We live in the strange world that Flaubert envisioned

Do we all hold a living version of Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary”?

The January 3 assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was followed by a stream of protest stories.

Did Soleimani Plan to Attack the Americans? What about Vice President Mike Pence’s false statement about Soleimani’s involvement in 9/11? Or the plan to withdraw the troops, as the message sent to the Iraqi government was intended?

Is Trump just trying to influence his impeachment trial? Attacking is a knee-jerk decision a critic? Or is it an appropriate response after months of Iranian provocation?

They are Democrats mourning the death of Soleimani? Or are they responsible for the attack?

Each explosion of accusations and justices has produced a lot of public responses, expert opinions and attempts to correct a story full of conflicts and absurdities.

Many people feel anxious and depressed. But fans of the French story already knew it in the 19th century.

In a book in 1852, the French writer Gustave Flaubert said, “When we write the truth from the point of view of a cosmic image, which is where the God to you?”

He answered his own question in his 1857 novel, “Madame Bovary,” which he published during the reign of Napoleon III – the French president whose autocratic ideals were aided by a misguided and warring political parties.

When the meaning of the word is lost

As I wrote before, “Madame Bovary” trades in indifference, or, as Leo Bersani says, the “arbitrary, insignificant, inexpressive nature of language.”

The main character, Emma Bovary, devoured love stories and was humbled by a provincial life that proved to be fragile. His search for happiness and escapism leads to sexual disasters and financial disaster.

That’s a common idea, but what makes “Madame Bovary” different is its insistence on the unreliability of stories, words, descriptions and characters. All the characters, from callow manipulators to well-meaning dullards, are mired in cliché. Emma and her future lover, Léon, share that they love sunsets on the beach, even though they haven’t been to the beach. Homais medicine teaches others to be considerate, but no one listens, and he himself is indifferent; The story ended with him receiving the cross of the Legion of Honor. Léon tells Emma that he wants to be buried in the bed he gave her, although the narrator reveals that this is a lie.

Not everything in the book is a lie; Some words are important because of what they mean. The problem is that the message has lost its meaning due to the combination of fact, repetition and explosion. In a famous scene in an agricultural advertisement, the townspeople hang on to every word of the speech about vegetables: “Here we are in the vine, we are in the apple cider, and above it is cheese, and flax!”

When the fireworks were planned for the event’s finale, the press reported that they went off without a hitch, describing them as “a veritable kaleidoscope, a veritable stage set for an opera.” .” No one cares about the explanation.

The final puzzle of Flaubert’s cosmic comedy is that the narrator himself is a master of subtle confusion. He begins the story in the first person, positioning himself as a schoolmate of Emma’s husband,​​​​​​​​​before quickly switching to the third person. Some of his stories are honest and unsparing. Others are very confusing. The descriptions of a boy’s hat, a wedding cake and a medicine are so detailed – and yet so complex – that readers can’t imagine what they are.

“I want to convey a feeling of weariness and ennui,” Flaubert later wrote in plans for a future literary project, “that my readers would feel could be written by just a cretin.”

France in political turmoil

Flaubert did not write “Madame Bovary” on a whim. When he started the novel in 1851, President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected in a coup d’état that changed him from president to emperor.

Bonaparte gave his followers strict conditions, reminding the soldiers of their oath of “obedience” and of parliamentary and local rebellions.

Portrait of Napoleon III.
Napoleon Museum

About 10,000 political opponents were transferred to penal colonies. Victor Hugo, a staunch opponent of the coup, fled to Brussels, while Alexis de Tocqueville withdrew from political life to avoid joining the government.

French citizens found themselves confused and embarrassed. The historian and politician Eugène Ténot, writing a history of the coup d’état in 1868, warned readers that “no authentic account of that event has been published in France .” He also said that “history written in troubled times is always filled with superstition, exaggeration, injustice, and bad faith.”

In an open letter published in December 1851, Bonaparte announced the dissolution of the National Assembly, which he called the “heat of revolutions.” In January 1852, he established a new constitution, while accusing the “démagogues” of spreading “fausses nouvelles” (“fake news”). In December 1852, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte became Napoléon III. The Second French Empire began.

Described as “the first modern dictator” and “one of the first modern leaders to rule by publicity,” Bonaparte went from being France’s first elected president to its last monarch. . The Second Emperor lasted until the 1870s, when the emperor, seeing his popularity waning, declared war on Prussia – and lost.

Voices today

France’s political turmoil, false wars, opposition and public confusion left a deep impression on Flaubert.

Americans today can empathize with his characters, who live in an endless vortex of repetition, insincerity and ignorance.

Recent technological advances are partly to blame.

In the last decade, a lot of research has come out about media oversaturation, the amount of information and the amount of digital images – and what this does to the brain. Stimulation and constant distractions lead to memory impairment, confusion and problems with treatment.

These conditions are ripe for political warfare.

In his 2014 book “The Contradictions of Media Power,” Media Studies Professor Das Freedman wrote that, in times of political complexity, “current stories are in trouble and people are looking for new perspectives.” Information wars and fake news are common in times of political upheaval.

In many ways, we are living in an extreme version of the universal comedy that Flaubert envisioned.

The constant stream of tiresome lies, baseless clichés and senselessness has embarrassed Americans as much as it embarrassed Emma Bovary. Lieuvain’s sarcastic and sarcastic remarks at the farm restaurant have modern parallels — think of Trump’s meandering rally speeches, or his complaints about sewer drains and windmill cancer. Devin Nunes is now accusing the Republican Congress of a fake cow for defamation, while the supporters of the president praised the message as a war on “Thanksgiving.”

With the killing of Soleimani, disregard for truth and truth — and examples of Madame Bovary-esque word salad — remain as prevalent as ever. Mike Pence’s comments about Soleimani’s involvement in 9/11 are similar to Emma’s view of the Roman ruins of a forest of tigers, camels, swans, sultans and British women.

The flow of narrative confusion continues unabated. Only time will tell if Iran will become the Prussia of 21st-century America.

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