Monday, March 17, 2008

A Violently Original Quote

I have a new favorite quote. Not sure why something someone else had to say or write ignites such intense thoughts and emotions, but this something someone else had to say or write certainly stirred my innards into a frenzy. Here goes:

“Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
- Gustave Flaubert

I hadn't heard of Gustave Flaubert before, so I did a little research and found his story to be sad and interesting. Flaubert was a French writer who is widely recognized as one of the greatest Western novelists of all time. He lived a very lonely life, and threw himself relentlessly into his work. A true perfectionist, Flaubert would close himself off from the world and write for weeks and months at a time, sometimes spending an entire week on one sentence or passage. His obsession with writing came from his constant quest to find "le mot juste" ("the precise word").

I am not Gustave Flaubert. I lack focus and find it very difficult to limit distractions. There are a million "violent and original" thoughts in my head, but my life is not "regular and orderly" enough to bring to fruition my creative punch. I often feel guilty about all the things I fail to accomplish because of my inability to impliment ideas into action. It is a paralyzing affliction.

What I find interesting is that Gustave Flaubert was not me either. Flaubert was very lonely, and only had one romantic relationship in his life. Ironically, this relationship was an affair with poet Louise Colet, and it was more tortured than fulfilling. Flaubert was also plagued by venerial diseases, mainly due to his relations with prostitutes. He was financially destitute and lived through hardship after hardship. His greatest struggle, however, was his inability to achieve perfection. He often complained to friends about the strenuous nature of his work, and told of his insecurities related to his lack of true understanding of literary form and structure. He died of a stroke in 1880, alone and broke.

Funny thing is that to this day, Flaubert is used as a model of literary form and style. He is studied by writers throughout the world, and is thought to be near perfect in his exactitude and stylistic precision. Unfortunately, I suspect, none of that mattered when he lay dying and alone.

So here we are, Flaubert and I, both longing for that which we seem unable to obtain, and struggling with insecurities from opposite ends of the spectrum. Regardless of how we get there, the key is that the "violent" and the "original" be unleashed. These are reflected in the epic stories of belief, and they are vividly interwoven into God's story about Himself. Samson's story is so violently original that it hurts, but it is God who weaves these qualities together to bring about His glory in their fulfilment. David's story is a creative masterpiece, although it is not David who achieves stylistic perfection, but God who tells us what it means to follow after His own heart. David is the Flaubert of the story, and God is the one who pieces it together in such a way that we are still studying this masterful model of form and style.

Ultimately we find that regardless of which end of the spectrum we may find ourselves, our stories fail to achieve the perfection that we hope for. What makes our stories "violent and original" masterpieces is the author, not the characters flaws or strengths. In His hands, "le mot juste" is achieved. The perfect work is not negated or fulfilled by my lack of order, or Flaubert's mastery of it; it is achieved when God's pen perfects our faith. And if we have no faith, God's pen finds glory in that as well.

May your "regular and orderly" life be filled with "violent and original" moments.

1 comment:

ryan said...

That's good stuff, bro. I'm with you. Except the part I have trouble with is being original. I can handle the violence. You wanna see? Come over here. I'm gonna open a can of Flaubert on your candy a--!