Thursday, February 01, 2007

Novels, mirrors, and politics

(Rushing to catch up with the rest of the class...)

I had a good laugh at the lengthy parenthetical that Stendhal interjects into his narrative in Ch. 19 (Pt. II). Well-written irony is pure joy to read. He eventually came right out with his beef with those he offends:
(Ah, my dear sir: a novel is a mirror, talking a walk down a big road. Sometimes you'll see nothing but blue skies; sometimes you'll see the muck in the mud piles along the road. And you'll accuse the man carrying the mirror in his basket of being immoral! His mirror reflects muck, so you'll accuse the mirror, too! Why not also accuse the highway where the muck is piled, or, more strongly still, the street inspector who leaves water wallowing in the roads, so the mud piles can come into being.)
Later (in Ch. 22), he inserts another during the secret political meeting where Julien is the note-taker:
(The author would have preferred, at this point, to insert a page consisting of nothing but ellipses. "That would look awful," said the publisher, "and, for such a lightweight book, looking bad is, quite simply, death." -- "Politics," the author replied, "is a stone tied around literature's neck, and in less than six months, it sinks under the weight. Politics set among the imagination's concerns is like a pistol shot fired at a concert. The noise mangles without energizing. It does not harmonize with the sound of any instrument in the orchestra. Politics will mortally offend half your readers, and bore the other half, who would have found the discussion fascinating, and wonderfully lively, in the morning newspaper...." -- "If your characters don't talk politics," responded the publisher, "they'll cease to be the Frenchmen of 1830, and your book will no longer be a mirror as you claim it is....")
I love this. What do you think about Stenhal's argument here? His resistance to politicizing his narrative is certainly still an issue today.