Flaubert and Cinema

He sauntered idly up the Latin quarter, usually bustling with life but now deserted, for the students had all gone home. The great walls of the colleges looked grimmer than ever, as if the silence had made them longer; all sorts of peaceful sounds could be heard, the fluttering of wings in bird cages, the whirring of a lathe, a cobbler’s hammer; and the old-clothes men, in the middle of the street, looking hopefully but in vain at every window. At the back of the deserted cafés, women behind the bars yawned between their untouched bottles; the newspapers lay unopened on the reading-room tables; in the laundresses’ workshops the washing quivered in the warm draughts. Every now and then he stopped at a bookseller’s stall; an omnibus, coming down the street and grazing the pavement, made him turn round; and when he reached the Luxembourg, he retraced his steps.

[Flaubert, Sentimental Education]

James Wood: “Flaubert seems to scan the streets indifferently, like a camera. Just as when we watch a film we no longer notice what has been excluded, what is just outside the edges of the camera-frame, so we no longer notice what Flaubert choose not to notice. And we no longer notice that what he has selected is not of course casually scanned but quite savagely chosen, that each detail is almost frozen in its gel of chosenness.” (33)

The camera is supplemented by the montage – the other half of cinema.

Wood: “[t]he reason that we don’t, at first, notice how carefully Flaubert is selecting his details, is because Flaubert is working very hard to obscure this labour from us, and is keen to hide the question of who is doing all this noticing.” (34)

The agency behind the montage is submerged beneath the flow of the images. “[Flaubert] wanted the reader to be faced with what he called a smooth wall of apparently impersonal prose, the details simply amassing themselves like life.” (ibid)

Flaubert: “An author in his work must like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere…Art being a second nature, the creator of that nature must operate with analogous procedures: let there be felt in every atom, every aspect, a hidden, infinite impassivity.” (ibid)

Wood: “[t]he reason that we don’t, at first, notice how carefully Flaubert is selecting his details, is because Flaubert is working very hard to obscure this labour from us, and is keen to hide the question of who is doing all this noticing.” (34)

Flaubert perfected a technique.”

In the laundresses’ workshops the washing quivered in the warm draughts.” There is a rhythmic and musical quality contained in the sounds of the words themselves. This sonic aspect belies Wood’s point that Flaubert’s style was founded “on his use of the eye – the authorial eye, and the character’s eye.” (39)

It was equally founded on the use of his ear.

Musical structure refers only to one kind of sound. Beyond and beneath it, a more general sonic aspect haunts.

We may not notice the excluded, but the excluded notices us. The dimension of that which is outside the frame makes an impression despite our curations. In particular, it does so through the channels of the other senses, such as sound.

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