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Writing Fonctionnaires, Functions of Narrative Dean de la Motte I T IS A SIMPLE ENOUGH MATTER to establish the importance of bureaucracy as a theme in nineteenth-century French fiction, but I would like to suggest that the bureaucratic phenomenon gradually becomes a model for narrative itself. Bureaucracy moves from a source of thematic, discursive material to a structuring paradigm for fictional écriture. Whence the ambiguity of the title of my essay, which is con­ cerned both with the bureaucratic act of writing as a model for nineteenth -century literary aesthetics, and with the creation of fictional bureaucratic characters and narratives symptomatic of a more general crisis of representation (in both the political and mimetic senses of the word). Finally, I hope to suggest that in the bureaucratic phenomenon one finds the shopworn dichotomy of the mimetic and the textual (dis)solved once and for all. Bureaucracy enables us simultaneously to discuss fonctionnaires who write and the writing, or literary creation, of the fonctionnaire as an important type, even a literary myth, in the nineteenth-century imagina­ tion. Anne-Marie Bijaoui-Baron has underscored the existence of une véritable “ mythologie” bureaucratique (au sens donné à ce mot par Roland Barthes), c’est-à-dire un code producteur/re-producteur de clichés et ce système, diluant les problèmes réels de fonctionnement dans l’humour et la caricature, diffuse une image réduc­ trice de la bureaucratie. On voit donc se former insensiblement une typologie, un décor reconnaissable à certains attributs inséparable de l’employé et un répertoire de sujets carac­ téristiques.1 This caricature provides more than thematic material; the functionary will come to be “ a master symbol of the culture of modern society,” 2 which includes the writer as bureaucrat, bureaucracy as a master narra­ tive or paradigm for nineteenth-century aestheticism, narrative, and characterization and, finally, as a possible escape from the critical impasse where poststructuralism and thematic criticism struggle for con­ trol of the literary canon in general and Flaubert in particular. It is in Balzac’s Physiologie de l’employé (1841), rather than the con­ temporaneous Français peints par eux-mêmes (to which he also con­ tributed) or the works of Henry Monnier, that one finds some of the best early satirical descriptions of bureaucracy: 22 Sp r in g 1994 de la M otte Certes, la bureaucratie a des torts: elle est lente et insolente, elle enserre un peu trop l’action ministérielle, elle étouffe bien des projets, elle arrête le progrès; mais l’administra­ tion française est admirablement utile, elle soutient la papeterie.3 Balzac’s text sets the tone for a tradition of criticism that continues to the present. Bureaucracy is characterized above all as useless, an institu­ tion in which any action is repetitive or circular, where communication itself is maintained through circulaires and where, paradoxically, the good intentions of efficient systematization produce a seemingly infinite deferral of administrative closure. Balzac writes of “ le mouvement rotatoire de cette civilisation qui prend la division infinie pour le progrès” (PE 18), while Pierre Larousse’s Grand Dictionnaire Universel du X IX e siècle (1866-79) complains that notre bureaucratie est un chef-d’œuvre bien autrement admirable, puisque tout ce qui se fait n’y est pas seulement contrôlé une fois, mais que l’on y voit le contrôle du contrôle, puis le contrôle du contrôle du contrôle, presqu’à l’infini. Bureaucracy is an obstacle to reform, to progress. It is a “ manie d’écrivasser,” whose sole function is to perpetuate the status quo, “ à savoir se créer des appuis pour conserver longtemps le pouvoir” (Larousse). One begins to sense that the structure of bureaucracy, or at least the mythologie bureaucratique, is strangely analogous to the lit­ erary aestheticism of Gautier, Flaubert, and Huysmans, to mention only those I will consider in the pages that follow. Not only a rich source of topoi, the bureaucratic is also a cliché in the photographic sense of an inverted reproduction. Although in his work bureaucrats may appear to be only “ une espèce d ’un genre plus vaste...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 22-30
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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