#WritersWednesday: Blank Page, a reflection on Gustave #Flaubert

Albert CamusI read that Gustave Flaubert thought the “Communeux” – the revolutionaries who fought the losing battle of the Paris Commune in 1871, and got massacred – had wanted to “return to the Middle Ages”. Yet he was a discerning writer and observer of the French society…

This prompted some musing on the role of writers in our troubled times. But then, when was a time of real peace? The page stays blank, for if there is a lot to say, it would be pointless to write. This is what Flaubert avoided: he scored on impersonality, a detachment from associating himself with his characters, let alone exercising judgement on their actions or circumstances. He wrote that he was bored when writing Madame Bovary, so remote was he from his “ordinary” subject. His carthagenese rump – Salammbo – a story of a slave revolt against the ruler of Carthage (the super-power of the time), was high in colour, rich in gore, and outraged the bourgeois commentators of the mainstream press. Later his “Education Sentimentale” stripped the hypocrisy of the 2nd Empire’s society bare, all a few years before the catastrophe of 1870.

Maybe it takes a national defeat to reveal the true nature of contemporary literature: Remarque, Proust (who thought Germany’d have won the war), the French existentialists, the great Japanese novelists of the 50’s…

Image: Albert Camus laughing, from “Philosophers’ quotes & photos

1 Comment

  1. Possibly. Defeat can be internalized and regurgitated for later use, I suppose. I rather think it is not the defeat itself, nor the commentary upon it, that stimulates these flourishes of creativity, but rather the deprivation defeat brings – the need to bite back through the written word. And since every artist needs an audience, ears with a common thought and a common cause are easily tuned to receive a message. Your article leads me to think of the rash of new writing that sprang out of post-war Britain in the 1950s (again that delay in reaction, which is interesting in itself) Wesker, Pinter, Braine, and co. wrote the script for ‘The Swinging Sixties’. Fascinating!

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