writes "I have lived there!" (p. 269). Finally, Sartre says, Flaubert read widely "to earn by his feelings of disgust the right to write." Be that as it may, Flaubert could not hide his genuine ardor for the works of Montaigne, Homer, and Rabelais. "They are bottomless, infinite, manifold. Through small apertures we glimpse abysses whose dark depths make us faint. And yet something singularly gende hovers over it all" (p. 259). Sartre, who cites these words...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 152-153
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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