“Flaubert Again”
by Anne Carson
from the October 22, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

Anne Carson is a brilliant poet and translator whose unique re-visions of the Classical era has produced unique and powerful contemporary works, such as Autobiography of Red, Nox, and Red Doc>. The short work she’s published in The New Yorker over the past few years has been unconventional and enigmatic, but undeniably powerful if you are with her.

“Flaubert Again” is also a very short piece, this one of eight paragraphs. I read it in a just short of ten minutes, but that’s a bit deceptive. The later paragraphs in particular are rather dense, and Carson’s stream of images and sensations are not to be rushed.

In “Flaubert Again” we find a woman trying to figure out how to write something unique and fully present:

She was a novelist and enjoyed some success. But always she had the fantasy of a different kind of novel, and although gradually realizing that all novelists share this fantasy, she persisted in it, without knowing what the novel would be except true and obvious while it was happening. Now I’m writing, she would be able to say.

“Flaubert Again” doesn’t, however, simply ruminate on this old idea. Rather, to me (and I’ve only read it once), the story was a vivid exploration of the anxiety of watching time pass. Perhaps this is what the novelists wants to imbue in her book. Here she is explaining why she doesn’t bathe: it reminds her of Sunday night baths as a little girl, which she remembers being horrifying though she doesn’t know why.

At any rate, there is a rolling, all-pervasive upwash of dread, one great, hot, shooting surge of dread-sensation through mind and body, a sense — perhaps? — of Time, carrying a body from Sunday night to Monday morning, to every Monday morning after that, and on and on, willy-nilly, to extinction, a mountainload of moments forcing the body from now to then, from drab to drab, from exposure to exposure, this progress, this exasperating, non-negotiable, obliterating motion forward into the dark — the dark what?

There’s a lot going on in these eight paragraphs. I’m curious to know what you are all getting from “Flaubert Again,” so please leave your thoughts below!

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