Sunday 5 June 2011

Recollection 22 - Julian Barnes's Flaubert's Parrot

Here are some quotes from Julian Barnes’s Flaubert’s Parrot which I found particularly interesting.
  • Isn’t the most reliable form of pleasure, Flaubert implies, the pleasure of anticipation? Who needs to burst into fulfilment’s desolate attic? p. 4
  • When I was a medical student some pranksters at an end-of-term dance released into the hall a piglet which had been smeared with grease. It squirmed between legs, evaded capture, squealed a lot. People fell over trying to grasp it, and were made to look ridiculous in the process. The past often seems to behave like that piglet. p. 5
  • Is the writer much more than a sophisticated parrot? p. 10
  • You can define a net in one of two ways, depending on your point of view. Normally, you would say that it is a meshed instrument designed to catch fish. But you could, with no great injury to logic, reverse the image and define a net as a jocular lexicographer once did: he called it a collection of holes tied together with string. p. 35
  • ‘Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.’ – Madame Bovary p. 51
  • … he reminds her that we are all caged birds, and that life weighs the heaviest on those with the largest wings. p. 61
  • I’d ban coincidences, if I were a dictator of fiction. p. 71
  • When you’re young you prefer the vulgar months, the fullness of the seasons. As you grow older you learn to like the in-between times, the months that can’t make up their minds. Perhaps it’s a way of admitting that things can’t ever bear the same certainty again. p. 91
  • Books are not life, however much we might prefer it if they were. p. 95
  • You can have your cake and eat it; the only trouble is, you get fat. p. 97
  • How do we seize the past? How do we seize the foreign past? We read, we learn, we ask, we remember, we are humble; and then a casual detail shifts everything. p. 100
  • Do you know what Nabokov said about adultery in his lecture on Madame Bovary? He said it was ‘a most conventional way to rise above the conventional’. p. 102
  • Style does arise from subject-matter. p. 107
  • ‘Don’t look at me, that’s misleading. If you want to know what I’m like, wait until we’re in a tunnel, and then study my reflection in the window.’ p. 108
  • Some Italian once wrote that critic secretly wants to kill the writer. Is that true? Up to a point. We all hate golden eggs. Bloody golden eggs again, you can hear the critics mutter as a good novelist produces yet another good novel; haven’t we had enough omelettes this year? p. 110
  • The past is a distant, receding coastline, and we are all in the same boat. Along the stern rail there is a line of telescopes; each brings the shore into focus at a given distance. If the boat is becalmed, one of the telescopes will be in continual use; it will seem to tell the whole, the unchanging truth. But this is an illusion; and as the boat sets off again, we return to our normal activity: scurrying from one telescope to another, seeing the sharpness fade in one, waiting for the blur to clear in another. And when the blur does clear, we imagine that we have made it do so all by ourselves. p. 114
  • Everything confuses. Directness also confuses. p. 116
  • Soft cheeses collapse, firm cheeses indurate. Both go mouldy. p. 117
  • ‘Superior to everything is — Art. A book of poetry is preferable to a railway’ –Intimate Notebook, 1840. p. 124
  • A pier is a disappointed bridge; yet stare at it for long enough and you can dream it to the other side of the Channel. p. 141
  • But women scheme when they are weak, they lie out of fear. Men scheme when they are strong, they lie out of arrogance. p. 162
  • He didn’t really like travel, of course. He liked the idea of travel, and the memory of travel, but not travel itself. p. 168
  • You do not dismiss love the way you dismiss your hairdresser. p. 169
  • They are scarcely adult, some men: they wish women understand them, and to that end they tell them all their secrets; and then, when they are properly understood, they hate their women for understanding them. p. 175
  • He said that there were three preconditions for happiness – stupidity, selfishness and good health. p. 175
  • True love can survive absence, death and infidelity, he once told me; true lovers can go ten years without meeting. p. 175
  • ‘Pride is one thing: a wild beast which lives in caves and roams the desert; Vanity, on the other hand, is a parrot which hops from branch to branch and chatters away in full view.’ p. 180
  • ‘It is better to waste your old age than to do nothing about it.’ p. 185
    Necessary in the nineteenth century for the contraction of syphilis, without which no one could claim genius. Wearers of the red badge of courage include Flaubert, Daudet, Maupassant, Jules de Goncourt, Baudelaire, etc. Were there any writers unafflicted by it? If so, they were probably homosexual. p. 188
  • Who needs whom more: the disciple the master, or the master the disciple? p. 189
  • … speed, of course, is always exaggerated by those standing still. p. 193
  • How happy is happy enough? It sounds like a grammatical mistake – happy enough, like rather unique – but it answers the need for a phrase. p. 197
  • Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren’t. I’m not surprised some people prefer books. Books make sense of life. The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other people’s lives, never your own. p. 201
  • Lovers are like Siamese twins, two bodies with a single soul; but if one dies before the other, the survivor has a corpse to lug around. p. 202
  • ‘Criticism occupies the lowest rung in the hierarchy of literature: as regards form, almost always, and as regards moral worth, incontestably. It’s lower even than rhyming games and acoustics, which at least demand a modicum of invention.’ — Letter to Louise Colet, June 28th, 1853. p. 207
  • Why are they so keen to turn learning into a game? They love to make it childish, even for adults. Especially for adults. p. 228


JM said: Whoa nelly! That’s a whole whack of quotes. I got about halfway and then had to stop – here – phew! – for a breather. Loved the writer as glorified parrot line. Sophisticated. Whatever. Ditto most all the others, especially the one about anticipation.

Particularly connected to my soul was the notion of how with age we come to love the in-between times. Those fuzzy not quite fall, nearly winter times, in particular for this sweater wearing chicken. I feel the same way about actors these days, finding myself so much more drawn to the “second banana” actors, the character actors in films, the bit part players, the journeymen workers (ie. the British actors in American films) rather than the big name stars.

Webmaster said: I found the three preconditions to true happiness dead on. Explains why I am happy at least.

Yamabuki said: “When you’re young you prefer the vulgar months, the fullness of the seasons. As you grow older you learn to like the in-between times, the months that can’t make up their minds. Perhaps it’s a way of admitting that things can’t ever bear the same certainty again.” p. 91 Julian Barnes’ “Flaubert’s Parrot”
When I was young
I knew little or nothing
I hardly even knew
That I knew nothing
I did know
That I loved Chocolate
And looking at the Moon
Late at night
Now that I’m older
I know better
How little I really know
And how little it matters
When I look at the Moon
I feel her love
Shining down on me
And that’s

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