Larry Duffy, Flaubert, Zola, and the Incorporation of Disciplinary Knowledge

Larry Duffy, Flaubert, Zola, and the Incorporation of Disciplinary Knowledge (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), xvii + 261 pp. £58 Hb, £45.99 PDF. ISBN 978-1-137-29753-2

In his latest study, Larry Duffy meticulously traces the weave of knowledge as it appears in the fabric of the nineteenth century novel. In the texts of those two great icons of French literature, Flaubert and Zola, knowledge is intimately related to medical scientific discourse and consistently conveyed in such a way that the physiology of their narrative depends directly or indirectly on it. From this Barthesian tissu which is text, but which is also organic, emerges the analogy between text and body that guides Duffy’s analysis, as he himself points out (5).

Given the hygienist and deterministic theories that prevail in Flaubert's and Zola's contemporary social scientific discourse, Duffy claims that the text, as a body, interacts with the milieu. Just like a living organism, the text may also be destabilized, may also be open to the exterior, be penetrated, invaded, and contaminated. Exposed to the extratextual environment, the literary work incorporates not only a knowledge which is diffused through the documentary sources that the author relys on, but also a knowledge constitutive of the social body. Following the status as the very locus of discourse that the human body acquires in the nineteenth century, the text is constructed around the centrality of disciplinary knowledge. In his study, Duffy's intention is to demonstrate to the reader, through a “powerful bodily metaphor” (11), how disciplinary knowledge, which gained strength throughout the century, becomes incorporated, mingling with new discourses and becoming a textual, social and even physiological body.

The author makes it clear, in his thoroughly elaborated introduction, that it is not his objective to produce a work of genetic criticism. From a canonical literary corpus, deliberately chosen, and whose selection follows the well-documented interest of both French writers in contemporary disciplinary discourses, Duffy selects as material for analysis a “constellation of discursive coordinates in which literary texts are in a minority” (14). Far more than a genetic study, his study is based, as he himself notes, on a genealogical approach, which he understands, thanks to the element of contemporary discourse that can be found in these works, as a “coherent textual organism of interlinked components, the whole predicated on an interlinked epistemological network of infinite complexity” (32).

Divided into three parts, Duffy`s book seems, at first glance, to distribute its content unevenly. Dedicating the first two parts to elements present in Flaubert's prose and only one part to Zolian texts, he takes the risk of disappointing an unsuspecting reader who expects a balanced treatment of Flaubert and Zola. Since each part comprises two chapters, by the end of the book the impression is left that the scale is slightly tipped against Zola, but thanks to the way Duffy has conceived and developed his study, there are no apparent lacunas, nor significant imbalance that compromises the quality and value of what is presented. Every chapter ends with a brief review that seeks to lead on to the next. Carefully prepared notes and a consistent bibliography show that this is a thoughtful monograph, solidly anchored in the scholarly literature and judiciously constructed. Duffy's work makes a significant contribution to the dialogue between literature, science and medicine, particularly in relation to the French novel of the nineteenth century, developing hypotheses, seriously investigating what it proposes and consistently addressing its own research questions.

The first part, entitled "Flaubert and Professional Incorporations", contains two chapters of impressive analysis going far beyond the possibilities of genetic criticism or of author studies. By establishing a fruitful dialogue between literary discourse and contemporary scientific discourse, Duffy examines how scientific knowledge is figured in Madame Bovary. In an argument which is consistently grounded in contemporary evidence, he demonstrates convincingly that the choice of the underhand nemesis of Charles Bovary - the pharmacist Homais - was far from accidental, given the hybrid nature of his profession. Duffy’s argument makes plain the various levels of extra-literary discourse that invade the text and which shape and transform it. In the post-revolutionary context of the reorganization of technical and scientific knowledge, health professionals fight fiercely with each other, consciously or unconsciously, in order to maintain their share of the market or to conquer a new space and a new status. Exploiting the gaps left by the Revolution, technical and artisanal knowledge attempts to raise itself up to the status of science, something which has an undeniable socio-economic impact from the end of the Ancien Régime onwards. As an archetypal example of this disproportionate expansion of disciplinary practice, Homais can be understood as the concrete point of transition of this knowledge. Medical and pharmaceutical discourses both from Paris and the provinces are echoed through his mouth.

In the second part, "Flaubert, le corps redressé," Duffy produces an unsparing investigation of the semiology of the nineteenth century, especially regarding orthopedics and possible dermatological and ocular manifestations. Formulating hypotheses about the true condition(s) of the blind beggar who haunts Emma Bovary in her agony, as well as about the ramifications of his pathological character in the economy of the novel, Duffy goes far beyond a symbolic analysis of this figure. Addressing, among other things, the epistemological dimension of the mutilated, deformed and monstrous body, which medicine unceasingly aims to heal, align or just beautify, Duffy identifies parallels between the blind beggar and the poor club-footed Hippolyte, who ends up suffering the consequences of the distortion of disciplinary knowledge, aggravated by Charles's mediocrity as one of its representatives. In this reading of Madame Bovary, there is a clear association between these extra-normal personæ and the social body (144). With his open wounds, the figurative presence of the blind beggar evokes social contamination by poverty, but also by disease and madness. Once the therapeutics prescribed for their bodies have failed on a physiological level, the prognosis for attempts to correct and cure the pathological social body looks no better.

In the third and final part, "Zola: Professional, Pathological, and Therapeutic Incorporations", the power of disciplinary discourse is situated in the context of a science that is established as a profession of faith in the second half of the nineteenth century. One may particularly observe the deep penetration of psychiatric discourse in the criminal justice system, duly represented in the novel La Bête humaine. Despite the absence of a psychiatrist figure or a concrete evocation of alienist speech in the work in question, this discourse is unarguably present, subtly infusing its novelistic discourse. Although it contains more explicit references to masters of proto-psychiatry from the early nineteenth century, such as Esquirol and Pinel, it is also undeniable that Zola makes use of the theories advocated by Cesare Lombroso (in order to ridicule them indirectly), as well as the theses proposed by three eminent alienists of that time which are incorporated into the narration, something shown by the preparatory dossiers of the Rougon-Macquart, which reference the Traité des dégénérescences (1857 by Dr Morel, Trélat's La Folie lucide (1861), and La psychologie morbide (1859) by Dr Moreau de Tours. The sixth and closing chapter of the book is devoted to the conclusion of the series, Le Docteur Pascal. Drawing upon striking bodily metaphors, Duffy draws attention to the presence of the genealogical tree as the main textual organism and as a sick epistemological body. The valuable scientific hypotheses of Zola appear in what he considers a real mise en abyme of the naturalist text, of which Pascal is clearly the spokesman. As image or symbol of life, the tree also appears as a place of speech, the ground in which Pascal roots an indelible truth: the history of the Rougon-Macquart family. Written in flesh and blood, the destiny of Pascal is not extinguished thanks to the perpetuity achieved by Clotilde's son. Despite any paradoxical theoretical assertions of its time, naturalist discourse  aims irrefutably to embody the truth and, according to Duffy, "is claiming to be scientific rather than merely mimetic" (217).

Undoubtedly a representation of its world, as proposed by Roger Chartier, the literature of Flaubert and Zola fills its veins with the nourishing blood of extratextual discourse, oxygenating and renewing itself in perpetual and harmonic motion, bequeathing to future generations a scientific creed of beneficent and poetic  appropriation of reality.

Vanessa Schmitt, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Brazil