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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Flaubert & Writing Oneself

posted by on April 19 at 14:56 PM

Apparently, the Paris Review isn’t all that great anymore (right, Christopher? I can’t recall why or when it happened), but the new issue contains some never before published letters from Flaubert to himself. Maud Newton has an excerpt from a fascinating introductory essay explaining their provenance.

Here’s one of the letters, which were written on the occasion—and the subject—of friends’ deaths. This seems appropriate. I’ve been thinking a lot about inadvertent or sideways autobiography lately: Rachel Corrie’s letters and journals, meant for an imagined public, surely, but maybe not this public at the Seattle Rep; Cho Seung-Hui’s multimedia self-portrait as oppressed martyred madman, meant for NBC and the world—but while the images speak loudly, the words are nonsensical and censored. Also, our interest in both of these is a result of death (Corrie’s, Cho’s victims), and so death becomes in some sense their subject, even as they fussily preserve a life.

We’d be interested in Flaubert’s letters even if they weren’t about death, of course. But the fact of their being about death seems one reason why they were meant for himself, for a public of one—and therefore why they joined this odd species of incidental, morbid autobiography.

But I don’t know. I really haven’t read much Flaubert. (Don’t tell Mudede.)

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Flaubert's ok, but I prefer to read it when I'm in Paris at a cafe.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 19, 2007 3:48 PM

I can't recommend Flaubert's Dictionary of Accepted Ideas too highly. He had a considerably lighter touch than Ambrose Bierce did.

Thanks for slogging about these letters. I'll read them right away. I still haven't read 2/3 of my volume of Flaubert's letters, but these are new!

Posted by andrew b | April 20, 2007 6:41 AM

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