Monday, January 28, 2013

Doctor's Report on Madame Bovary by Avital Ronell

E. Bovary’s downfall was neither gradual nor unmotivated.  There was even a professor from Berkeley, California, who claims to have discovered the double source of her death drive: the two-chambered crypt built around the lost mother and brother of Emma Bovary. While we do not care to dispute this conclusion, neither are we inclined to take into consideration fanciful arguments construed by literature professors.  It is our task only to confirm that Ms. Bovary suffered incalculable damage as the result of her husband’s egregious admittance to the field of medicine  There is no doubt in our minds that Charles Bovary carried the stain of his father’s irresponsible professional engagement.

As Dr. Lacan has noted, every subject belongs to a circuit that transmits error and secrecy from one generation to the next. Like Faust before him, Charles Bovary was the beneficiary of a history of corruption in medical practice.  Our records show that his father Monsieur Charles-Denis-Bartholome Bovary had once been an assistant surgeon in the army.  He was “forced to leave the service in 1812 for corrupt practices with regard to conscription”(3). Charles Bovary, however, was no Faust.  He was filled to satisfaction with the knowledge he felt himself to have attained.  So ignorant was he that his wife, asking for the meaning of a word she had come across in one of her many novels, was obliged to realize that “this man taught nothing” (135).  In our estimation, and after lengthy deliberation, this complacency of the mediocre in itself may have sufficed to charge him with willfully introducing the destruction of his legal companion.

Faced with the  beance of a non-teaching, a full blockage in the transmission of knowledge, a distension of transferential activity upon which all healthy contact is founded, Ms. Bovary had nowhere to turn.  It is clear to us that she was an exceptionally talented woman who experienced difficulty, due primary identificatory processes, in distinguishing between the Innen and Aussenwelt (Dr. Freud).  We dispute recent reports of her regression to oral cannibalistic libido while it is evident to us that she sought the phallus in the desire of the Other. However, the Other had the indecency of disappearing, which led Ms. B. to endless attempts at restoring it to the function of an object of imaginary incorporation.

Ms. B.’s  psyche was disposed to drug dependency at an early age.  It was made clear to her from the start, however, that she would have to wait until the next century in order to properly shoot up.  The crucial catastrophe that led her to assume a full posture of substance dependency occurred when Gustave Flaubert laced the novel with a fatal autobiographical injection.  Mr. Flaubert was not himself in control of the substance he administered; however, it dealt the fatal blow to Emma B.  Discharging his poison upon her, Mr. Flaubert was henceforth free to indulge in hallucinatory trances that he habitually termed “writing.”  It might be added, for the sake of scientific objectivity, that Flaubert frequented notoriously dubious characters: a Baudelaire, a Gautier, and not the least of all, his own mistress, a woman whose loose and reprobate character, a poet, and at one time the lover of the philosopher and statesman Victor Cousin.  Her child, Henrietta, was not fathered by her legal husband.  Additionally, we have noted Mr. Flaubert’s addictive intimacies with Alfred Le Poittevin, whom he incorporated, and subsequently with Louis Bouilhet who virtually dictated the particulars of Flaubert’s oeuvre.

It was the moment when Mr. Flaubert was performing in the novel a double oedipal bypass that all Ms. B.’s hopes were dashed. The operation was a complete success for Mr. Flaubert;  it destroyed the heroine definitively.  As the result of the absolute infighting of medicine and pharmacy, when everything was staked on the resurrection of a third leg, the heroine was made to enter a strategic zone that declared her loser.

We owe thanks here to professor Harry Levin, formerly of Harvard University, for signaling “the parallel lives of the author and the heroine daily, weekly, monthly, yearly”.  .  . Flaubert’s dependency upon his brother at the moment he develops toxicological theories (narcissistic self-hallucination induced by over-reading) will prove fatal .  .  .

The entire scene originates in a scheme concocted by the neighboring apothecary, Mr. Homalis.  Exposed as the drama of the signifier par excellence, the critical operation comes down to a young man’s clubfoot. The oedipal showdown commences with the instigating utterance, offered by the apothecary, “Are you a man or not? (151) Equally obnoxious was the provocation, “After all, what’s there to lose?” (150)  Indeed, the answer to the second question obtains in the stakes mounted by the first question.  All the loose ends, the bruises and errors converge in the place of a botched operation. This was Emma B.’s  last chance for scoring on sublimation, displacement, and pride,.  Ever looking “to have something more solid than love to lean on” (150), Emma is willing to invest the future of her husband’s career psychically.  But the future for Emma arrives as a modified form of the concealed past. The crypt formation, concretized and exteriorized, is prepared on the model of “a kind of box weighing about eight pounds’ (151) that was fitted to the leg of a young man, a certain Hippolyte.  The crypt-effect attending the operation is intensified further by the materiality of the bandages, “a whole pyramid of bandages – the apothecary’s entire stock “(152). The intense cooperation of medicine, crypt, and pharmacy held out the last hope, it was meant to give Emma something more solid than love to lean on.  .  .

It was quite an event in the village, that leg amputation.(157)

Against the pain of this impossible operation the mind begins to alter. Charles, for his part, goes quickly. The drunk arises as a defense against medicine. “Charles looked at her with the clouded eyes of a drunken man as he listened to the amputee’s last screams; they came in a succession of long, varied tones  interspersed with short, fitful shrieks, like the howling of some animal being slaughtered far away” (160).

In sum, our commission has found the operating theater to generate the exciting cause, the event of no return for Emma B. Where Flaubert has thought to exorcise his private Achilles’ phantoms, he has in truth reinserted the call of the phantom in the house of Bovary.  Henceforth she would be reincorporating the loosened Other according to the exigencies of “intoxication.” Faced with the event of no return [her husband’s professional reputation ruined], her mind is about to alter according to the semantic bifurcation that adultery convenes.  Emma B. turns to painkillers. Flaubert’s interjections are precise and to the point:

Her dreams fallen into the mud like wounded swallows .  .  . Collapsing under the furious onslaughts of her pride. She reveled in all the malicious ironies  of triumphant adultery. The memory of her lover came back to her with intoxicating charm .  .  .  and Charles seemed detached from her life, as permanently departed, as impossible and annihilated as though he were on the point of death, gasping his last before her eyes. (159-60)

The wound precedes everything; or, at least the theater of impossible operations stages the turn towards the external supplement. Emma B. buys the prosthesis for Hippolyte, ending the drama of the oedipal operation with a wooden leg. From this point onward she became a supplier and user of the artificial prosthesis.

Emma B. continued limply to live on, soon discovering the rush of capital from the local junkie, Mlheureux: “Emma abandoned herself to this easy way of satisfying all her whims” (163). She ‘remained under the influence of a kind of idiotic infatuation .  .  .  a blissful torpor; and her soul, sinking into that intoxication, shriveled and drowned like the Duke of Clarence in his butt of malmsey.”  Her everyday behavior changed; she even had the audacity to talk with Rodolphe in public with a cigarette in her mouth.” (165)

For his part, “Charles had not followed [his mother’s] advice about forbidding Emma to read novels’ (166) She goes into convulsions because of an apricot basket.

NURSE’S REPORT: Somehow they had stopped feeding her. Each time,  their departure seemed sudden. Demanding satisfaction from her life was her big mistake. “Na├»ve”, as Mr. Flaubert would say, and temporarily misleading. We’d known this disposition since Faust and all the megarock stars beginning with Goethe. There was nothing that would intervene to institute distance or superego; the law of the father was out of working order, which is why she could not abide deferral or denial.  In a way, she took the route of every belle ame in the ward.  Living the fusional desire, she was exposed to the toxic maternal, en route to dust and dissolution.  But where the belle ame strengthens on the ineffable, transcending even the rude materiality of books, Emma B. madly demanded that the ineffable satisfy her, that it go to the encounter with life.

Crack Wars; Literature Addiction Mania by Avital Ronell, University of Illinois Press, 2004

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Wedding by Gustave Flaubert

The guests arrived early in their vehicles: one-horse carts, two-wheeled charabancs, old cabriolets lacking hoods, and delivery vans with leather curtains.  The young people from the nearest villages came in wagons in which they were standing in rows, holding on to the rails to keep from falling, moving at a trot and jolted about. They came from twenty-five miles off, from Goderville, Normanville, and Cany.  All the relatives from each side had been invited; they made up with estranged friends; they had written to long-lost acquaintances.

From time to time whiplashes could be heard from behind the hedge. Soon the gate would open and a cart would come in.  Galloping up to the foot of the steps, it would stop short and pour out its passengers, who would exit from each side rubbing their knees and stretching their arms.  The ladies, in bonnets, wore city-style dresses, gold watch chain capes with the ends tucked into their belts, or small colored scarves attached in back with a pin and revealing the napes of their necks.  The boys, dressed like their fathers, seemed uncomfortable in their new suits (many of them were wearing boots for the first time in their lives). At their sides you could see, not breathing a word, in the white dress of her first communion, some cousin or older sister, ruddy faced, bewildered, hair greases with rose pomade, and terribly frightened of soiling her gloves.

Since there weren’t enough stableboys to unhitch all the horses, the gentlemen rolled up their sleeves and attended to it themselves.  They wore, according to their social position, suits, frock coats, jackets, or waistcoats: good suits, which received all the care of the family and left the closet only for solemn occasions; frock coats with large tails floating in the wind, cylindrical collars, and pockets as big as sacks; jackets of coarse cloth, usually worn with caps that had copper rims on their visors; very short waistcoats, with two buttons in the back as close together as eyes and tails that looked as if they were carved from one piece of wood by a carpenter’s ax.  Still others (but these people, obviously, would eating at the lower end of the table) wore holiday blouses, with collars turned down over the shoulders, backs gathered in tiny pleats, and a very low waistline marked with a sewn-on belt.

And the shirts bulged over the chests like breastplates.  Everyone was freshly shorn, ears sticking out of heads. All were close shaven; some, having risen before dawn, and not seeing clearly how to shave, had diagonal gashes under their noses or, along the jaws, skinned-off areas the size of three-franc pieces, which had been inflamed by the open air on the way and which, with their pink patches, gave a marbled effect to all those fat, white, shiny faces.

The mayor’s chambers being a mile or so from the farm, they went there on foot and came back the same way after the ceremony at the church. The procession, at first holding together like a colored scarf waving in the countryside, all along the narrow path winding through the fields of unripe corn, soon grew longer and separated into different groups, many lagging behind to chat.  The fiddler led the way with his violin decorated with ribbon rosettes; the bride and the groom followed, then relatives and friends in no special order, and the children stayed in the rear, enjoying themselves by plucking the ears of young oat shoots of by playing games and hiding.  Emma’s dress, too long, was dragging a little at the bottom; she would stop once in a while to pick it up, and then, delicately, with her gloved fingers, she would pull off the blades of grass and thistle burrs while Charles would wait with empty hands until she had finished.

Old Rouault, a new silk hat on his head and the cuffs of his black suit covering his hands up to his fingernails, offered his arm to Madame Bovary senior. As for Monsieur Bovary senior, feeling contempt for all these people, he had come dressed simply in a single-breasted frock coat of a military cut and was telling off-color jokes to a fair-haired young farm girl.  She curtseyed and blushed and didn’t know what to answer.  The other wedding guests talked about business matters or played little pranks on one another, anticipating the gaiety in advance. By listening carefully one could still hear the fiddler scraping away as he continued to play along the road. When he noticed that they were far behind him, he stopped to catch his breath, waxed his bow thoroughly with resin so that the strings would respond better, and then began to walk again, raising and lowering the neck of his fiddle in order to keep good time for himself.  The noise of the instrument frightened the little birds away.

The table was set in the cart shed. On it there were four sirloins, six chicken fricassees, some stewed veal, three legs of lamb, and, in the middle, a fine roast suckling pig, flanked by four pork sausages and cooked with sorrel. In the corners there were decanters filled with brandy.  The bottled sweet cider was frothing thickly around the corks, and all the glasses had already been filled to the brim with wine.  Huge platters of yellow custard that quivered at the slightest movement of the table had the initials of the new couple traced on their smooth surface in arabesques of sugared almonds.

They had gone to Yvetot to find a baker for the pastry and the nougats. As he was a newcomer to the area, he had taken special pains; and he brought for desert with his own hands a layered cake that elicited loud  hurrahs. The base was a square of blue cardboard representing a temple with porticos and colonnades, and there were stucco statuettes all around it in niches papered with gilded stars. Then, on the second tier there was a turret of Savoy cake, surrounded by tiny fortifications in angelica, almonds, raisins, and orange segments; and finally, on the top layer, which was a green meadow on which there were rocks with candied lakes and boats of hazelnut shells, you could see a small Cupid, poised on a chocolate swing whose two posts ended in two real rosebuds, representing finials, at the summit.

They ate until evening. When they grew tired of sitting, they went for walks in the yard or played a game of quoits in the barn, then came back to the table. Toward the end, a few fell asleep and snored.  But everyone revived during coffee; the sang, performed feats of strength, lifted weights, played a game called “went under your thumbs,” tried to lift carts on their shoulders, made coarse jokes, kissed the women.  The horses, gorged to the nostrils with oats, could barely be squeezed into their shafts when it was time to leave late in the evening; they kicked and reared and broke their harnesses, while their masters swore or laughed; and all night long in the moonlight there were runaway carriages galloping along the roads, plunging into ditches, jolting over tall piles of stones, and bumping into the embankments, with women leaning out of the doors to grasp the reins.

Those who remained at Les Bertaux spent the night drinking in the kitchen.  The children had fallen asleep under the benches.

The bride begged her father to be spared the customary wedding-night jokes.  Nevertheless, a fishmonger cousin of theirs (the same who had brought a pair of soles as a wedding gift) was about to spit water through the keyhole when old Rouault arrived just in time to stop him, and explained to him that his son-in-law’s dignified position did not permit such impertinences.  The cousin gave in only reluctantly to these arguments.  Inwardly he accused Rouault of being conceited, and we went to join in a corner four or five other guests who, having by chance received the end cuts of meat several times in a row while at the table, had also decided that they had been badly treated and were whispering guardedly against their host and wishing him evil.

Madame Bovary senior had not unclenched her teeth all day long.  She had not been consulted about her daughter-in-law’s dress, nor about the wedding arrangements. She went to bed early.  Her husband, instead of following her, sent off to Saint-Victor for some cigars and smoked until daybreak, all the while drinking grogs of kirsch, a mixture unknown to the company, which raised him even higher in their esteem.

Charles was humorless; he did not shine during the evening. He replied stolidly to the witty remarks, puns, double entendre jokes, compliments, and broad remarks that they seemed to feel called upon to direct at him from the soup coarse on.

The next day, however, he seemed to be a new man.  It was he who could have been taken for the virgin of the night before, rather than the bride, whose self-control gave no opportunity for conjecture.  Even the most daring jokesters were silenced, and they looked at her with bewilderment when she passed near them.

But Charles hid nothing.  He called her “my wife,” spoke to her in familiar terms, asked everyone where she was, sought her everywhere, and frequently drew her into the yard, where he could be seen from afar, between the trees, putting his arm around her waist, leaning towards her as e walked, and burying his face in the tucker of her bodice.  .  .

Madame Bovary

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Christoper Hitchens by Carol Blue

Death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are able to see anything.*

Onstage, my husband was an impossible act to follow.

If you ever saw him at the podium, you may not share Richard Dawkin’s assessment that “he was the greatest orator of our time,” but you will know what I mean – or at least you won’t think, She would say that, she’s his wife.

Offstage, my husband was an impossible act to follow.

At home at one of the raucous, joyous, impromptu eight-hour dinners we often found ourselves hosting, where the table was so crammed with ambassadors, hacks, political dissidents, college students, and children that elbows were colliding and it was hard to find the space to put down a glass of wine, my husband would rise to give a toast that could go on for a stirring, spellbinding, hysterically funny twenty minutes of poetry and limerick reciting, a call to arms for a cause, and jokes.  “how good it is to be us,” he would say in his perfect voice.

The new world for us began on the sort of early summer evening in New York when all you can think about is living. It was June 8, 2010, to be exact, the first day of his American book tour. I ran as fast as I could down East 93rd Street, suffused with joy and excitement at the sight of him in his white suit. He was dazzling.  He was also dying, though we didn’t know it yet. And we wouldn’t know it for certain until the day of his death. . . Only he and I knew knew he might have cancer. We embraced in a shadow that only we saw and chose to defy.  We were euphoric.  He lifted me up and we laughed.

We went into the theatre, where he conquered yet another audience.  We managed to get through a jubilant dinner in his honor and set on on a stroll back to our hotel through the perfect Manhattan night, walking more than fifty blocks.  Everything was as it should be, except that it wasn’t.  We were living in two worlds.  The old one, which never seemed more beautiful, had not yet vanished; and the new one, about which we knew little except to fear it, had not yet arrived.

The new world lasted nineteen months. During this time of what he called “living dyingly”, he insisted ferociously on living, and his constitution, physical and philosophical, did all it could to stay alive.

Christopher was aiming to be among the 5 to 20 percent of those who could be cured.  Without ever deceiving himself about his medical condition, and without ever allowing me to entertain illusions about his prospects for survival, he responded to every bit of clinical and statistical good news with radical, childlike hope.  His will to keep his existence intact, to remain engaged with his preternatural intensity, was spectacular.

 Christopher’s charisma never left him, not in any realm: not in public, not in private, not even in the hospital.  He made a party of it, transforming the sterile, chilly, neon-lighted, humming and beeping and blinking room into a study and a salon. His artful conversation never ceased.

The constant interruptions: The poking and prodding, the sample taking, the breathing treatments, the IV bags being changed – nothing kept him from holding court, making a point or an argument or hitting a punchline for his “guests.”  He listened and drew us out, and had us all laughing.  He was always asking for and commenting on another newspaper, another magazine, another novel, another review copy. We stood around his bed and reclined on plastic upholstered chairs as he made us into participants in his Socratic discourses.

When he was admitted to the hospital for the last time, we thought it would be for a brief stay. He thought -we all thought-  he’d have the chance to write the longer book that was forming in his mind.  His intellectual curiosity was sparked by genomics and the cutting-edge proton radiation treatments he underwent, and he was encouraged by the prospect that his case could contribute to future medical breakthroughs.  He told an editor friend waiting for an article, “Sorry for the delay, I’ll be back home soon.”  He told me he couldn’t wait to catch up on all the movies he had missed and to see the King Tut exhibition in Houston, our temporary residence.

The end was unexpected.

I miss his perfect voice. I miss the first happy trills when he woke; the low octaves of “his morning voice” as he read me snippets from the newspaper that outraged or amused him; the delighted and irritated (mostly irritated) registers as I interrupted him while he read; the jazz-tone riffs of him “talking down the line” to a radio station from the kitchen phone as he cooked lunch, his chirping, high-note greeting when our daughter came home from school; and his last soothing, pianissimo chatterings on retiring late at night.

I miss his writer’s voice, his voice on the page. I miss the unpublished Hitch also: the countless notes he left for me in the entryway, on my pillow, the emails he would send while we sat in different rooms and the emails he sent when he was on the road. And I miss his innumerable letters, postcards, faxes and instant dispatches from some dicey spot on another continent.

His last words of the unfinished fragmentary jottings at the end of this little book may seem, to trail off, but in fact they were written on his computer in bursts of energy and enthusiasm as he sat in the hospital using his food tray for a desk.

Back home in Washington, I pull books off the shelves, out of the book towers on the floor, off the stacks of volumes on tables.  Inside the back covers are notes written in his hand that he took for reviews and for himself. Piles of his papers and notes lie on surfaces all around the apartment. At any time I can peruse our library or his notes and rediscover and recover him.

When I do, I hear him, and he has the last word.  Time after time, Christopher has the last word.

*Saul Bellow

Friday, January 4, 2013

Corruption and Indiscipline by Chinua Achebe

Corruption in Nigeria has grown because it is highly encouraged. In The Trouble with Nigeria I suggest, “Nigerians are corrupt because the system they live under today makes corruption easy and profitable.  They will cease to be corrupt when corruption is made difficult and unattractive.” Twenty-eight years after that slim book was published, I can state categorically that the problem of corruption and indiscipline is probably worse today than it’s ever been, because of the massive way in which the Nigerian leadership is using the nation’s wealth to corrupt, really to destroy, the country, so no improvement or change can happen.  Recently, out of despair, I stated, “Corruption in Nigeria has passed the alarming and entered the fatal stage, and Nigeria will die if we continue to pretend that she is only slightly indisposed.”

The World Bank recently released numbers indicating that about $400 billion has been pilfered from Nigeria’s treasury since independence.  One needs to stop for a moment to wrap one’s mind around that incredible figure.  This amount - $400 billion – is approximately the gross domestic products of Norway and Sweden.  In other words, Nigeria’s corrupt ruling class stolen the equivalent of the entire economy of a European country in four decades! This theft of national funds is one of the factors essentially making it impossible for Nigeria to succeed. Nigerians alone are not responsible. We all know that this corrupt cabal of Nigerians in power has friends abroad who not only help it move the billions abroad and help them hide the money, but also shield the perpetrators from prosecution! (3)

[ There is no attribution for this concluding statement, as indicated by the (3) footnote in the Notes section of the book. Nor do footnotes 1 and 2 appear in this section of the text titled “Corruption and Indiscipline’. Perhaps he was simply quoting from his earlier book in all three cases.  He could also be referring to reports  by the OECD or perhaps Poisoned Wells; The Dirty Politics of African Oil  by Nicholas Shaxson; [associate fellow with the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London];Palgrave MacMillan, N.Y. 2007]