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3 The Flâneur: The City and Its Discontents
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L'errance que multiplie et rassemble la ville en fait une immense experience sociale de la privation de lieu.
Michel de Certeau, L'Invention du quotidien

The moving about that the city multiplies and concentrates makes the city itself an immense social experience of lacking a place.

In this period of almost incalculable change for the country and for its capital, the novel came of age and sociology was born. More than coincidence connects the two. From Balzac, Auguste Comte, and Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s and 1840s through Flaubert and Marx from the 1850s through the 1870s to Émile Zola, Maurice Barrès, and Émile Durkheim in the 1880s and 1890s, to take only the most obvious candidates, the literary and the sociological imagination worked with shared perceptions and concerns as they confronted a society that resisted conventional modes of representation. If Flaubert strikes a discordant note within this sociological tradition, it is because he has, in a very decisive sense, been taken at his word. Obdurate aestheticism and adamantly apolitical politics have obscured the profound sense of a century out of joint that Flaubert shares with writers like Balzac and Zola, who made a point of articulating the sociological relevance of their work.

Like the sociologist, Flaubert consistently frames the individual in terms of the collective. Despite the singular connotations of the subtitle of L Education sentimentale—Story of a Young Man—Flaubert specified that the novel had greater ambitions. It was a "novel of modern mores." More specifically, his announced goal was to write the "moral history" of an entire generation—his own—and to analyze the historical conditions responsible for its lack of accomplishment. This novel, he noted, was to be a story of love and of passion, but "passion as it can exist today, that is, inactive" (letter to Mlle Leroyer de Chantepie, 6 October 1864). For Flaubert as for Balzac, as for any sociologist, the most intimate of emotions is also and at the same time the most social. Flaubert's first book shows a similar split between the individual focus of the title, Madame Bovary, and the social milieu of the subtitle, Moeurs de province.

What secures Flaubert's place on the sociological agenda of the nineteenth century is his evident preoccupation with the deteriora-


tion of contemporary society. Emma Bovary and Frédéric Moreau do not reflect the sorry state of nineteenth-century France, they are themselves agents of that decline. Flaubert's indictment in 1857 for "outrage to public morality" in Madame Bovary offers clear testimony to the relevance of a sociological reading of the novel. The author may have inhabited an ivory tower; his readers most assuredly did not. They saw and insisted upon precisely that which Flaubert shrouded in his aesthetic pronouncements, namely, the forceful social subtext of his work.

This subtext places Flaubert's novels, and L 'Éducation sentimentale in particular, not only between the works of Balzac and Zola, where they have long had a place, but also between those of Karl Marx and Émile Durkheim. Although Marx and Durkheim are more often set in opposition than in tandem, the Marxian category of alienation offers more than one parallel with Durkheimian anomie, and both are relevant to the Paris of L'Éducation sentimentale. Each theoretical construct points to an aspect of the modern city around which Flaubert constructs his novel.

Anomie is the term that Durkheim resurrected from the fifteenth century (from Greek) to characterize a society that fails to anchor the individual in significant social groups. In addition to its specific philosophical heritage through Hegel and Feuerbach, alienation resonates with the usage in both Roman law and contemporary psychiatric discourse to identify a society that dispossesses the individual of both work and worth. Durkheim uses suicide much as Marx uses fetishism, as a sign of futility and, hence, of social pathology. Intended as an affirmation of the individual choice, retreat into death, like escape into materialism, surrenders control to encompassing social forces.

In very different, possibly antagonistic theoretical systems, anomie and alienation designate a social structure marked by the radical disjuncture between the whole and its constituent parts. Both concepts belong within the larger discourse of displacement that becomes increasingly strident as the century progresses—precisely that discourse in which the flâneur figures so prominently as the urban personage par excellence. Differences between the analytic and narrative practice of social representation only accentuate the commonality of the problem. The claim here is not one of influence. Marx passionately admired Balzac's work, but he said nothing of Flaubert; and Durkheim never accorded literature and the arts more than cursory


notice. But Marx and Durkheim share with Flaubert a common culture of concern. The discourse of dislocation that Flaubert narrates and dramatizes, they articulate and theorize.

The same division of labor (Durkheim's first book, in 1893, is the Division du travail social ) the same rampant individualism, and the same consequent splintering of society that are the target of Durkheimian sociology also structure Flaubert's novels. Indeed, Flaubert's world of flânerie, so notable for the absence of stable social relations, could serve as a model for Durkheim's vision of modern society. Of Durkheim's major works, Le Suicide (1897) evidences the strongest connection to Flaubert's texts of displacement. In this pioneering work, notable for its synthesis of statistical and theoretical analysis, Durkheim argues that suicide should be considered a social rather than individual phenomenon. As such, it requires a sociological, not a psychological, model of explanation. Accordingly, Durkheim approaches suicide by classifying suicidal behavior in terms of varying relationships between the individual and society. The disjuncture between the two determines what Durkheim points to as the prevailing forms of suicide in contemporary society: "egoistic" suicide signifying insufficient attachment to society and "anomic" suicide resulting from inadequate regulation of desire.

In conjunction and separately, anomie and egoism detach the individual from society much as flânerie disconnects the flâneur from effective social activity. Each designates the erosion of social bonds and the loss of social integration. To complete the logical possibilities, Durkheim posits "altruistic suicide," which originates in excessive attachment to the collectivity, and "fatalistic suicide," which results from overregulation of the passions. But these last categories are of less moment. (Fatalistic suicide, which Durkheim ascribes to slaves in antiquity, gets no more than a footnote.) Like so many others in the nineteenth century (and here lies the connection to Balzac), Durkheim believed modern society should worry about weak rather than strong social bonds and concern itself with the excesses of passion rather than its repression.

Behavior that can be classified as suicidal may or may not actually end in death. In any case, what matters to Durkheim is not the individual act of suicide but what that act reveals about society. Similarly, as his determination to focus on his generation indicates, Flaubert is concerned less with Frédéric or the others as individuals than with


what their fates reveal about their generation and the absence of meaningful affective bonds and social ties. Durkheim, like Flaubert, considers individual acts—suicide, passion—so many private manifestations of a social state that comprehends but also transcends the individual.

Frédéric Moreau does not commit suicide. He is tempted, but on the evening that he contemplates throwing himself into the Seine, the parapet on the bridge seems a bit too wide and "lassitude" wins out (129). Nevertheless, Frédéric greatly resembles Emma Bovary, who does kill herself. Both exhibit the particular blend of egoism (weak social bonds) and anomie (unregulated passion) that Durkheim judges characteristic of certain cases. The close relationship of these two social states is borne out by the examples that Durkheim calls up to illustrate the psychological manifestations of a social state. Like Lamartine's egoistic Raphael lost in "the infinity of dream," Frédéric misdirects his ambitions; like Goethe's Werther and like Chateaubriand's René, lost in "the infinity of desire," he wallows in his love for Mme Arnoux.[10] Disillusionment is inevitable because the most boundless passion inevitably comes up short against the real world. "The boundaries encountered by the dissatisfied individual can lead him . . . to seek distraction from disappointed passions in an inner life. But since he finds nothing there . . . he can only flee once again." As Frédéric's successive enthusiasms repeatedly demonstrate, such flight only increases "disquietude and dissatisfaction." The cycle perpetuates frustration, with the result that "despondency alternates with agitation, dream with action, transports of desire with melancholy meditations."

Durkheim also recognizes that, despite apparent differences, egoism and altruism are really two aspects of the same social state, and, hence, may work together to produce a maladjustment on the part of the individual. Frédéric's allegiance to Mme Arnoux, like the fervent zeal with which Sénécal serves the republic, illustrates the distinctive fusion of selfishness and devotion that Durkheim finds in modern, "disaggregated society." When society itself cannot serve as a goal for individual activities, individuals or groups look for something else "to which they can attach themselves and which gives a sense to their life." Reality being of no use, these individuals elect an "ideal reality, . . . an imaginary being whom they serve all the more exclusively for being out of sorts with everything else, themselves in-


cluded." "Hence," Durkheim concludes, "they live a double and contradictory existence: individualists for everything in the real world, they turn into immoderate altruists for everything that touches the ideal object."

Thus Frédéric justifies every selfish action with the thought of his ideal love. In hopes of becoming closer to Mme Arnoux, he reneges on his promise of money to Deslauriers and gives the money instead to her husband; subsequently, for much the same reason he slanders his friend Dussardier in order to justify borrowing a substantial sum from his fiancée, Mme Dambreuse, to pay Mme Arnoux's debts. The most striking instance of the association of altruism and egoism occurs during the coup d'état of 1851 when the one-time republican militant Sénécal, for whom the ideal state apparently excuses every excess, turns policeman for Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte and shoots Dussardier, once his republican comrade.

This social fragmentation, which L'Éducation sentimentale enacts and with which Durkheimian sociology contends, also links Flaubert to Marx .Marx and Flaubert were exact contemporaries, and Marx spent important years in Paris and wrote about the July Monarchy and the Second Republic. Here, once again, and for both writers, Paris is the essence of the modern condition. Where Durkheim renders the division of labor and excessive individualism responsible for the crisis in which modern society finds itself, Marx indicts the division of property and the class society. Where Durkheim takes his model from disease, talking of "pathology" and of society as an "organism," Marx thinks in terms of materialism. The cornerstone of Marxian theory is also basic to L'Éducation sentimentale, a setting dominated by the commodification of human relations, love, art, and politics. Frédéric's almost obsessive furnishing of his hôtel particulier implies the debasement of art into merchandise that is writ large not only in Arnoux's trajectory from editing the journal L'Art industriel to selling religious objects but also in the sordid negotiations over Rosanette's portrait (itself a hodgepodge of stylistic references that defy the very notion of authenticity). The engravings of Venice, Naples, and Constantinople that Frédéric rushes to hang in his first rooms, like the travel accounts and the atlas he purchases subsequently, substitute for the trips he does not take. When he finally quits France and travels to exotic lands, the voyage seems to be out of an album filled with visual clichés ("the melancholy of steamer ships, the awakenings on cold


mornings in a tent, the dizziness of landscapes and ruins, the bitterness of interrupted companionship" [500]).

The promiscuity dictated by the market begins, and ends, at home. The most arresting of the many objects that give so much material weight to the novel, and certainly the most evident both thematically and structurally, relate to the Arnoux household(s). A surprising number of items circulate between spouse and mistress in an apparently endless exchange. The silver casket that Arnoux gives his wife reappears throughout the novel, a "relic" of Frédéric's devotion, but the devotion is more than a little ambiguous because the relic is shared by both of Frédéric's mistresses. Rosanette (also Arnoux's mistress) has the casket for a time, and Mme Dambreuse later buys it at auction. By propelling the private into the public domain, the auction puts Mme Arnoux herself into circulation, like every other woman in the novel, like every other man. Mme Arnoux is effectively "sold off" at auction. The passing about of her personal effects, her furs, her dresses, her boots, her hats, her gloves, and especially her petticoats and shifts transforms the room into a bordello (the bedroom furniture is prominently on display) and confirms suspicions that no dream can resist circulation in the Paris market.

The drama of the auction arises from its public, that is, indiscriminant nature. It forces Mme Arnoux onto the open market, as opposed to the restricted, "local" market within which she had circulated until then. Mme Dambreuse's purchase of the iconical casket is the sentimental equivalent of Sénécal's shooting of Dussardier the next day during the coup d'état. The conversion of this last "treasure" into the debased common coin punctures Frédéric's dream as surely as the coup d'état liquidates the republican ideal embodied by Dussardier.

The auction stages the process of commodification that has directed the novel from the beginning. However much "the force of [Frédéric's] dreams" places Mme Arnoux "outside human conditions" from the first apparition to the last rendezvous, Flaubert persistently brings her back in (230). The association with objects is not limited to those she actually possesses. Frédéric sees Mme Arnoux in every shop window, imagines her in the displayed cashmere shawls, lace, earrings, and satin slippers. This propensity to see Mme Arnoux everywhere, and especially in objects that are for sale, subjects her to the implacable logic of substitutability that applies to people as well


as to things. "All women reminded him of her," prostitutes, middleclass women, working-class girls, as well as the women in the paintings at the Louvre for whom he "substituted" her image (119-20).

Frédéric copies Arnoux in associating Mme Arnoux with Rosanette, but goes one better by adding Mme Dambreuse. Moreover, Arnoux's outspoken admiration of his wife's physical attributes, like Cisy's insult that provokes the duel with Frédéric, intimates that Mme Arnoux is not as different from other women as Frédéric would like to believe. Then too, Mme Arnoux herself visits Frédéric to solicit financial assistance, and although she speaks in her husband's name and is accompanied by her child and his maid, the situation, as Frédéric cannot help realizing, raises questions about her motives. Not the least ambiguous aspect of the final encounter between Frédéric and Mme Arnoux is the financial transaction that prompts a visit after more than fifteen years (repayment of a debt long outstanding). Frédéric suspects that Mme Arnoux has come to give herself to him, but she instead presents the sum in a small wallet that she has embroidered with golden palms. This wallet, along with the long lock of hair that she cuts for him, is all that Frédéric will ever possess of her. From beginning to end, from the shawl that Frédéric hands back to her at their first meeting to the purse that she returns to him more than a quarter century later, Flaubert ties Mme Arnoux to the material world.

That material world, the novel makes abundantly clear, is totally illusory. It is incapable of fixing Frédéric, who is condemned to wander through life as he roams about Paris. The city, love, politics—all in L'Éducation sentimentale are an experience of absence. The travels that Frédéric embarks upon following Mme Arnoux's departure and the coup d'état are as desultory as his walks about Paris. These travels to exotic places amplify the basic model of flânerie. In the city or in the world at large, the encounter with place produces an absence. In contrast to the flâneur-artist of Balzac or Baudelaire, who is very much tied to place, Flaubert's flâneur has no space. His is very much the world of anomie and alienation, of social fragmentation and the illusion of presence. Flaubertian flânerie transposes the social and political crises of the nineteenth century onto the city. Where Durkheim and Marx analyze modern society, Flaubert narrates the contemporary city, the revolutionary Paris where revolution too had become an absence.


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3 The Flâneur: The City and Its Discontents
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