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. “Naïve”, 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

1 comment:

  1. 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. . . when everything was staked on the resurrection of a third leg, the heroine was made to enter a strategic zone that declared her loser.