Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Curtain

But Flaubert went even further in his investigation of everyday banality. It is eleven in the morning. Emma arrives at her rendezvous in the cathedral and wordlessly hands Leon, her still-platonic lover, the letter saying she wants no more of their encounters. Then she moves off, kneels, and begins to pray; as she stands up a tour guide approaches and offers to show them around the church. To sabotage the rendezvous, Emma agrees, and the couple is forced to stop at a tomb, look up at the equestrian statue of the dead man, move along to other tombs and other statues, and listen to the guide's recitation, which Flaubert reproduces in all its foolishness and boring length. In a fury, unable to take any more, Leon breaks off the tour, pulls Emma out onto the church square, hails a cab, and there begins the famous scene of which all we see or hear is a man's voice now and then from inside the carriage ordering the driver to turn down yet another new road so that the journey goes on and the lovemaking never ends.

One of the most famous erotic scenes in literature is set off by an utter banality: a silly bore and his dogged chatter. In the theater a great action could only be born of some other great action. The novel alone could reveal the immense, mysterious power of the pointless.

Milan Kundera, The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts

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