As the readers familiar with Julian Barnes’s Flaubert’s Parrot will know, Gustave Flaubert, who believed in the impersonality of the work of art, is the object of the quest of Barnes’s character. Under the guise of looking for Flaubert’s parrot, supposed to have inspired “Un Cœur simple,” Braithwaite is trying both to probe the nature of writing (is it representational or not ?) and to understand Flaubert’s “nature,” i.e. the genuine self of the writer, in a fictional autobiography that would be more reliable than an ordinary one. Flaubert thus finds himself at the core of a paradoxical enterprise which finally reflects his own paradoxical belief in a personal impersonality : “L’artiste, dans son œuvre, doit être comme Dieu dans l’univers, présent partout et visible nulle part.” Such a belief leads him to write most movingly about emotions in, for example, “Un Cœur simple” and turns him into the object of the most emotional quest of Braithwaite, the autodiegetic narrator of Flaubert’s Parrot.
The twenty-five essays in this collection address the relations between impersonality and emotion in a literary corpus that spans the twentieth century. They provide various readings of the notion of modernist impersonality and attempt to determine how it migrates into a later period, i.e. that generally termed “post-modern.” From T.S. Eliot to Jeanette Winterson through Virginia Woolf, William Golding, Martin Amis and many others, they unearth lines of force and continuity that run all the way from romanticism to postmodernism, despite Eliot’s rejection of romantic emotion. While stressing the unexpected perenniality of the impersonal, they give the lie to Fredric Jameson’s famous vision of contemporary literature as characterised by a “waning of affect.”
2005, 16 × 24 cm, épuisé, 316 p., dos carré collé, ISBN 2-84269-665-4.
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