Flaubert, in despair at the Franco-Prussian war, and trying to maintain the primacy of art, commented that in the long run, perhaps the only function of such carnage was to provide writers with a few fine scenes. So here, the function of the octogenarian Breton woman who hangs herself, or the 75-year-old man who dies of a stroke on the bowling lawn (‘While his ball was still rolling he was no more’), or the 70-year-old who drops dead of sunstroke (‘Quickly his dog Fido ate his head’) is to provide a sophisticated Parisian with a witty paragraph. As an aesthete-anarchist, Fénéon had always cultivated a detached gaiety of tone: a bomb became a ‘delightful kettle’ and the manner in which it killed six people showed ‘intimate charm’ (we are not far from Henze’s quickly retracted description of the World Trade Center attacks as ‘the greatest artwork ever made’). So with the Nouvelles: are they a Modernist’s evocation of a harsh and absurd world, a subtle continuation of propaganda by word; or are they simply a classier expression of the press’s traditional heartless sensationalism? Though they could, of course, be both.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
The ham reigns supreme
Julian Barnes at the LRB on Luc Sante's translation of Feneon's Nouvelles en trois lignes: