18010601 collection of the smallest footprints
The reading of Bouvard and Pécuchet in terms of the metaphor of the Encyclopedia-Library, despite its relating the novel to a crucial textual problematic and allowing for the reading of certain passages in terms of primarily linguistic or representational considerations, falls short, however, of being completely satisfactory, The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, the
Encyclopedia-Library is never thematized as a master-term that explicitly controls the deployment of the various regions of
knowledge; on the contrary Flaubert systematically stages the Encyclopedia-Library as one non privileged term in an indifferent
series. On the other hand, a good number of the failures of Bouvard and Pécuchet cannot be attributed to the incapacity of linguistic or symbolic representation to account for reality, For example, when wind and rain destroy their fruit crops, or when a storm destroys their wheat crop, there is no way of accounting for the storm within any representational system. The forces at play within nature are absolutely other than those at work in the deconstruction of taxonomies, rhetoric, and semiology.
The clerks' original dream of a pastoral existence excludes the activity of writing, that is to say, of the most complex and resistant of language's representational forms: "Waking with the lark, they would follow the plough, go out with a basket to gather apples, watch the butter being made, the corn threshed, the sheep sheared, the beehives tended, and they would revel in the mooing of cows and the scent of fresh-mown hay. No more copying!". Carried away by their illusion, they also reject from the start any need for books. Flaubert in the Dictionnaire des idees recues writes: "Library--always have one in one's home, especially when living in the country." Bouvard, on the contrary, on the verge of his new rural life decides that "we'll have no library." In their pastoral dream, Bouvard and Pécuchet
dismiss the mediation of books and aspire instead to the mastery of a science which acts directly on nature. Significantly, they start
their adventures equipped with an odd assortment of scientific instruments: "They purchased gardening implements and a mass of things 'which might come in useful,' such as a tool-box (every house should have one), followed by a pair of scales, a land-chain, a bath-tub in case of illness, a thermometer, and even a barometer, 'on the Gay-Lussac system,' for meteorological experiments, should the fancy take them".
The odd assortment of books that belonged to Pecuchet before he undertook his rural adventure hardly amounts to a library. The books, in fact, are part of a group of heterogeneous objects that anticipate the "bric-a-brac shops" they will later visit: "and in the corners were scattered a number of volumes of the Roret Encyclopaedia, the Mesmerist's Handbook, a Fenelon, and other old tomes, as well as a pile of papers, two coconuts, various medallions, a Turkish fez, and shells brought from Le Havre by Dumouchel". It can be argued, of course, that Bouvard and Pécuchet are defeated by the very thing whose importance they fail to account for in the first place, As I sug-
gested earlier, there is no doubt that such a remark is regionally correct and that the efforts of the two clerks are sometimes undone by an unstable representational or symbolical system that they fail fully to understand or to recognize, Nevertheless, when the theme of the Encyclopedia-Library appears in the novel, it is thematized in such a way as to require a separate set of remarks. To return to the passage quoted above, the clerks' library--if one can call it that--is on the one hand contrasted with their scientific instruments, that is, with an otherness which is not obviously inscribed in the texture of representation; but more important, it appears in a series of heterogeneous elements, The difficulty resides, precisely, in reading a series of heterogeneous elements, since through their heterogeneity they offer what is absolutely other to the homogeneous representational space of the Encyclopedia-Library.
Later in the novel, when Flaubert describes the various buildings and public collections that Bouvard and Pécuchet visit, the library is again placed in a heterogeneous series:
They sauntered past the old bric-a-brac shops. They visited the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, Saint-Denis, the Gobelins, the Invalides and all the public collections.
In the galleries of the Museum they viewed the stuffed quadrupeds with astonishment, the butterflies with pleasure, the metals
with indifference; fossils fired their imagination, conchology bored them. They peered into hot-houses, and shuddered at the thought of so many foliages distilling poison. What struck them most about the cedar was that it had been brought over in a hat.
They worked up an enthusiasm at the Louvre for Raphael. At the Central Library they would have liked to know the exact number of volumes
The bric-a-brac is emblematic of the whole series. Again, it is not the bric-a-brac which is in the library; it is the latter that belongs to a series which can be characterized as bric-a-brac. Interestingly, however, the series contains one term that itself contains a heterogeneous series, namely the Museum (the Museum of Natural History). The term which is then representationally privileged, which allegorizes the series, is the museum and not the library, since the former contains a series of which the latter is only a term. It is then perhaps in the concept of the Museum that we must search for an encyclopedic totality.
If Bouvard and Pécuchet never assemble what can amount to a library, they nevertheless manage to constitute for themselves a private museum. The museum, in fact, occupies a central position in the novel; it is connected to the characters' interest in archeology, geology, and history and it is thus through the Museum that questions of origin, causality, representation, and symbolization are most clearly stated. The Museum, as well as the questions it tries to answer, depends upon an archeological epistemology. Its representational and historical pretensions are based upon a number of metaphysical assumptions about origins--archeology intends, after all, to be a science of the arches. Archeological origins are important in two ways: each archeological artifact has to be an original artifact, and these original artifacts must in turn explain the "meaning" of a subsequent larger history. Thus, in Flaubert's caricatural example, the baptismal font that Bouvard and Pécuchet discover has to be a Celtic sacrificial stone, and Celtic culture has in turn to act as an original master pattern for cultural history:
. . . whence it must be concluded that the religion of the Gauls had the same principles as that of the Jews.
Their society was very well organized .... Some uttered prophesies, others chanted, others taught botany, medicine, history and literature: in short, "all the arts of their epoch." Pythagoras and Plato were their pupils. They instructed the Greeks in metaphysics, the Persians in sorcery, the Etruscans in augury, and the Romans in plating copper and trading in ham.
But of this people which dominated the ancient world, there remain only a few stones.
These stones will become the archival material displayed in the museums which are the outward manifestation of an implicit
archeological knowledge or essence.
The outstanding characteristic of the Flaubertian Museum is its irreducible heterogeneity. This heterogeneity becomes, in fact, caricatural in Flaubert's early scenarios for the novel. To quote from one of them:
Six months later the house looked entirely different. They possessed a collection. Museum.
Old junk, pottery of all sorts, shaving cups, butter plates, earthenware lamps, wardrobes, a halberd, one of a kind! Bludgeons, panoplies of primitive origins. Works of spun glass. Chest of drawers and Chippendale trunks, prison hampers. Saint-Allyre's petrified objects: a cat with a mouse in its jaws, stuffed birds. Various curios: chauffeur's cap, a madman's shoe. Objects drawn from rivers and people, etc.!"
I have quoted this early draft because of its brevity; the lengthy description of the Museum of Bouvard and Pécuchet contains as
heterogeneous a collection of objects as that of the draft, and interestingly enough contains also a library as one of the objects of the Museum.
A parenthesis might be in order here. The ideology that governs the Museum in the nineteenth century and down to the present has often been equated with that of the Library, namely, to give by the ordered display of selected artifacts a total representation of human reality and history. Museums are taken to exist only inasmuch as they can erase the heterogeneity of the objects displayed in their cases, and it is only the hypothesis of the possibility of homogenizing the diversity of various artifacts which makes them possible in the first place.
As late as 1929, W. J. Holland, director of the Carnegie Institute and president of the American Association of Museums, wrote: "The ideal museum should cover the whole field of human knowledge. It should teach the truths of all the sciences, including anthropology, the science which deals with man and all his works in every age. All the sciences and all the arts are correlated." The critique of early museums is done in terms of bric-a-brac. Lord Balcarres, trustee of the National Portrait Gallery, wrote: "The modern museum of art differs essentially from its earlier prototypes. The aimless collection of curiosities and bric-a-brac, brought together without method or system, was the feature of certain famous collections in by-gone days." The success of the modern museum again depends upon the order in
which the objects are displayed: "To be of teaching value, museum arrangement and classification must be carefully studied.... Attention must be given to the proper display and cataloguing of the exhibits.... Great progress has been made in the classification of objects." To give one more example, in 1930, Sir Frederic Kenyon, then director and principal librarian of the British Museum, wrote: