I have started reading The William H Gass reader. Right out of the gate I found myself deeply enjoying it. One of the first essays is on books which were touchstones for his life as an author. Early on he makes a point of drawing a distinction, it is not supposed to be a “best books” list but rather ones which resonated personally for him and which served in his journey into becoming an author.
He mentions Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet. Of the trinity of Flaubert, Balzac and Zola I had always held him in the least esteem (with Zola being, in general, one of my favorite authors). Right before returning to France a few years ago I read the excellent bio on Cezanne by Alex Danchev. Cezanne talks so passionately about Flaubert, i felt the stirrings of considering giving him another try.
That season I kept meeting Helene and Charlie for drinks and book talk. Her admiration of the trio was the inverse of mine. Her description has stuck with me:
“With Balzac, it was all money, money, money if only I had the money. With Zola it was sex, i need power to get sex, I use sex to get money to get power to have sex. But Flaubert, there is an author, the sentences each meticulously crafted.”
I decided to give Flaubert another try. I went to Gagliani and bought Sentimental Education and Bouvard et Pécuchet. I read Sentimental first. It was good, i definitely had more appreciation for Flaubert than I used to. It was Bouvard though which sealed the deal for me. I found the book darkly funny in the way early Celine had been.
What is interesting to me is that when this book is discussed it’s merits are often described via a shorthand of being “funny” ala wacky Swiftian satire. I think people perceive it this way because it and Sentimental Education form perfect bookends. The later is more outwardly “dark”. I like it, but really it is just a romantic era story of squandered potential and the dried up promises of bygone youth. And, of course, the usual chess like romantic patterns of the main characters. Bouvard is actually a darker novel.
Gass has very much same assessment. His articulation spot on and obvious, but not until you have heard him say it.
I would never argue interpretation with someone on art unless they were 100% wrong. With my own work, unlike when I was first starting out, I rarely talk about it. Fascinating though that art can have completely differing interpretations. Is one person wrong or are they merely noticing and emphasizing in talking of it, a different aspect than someone else?
The pandemic has effected people in drastically different ways. I am not talking about how they directly handle it i.e wearing a mask, not wearing a mask et al. Rather, the sea-change that has come over people in regards to their personal philosophy. For some it served as grim reminder that life is fleeting so live while you can. For others, it has served to bring on a sort of cautious vigilance less something else unexpected further swat us down.
A type of cabin fever-life is too short bubbles up in many and temporarily dictates their actions. I find myself getting notes, photos, movies which when looking at, I keep this in mind.
One of the photos which I recently received had an interesting compositional point of balance. I decided to make a painting of it. As i worked on it, I found people all had different interpretations on it. “Hot” “Silly” “Weird” “Beautiful”. Like Bouvard, it has a little bit of everything in it. The main overriding intent is not for me to say as why would I want to make anyone wrong and temper their enjoyment.
“In the Car” 9×12 watercolor & paper