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FOUR “A NEW ORGAN OF KNOWLEDGE” M E D I C A L O R G A N I C I S M A N D T H E L I M I T S O F R E A L I S M I N M I D D L E M A R C H B ETWEEN BALZAC AND FLAUBERT there is at once a hiatus and a continuity: a pertinent difference that permits one to recognize a passage as quintessentially Flaubertian or Balzacian ,evenasoneacknowledgesbothBalzacandFlaubertas realists. One of literary history’s tasks is to cope with such paradoxes of identity and difference by specifying the conditions and nature of literary change. In practice, to be sure, literary critics tend simply to declare thatWoolf’sorStein’smodernismmarksadistinctshiftfromthemodernismofhernear -contemporaries,ortodescribeAustenasanovelist of manners, or to say that The Portrait of a Lady rewrites Middlemarch, without worrying over the status of these claims. When they do address the issue of how to theorize change in literary history, they proffer models of change that are predominantly linear, stagist, and subject -oriented: tradition versus the individual talent, or a strong poet struggling against the influence of his predecessor, or new forms of subjectivityandobjectivityemerginginaprocessionofgenresorliterary modes (romanticism gives way to realism, realism to modernism, andmodernism to postmodernism, just as Enlightenment rationality giveswaytohistoricism,historicismgiveswaytoreification,andsoon). A different approach to literary history is possible, however—one that focuses not on the subjectivity of the writer or the general intellectual or ideological tenor of his or her time, but on specific intellectual practices. Changes in a literary genre or mode can be charted by tracing the itinerary, and determining the relative status, of these practices as they are taken up by a succession of writers. The literary history that then emerges will be more concerned with divergences, subordinations, and reorientations than with originality, secondariness or greatness. In the previous two chapters, I try to show how suchanapproachmighthelpexplainhownineteenth-centuryrealism can accommodate writers as temperamentally opposed as Balzac and Flaubert.Realismisaliterarypracticeinformedbymedicalprinciples andattitudes:bothBalzacandFlaubertcomparethemselvesto“medi- “A NEW ORGAN O F K NOW LEDGE” 85 cal” observers, asserting that their writing constitutes a medical view of life, and an analysis of their methods reveals these comparisons to be valid ones. But the two novelists incorporate this viewpoint into their works in strikingly different ways. Balzac pursues the analogy between medicine and literary creation by way of a quasi-medical paradigm, that of French psychiatry; this scientifically weak paradigm provides a kind of discursive template for Balzac’s style. But if Balzac invests so deeply in the medical analogy, he does so not only becausethemedicalpointofviewofferscertaintechnicalpossibilities, butalsobecausethatpointofviewadditionallyentailsanethosofprofessional authority that he desperately needs. Flaubert, on the other hand,pursuesthemedicalanalogythroughamuchmorefirmlyestablished paradigm, that of pathological anatomy and clinical medicine. Hiswriting,inconsequence,doesnotdeveloptheideologicalthemeof professionalauthoritysofundamentaltoBalzac’smedicalperspective asa realist.Instead,Flaubert’srealismaimsatdemonstratingthe epistemologicalandheuristicauthorityofthemedicalparadigmitself ,the controlled technical power of the clinical gaze. Withoutquestion,Flaubert’sdemonstrationsucceeds:the medical point of view (which is also that of the realist) reveals its immanent power to penetrate and know the embodied self it treats. For both the physician and the novelist, however, this power can be exercised only at a cost. When the clinical point of view is adopted, a new, absolute gap, an ironic distance, must open up between the knowing subject (doctororwriter)andtheobjectofknowledge(patientorcharacter). Toknowthetruthaboutapatientnolongermeanstounderstandhow he or she feels, but to locate where it hurts; the doctor treats the person who is ill, but seeks to isolate the embodied disease from the person ,andthisrequiresacertainwithdrawal,areticence,arepressionof theimpulsetowardidentificationwiththepatient,asilencingofone’s sympathy so as to permit the disease to speak for itself. (This withdrawalreflectsitself ,incidentally,inthedistinctiondevelopingduring this period in diagnostics between symptoms subjectively reported by the patient and signs registered directly in the body.) Similarly, to knowthetruthaboutacharacternolongermeanstolivethroughthat character, but to record strictly its vicissitudes, and this requires an alertyethiddenomnisciencethatapproachesabsoluteimpersonality. In short, as the epistemological assumptions common to medicine andrealismaretransformed,theknowingsubject(whetherthe physician in the text or the author implied by it) becomes more and more difficult to represent as a human subject, a multidimensional self with feelings, aspirations, and desires other than the pure will to knowledge . Within the purview of knowledge, the tangle of political, ideo- 86 F OUR logical,moral,andethicalmotivesbasictocharacterismooted;forthe strictclinicianortheimpassiverealist,theonlyinterestsatstakeinthe doctor : patient or novelist : character relationships are what Kant, in a different context, called “the interests of reason.”1 To see that this emergent kind of knowing subject resists representation as a human subject, one need only compare Balzac’s physician to Flaubert’s. In Balzac’s world, the physician, although a utopian figure, can still be represented—and even emphatically...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781400820689
Related ISBN
9780691029542
MARC Record
OCLC
179077097
Pages
252
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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