Passion, Counter-Passion, Catharsis : Beckett and Flaubert on feeling nothing

In Garry L. Hagberg & Walter Jost (eds.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Literature. Wiley-Blackwell (2010)
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This chapter presents Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy as modern fictions with ancient-skeptical ambitions. Whether in the affective domain (Flaubert) or in the cognitive (Beckett), the aim is to help the reader achieve a position of studied neutrality—ataraxia, époché—thanks not to an a priori decision but to the mutual cancellation of opposing tendencies. Understanding Flaubert and Beckett in this way allows us, first, to enrich our sense of what “catharsis” may involve; second, to see why the apparently odious Charles, in Madame Bovary, suddenly becomes a deeply touching figure; and third, to recognize the severe limitations of empathy-based moralist theories of fiction.

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Joshua Landy
Stanford University


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