One has just been sent out as a biblical dove, has found nothing green, and slips back
into the darkness of the ark -- Kafka

Sunday, July 28, 2013

From Flaubert's Letters

A few excerpts (most from letters written to Louise Colet):

     What seems beautiful to me, what I should like to write, is a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would be held together by the internal strength of its style, just as the earth, suspended in the void, depends on nothing external for its support; a book which would have almost no subject, or at least in which the subject would be almost invisible, if such a thing is possible.


***


     Sometimes, when I am empty, when words don't come, when I find I haven't written a single sentence after scribbling whole pages, I collapse on my couch and lie there dazed, bogged in a swamp of despair, hating myself and blaming myself for this demented pride that makes me pant after a chimera. A quarter of an hour later, everything has changed; my heart is pounding with joy.


***


    . . . I envision a style: a style that would be beautiful, that someone will invent some day, ten years or ten centuries from now, one that would be rhythmic as verse, precise as the language of the sciences, undulant, deep-voiced as a cello, tipped with flame: a style that would pierce your idea like a dagger, and on which your thought would sail easily ahead over a smooth surface, like a skiff before a good tail wind. Prose was born yesterday: you have to keep that in mind. Verse is the form par excellence of ancient literature. All possible prosodic variations have been discovered; but that is far from being the case with prose.


***


      "To be known" is not my chief concern: that can give complete gratification only to very mediocre vanities. Besides, is there ever any certainty about this? Even the greatest fame leaves one longing for more, and seldom does anyone but a fool die sure of his reputation. Fame, therefore, can no more serve you as a gauge of your own worth than obscurity.


***


 But the dramatic form has that virtue -- of eliminating the author. Balzac was not free of this defect: he is legitimist, Catholic, aristocrat. An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere. Art being a second Nature, the creator of that Nature must behave similarly. In all its atoms, in all its aspects, let there be sensed a hidden, infinite impassivity. The effect for the spectator must be a kind of amazement.


***

     If you seek happiness and beauty at the same time, you will find neither the one nor the other, for the latter is attained only by sacrifice. Art, like the God of the Jews, feasts on holocausts.


***

     What seems to me the highest and most difficult achievement of Art is not to make us laugh or cry, nor to arouse our lust or rage, but to do what nature does -- that is, to set us dreaming.
 
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