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Posts Tagged ‘Gustave Flaubert’

Workshopping with Flaubert, and Other News

October 25, 2016 | by

  • Before the culture of the workshop emerged, with its blandishments and its “constructive criticism,” there was Flaubert, who really put himself out there: “Flaubert is often described as a writer’s writer; but students of creative writing should be warned that he is not a would-be writer’s writer. [Michel Winock’s new biography] gives a good sense of the unrelenting misery of composition: ‘grinding away at it, digging into it, turning it over and over, rummaging about in it.’ Flaubert was referring here, not to a whole book, but to a single sentence. Over four afternoons and evenings, his friends listened in silence while he recited his Temptation of Saint Anthony, which had taken three years to write, and then told him that it should either be completely rewritten or thrown on the fire. This is perhaps not what writers’ groups call ‘mutual support’, but it was an impressive act of kindness. The final version, published twenty-five years later, was much improved.” 

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Questions About Questionnaires

October 3, 2016 | by

All images from A Proust Questionnaire by Joanna Neborsky, TarcherPerigee, 2016.

Evan Kindley and Joanna Neborsky both happen to have new books dealing with questionnaires. Kindley’s Questionnaire, part of the Object Lessons series, charts the history of “the form as form” from its inception in the late nineteenth century to its current apotheosis in our data-crazy present. Neborsky’s A Proust Questionnaire, meanwhile, revives one of the earliest examples of quiz mania—the questionnaire filled out by a teenaged Marcel Proust in the 1880s—for a new generation of confessors.

Neborsky is an illustrator and animator who has contributed to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review Daily, and has illustrated books by Félix Fénéon and Daniil Kharms; Kindley is a writer and editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Both live in Los Angeles. Earlier this month the two corresponded about questionnaires, using the Proust Questionnaire’s famous prompts as a basic framework.



I’ve long wondered—since we met that one time, at that party, next to the pretzel mix in a dark office courtyard—what do you consider the lowest form of misery? And why did you write this book? Read More »

The Mind in Solitude: An Interview with Claire-Louise Bennett

July 18, 2016 | by

Photo © Conor Horgan

Strange things happen when you live alone. When youre no longer required to eat dinner at a particular time, or to close the bathroom door to shower, your relationship to the space around you changes. All of a sudden it is things, rather than other people, that seem to direct your thoughts.

In the most literal sense, the twenty stories that make up Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut, Pond, record a series of moments in the life of an English woman living alone on the west coast of Ireland. The woman eats fruit, tries to replace a broken dial on her Salton mini oven, and wonders if the cows in a nearby field believe she is Jesus. What makes the book unique is the voice in which those moments are described—unfolding in a bird-like language that feels closer to thought than public address.

These are not stories in the traditional sense—neither are they essays, monologues, prose poems, letters or diary entries—but a series of improvisations on each. “Pond is the way it is,” Claire-Louise told me recently when we chatted over email, “because of the way I am, more or less.” Most essentially, Pond is an account of the mind as it exists in solitude. It attempts to engage with the universe at its fullest and not just the little portion of it we identify as human. I began our conversation by asking Claire-Louise where she was writing to me from. 


I’m in an apartment. And since I pay the rent on it each month and have a key to its door and the codes for the two entrance gates it’s reasonable to say it’s my apartment. I don’t feel much for it though. It seems thin, insubstantial, and often when I sit at the table, to eat, and at the desk, to write, I have the sensation the furniture and me are going to fall right through the floor into the thin, insubstantial, flat beneath. It’s raining, of course it is, it’s always raining. My dapper striped deckchair is swollen stiff with rainwater and will probably never close now. I can’t think why I ever opened it here, on a balcony on the west coast of Ireland. Read More »

After My Struggle: An Interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard

December 15, 2015 | by

From the paperback edition of My Struggle, Book 2.

Readers in the U.S. await the fifth volume of My Struggle—but in Norway, Karl Ove Knausgaard has moved on. With the money from Struggle’s sales, he’s established his own publishing house, devoted to promoting new talent and translating books by writers like Ben Marcus and Donald Antrim into Norwegian. Since his announcement, in 2011, that he would stop writing, he’s gone to publish four books of essays, and this fall he launched a new series: his “four seasons” quartet, On Autumn, On Winter, On Spring, and (as you might have guessed) On Summer. Presented as a “lexicon for an unborn child” and dedicated to the youngest of his four children, the quartet comprises several hundred short texts about objects (boots, chewing gum, plastic bags) and concepts (love, sex, war).

I recently caught up with Knausgaard in Oslo, where we discussed his new books and how he’s moving past the success of My Struggle. 

You’ve described your new series as “personal encyclopedia of our close surroundings.”

It started as a completely private project. When we were expecting our daughter, I wanted to write something for her, a diary or letter, for her to read when she was older—about how things looked like around our home before she was born, what her family was like, our thoughts and habits. Around the same time I got an assignment from an American magazine to write a short text for each issue for a year. I ended up writing about ten things that made life worth living and ten things that made me want to shoot myself. The editor quit and the project was canceled before I turned it in, but in that brief form I’d found something that appealed to me. So I continued writing, about a new subject every day, and at some point the two projects merged. Read More »

Flaubert’s Past Lives

December 12, 2014 | by

Flaubert 1869)

A detail from an 1869 caricature of Flaubert.

From a letter Gustave Flaubert wrote to George Sand in October 1866:

I don’t experience, as you do, this feeling of a life which is beginning, the stupefaction of a newly commenced existence. It seems to me, on the contrary, that I have always lived! And I possess memories which go back to the Pharaohs. I see myself very clearly at different ages of history, practicing different professions and in many sorts of fortune. My present personality is the result of my lost personalities. I have been a boatman on the Nile, a leno in Rome at the time of the Punic wars, then a Greek rhetorician in Subura where I was devoured by insects. I died during the Crusade from having eaten too many grapes on the Syrian shores, I have been a pirate, monk, mountebank and coachman. Perhaps also even emperor of the East?

Many things would be explained if we could know our real genealogy. For, since the elements which make a man are limited, should not the same combinations reproduce themselves? Thus heredity is a just principle which has been badly applied …

Oh! You think that because I pass my life trying to make harmonious phrases, in avoiding assonances, that I too have not my little judgments on the things of this world? Alas! Yes! and moreover I shall burst, enraged at not expressing them.


Austenites Resplendent, and Other News

September 17, 2014 | by

Jane Austen festival 2014 - Regency costume world record

Photo: Jane Austen Festival

  • “Madame Bovary, c’est moi” is all well and good as a witty rejoinder—but in all honesty, which of the women in Flaubert’s life was the real Madame Bovary?
  • At a Jane Austen festival in Bath, 550 people claimed the world record for “the largest gathering of people dressed in Regency costume.”
  • On “reading insecurity,” the newest existential disease: “the subjective experience of thinking that you’re not getting as much from reading as you used to. It is setting aside an hour for that new book … and spending it instead on Facebook.”
  • Among Stephen King’s “most hated expressions”: many people, some people say, and YOLO. (I agree with the first two, but I’ll go to the mat for YOLO any day of the week.)
  • What’s it like to translate a compendium of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s sadistic fantasies? Haunting, but, you know, in a good way: “As translator, I am a filter for material: it travels through me. As such, there’s a residue, but it is difficult to qualify. At best, you might compare the book’s effect on me to its effect on any reader: certain images—many, in fact—remain in you, and surge forth unbidden, superimposing themselves in your mind’s eye on perfectly anodyne and serene scenes of everyday life.”