Thank you, George W. Bush, for finally getting some momentum behind the civil war which many predicted would be the result of imported and so-called democracy, which could only result in a largely Shia-led government. John McCain – who I have often thought would have made a more competent president than Obama – recently blamed the current president’s policy, or lack of one, towards Iraq for the present state of things there. The al-Quaeda offshoot, I.S.I.S., has gathered much support from Iraqi Sunnis, who may not, in any way, be real fellow-travellers, but most certainly share some of the same goals, especially hatred of the Shia. While Obama contemplates an air strike – his only uncomplicated option – Republicans are moaning that this would be too little too late, as if any among them saw the ISIS surge coming. Yet I have reasons to believe that U.S. boots are still on the ground in Iraq, secreted away on two desert bases that have been off-limits to mortals since Saddam’s time. Do you seriously think American oil interests would be left under the protection of Iraqis? Should the richest fields, in the predominantly-Shiite south-east, come under threat, I imagine we shall see a good deal more than air strikes defending them. They are already defended by private U.S. security firms, like the infamous Halliburton, but such forces will require serious back-up if, or when, the well-funded, and evidently well-trained, ISIS troops move in. It would thus appear that Obama’s ‘legacy’ will be to leave the nightmare we call ‘the Middle East’ in even worse shape than it was when he inherited it. Oddly, there has been little mention of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard regiments, presumably because no one in Washington can play their calibre of chess, nor wishes to admit that their assistance, dubious as it doubtless is, could serve a short-term benefit. But, until the government of Nuri al-Maliki can bring itself to outline a coherent strategy to defeat ISIS, the situation’s reality will remain as annoyingly vague as it has been for over a week now. In Baghdad, most Sunnis now openly lament the passing of Saddam’s era, when life was nasty, brutish, and often very short, but when there was also security – a lot of it, which made everyday existence safe and viable, particularly for the now-displaced Sunni, who are currently going door to door killing Shia unable to recite the appropriate Sunni Muslim prayers. ISIS will say that this is sheer retaliation for Shiite murders of the Sunni, which have indeed been regular enough over the past several years, justified by the Saddam Sunni regime’s frequent butchering of Shia rebels, or suspected rebels, or people someone’s cousin believed might be rebels. So far, Kurdistan’s highly-effective Peshmerga militia have refrained from coming to Baghdad’s aid, content with fighting for their own territories and oil refineries; but, then, they have no good memories of Saddam to inspire them, after the late dictator’s poison gas attacks upon their villages (although it was originally, way back when, that Winston Churchill first authorised dropping toxic gas bombs on the Kurds, whom he referred to as ‘savages’). The only solution to yet another insolvable problem in West Asia is the familiar two-state one, which, in this case, will not work because all the richest oil fields are in the Shia south, and autonomous Kurdistan, leaving the central Sunni ‘state’, with little more in the way of export-potential than dates and sand. Revenue-sharing between Shia and Sunni is utopian pie-in-the-sky. Any U.S. ‘intervention’ would need to be permanent and distinctly neo-colonial, which is not going to wash with most American tax-payers, no matter how much it would delight the oil companies. Such an invasion would also have to face a guerrilla-style warfare that could effortlessly become another disaster like Vietnam (or the many other little wars America has consistently lost over the past fifty years). What to do, the Chiefs of Staff must be thinking. And what are the Iranians doing? Do we let them do it? Or do we not appear to be fighting as allies with them by deploying air attacks alone? One thinks of the satirical website which, upon Obama’s election, printed the headline, Black Man Gets Nation’s Worst Job. I certainly would not want it right now. What would John McCain do, besides criticize? That is what I’d be interested in hearing.
It’s Friday the 13th, with Mercury Retrograde, and a full moon, so don’t blame me if this sounds a trifle zany. I know I have promised more intriguing entries, and they will come; but there are times – possibly influenced by a full moon – when the state of this world, particularly as presented by our media, quite overwhelms one with dismay and disgust. What happened to reasoned commentary and debate? While no one wants the hollering opinions of a pig-ignorant, ill-mannered churl like Bill O’Reilly, do we want to hear Barack Obama – the biggest disappointment in politics since Napoleon crowned himself Emperor (or was it when Robespierre declared himself the Supreme Being?) – telling us that Iraq is in a state of “disruption” into which America would be unwise to wade, since any calming effect caused by U.S. intervention would vanish as soon as the intervention did? And this requires no comment from any news anchor? Such as, “America created this ‘disruption’, did it not?” Or, “The so-called ‘disruption’ has existed since the illegal and unwarranted invasion of 2003. Why is it suddenly an issue meriting sufficient concern to dispatch an aircraft carrier to the Gulf?” Answer: Because the suddenly-boisterous pseudo-Sunni ‘terrorists’ have begun to encroach upon the oil regions, which were the only real objective of George II’s attack, and are now controlled by U.S. oil companies, including the Bush family business, Standard Oil, as well as dubious corporations, many of them registered in tax-free Dubai, such as the octopus named Halliburton, run, if at arm’s length, by George I’s crony, and his son’s vice-president, Dick Cheney (wealth while in office going from a few million to a few hundred million). No doubt everyone forgets that the many oil companies used to be one giant company, until complaints of monopoly forced it to multiply like cancer cells into the current plethora of greasy concerns, all of which have governing boards that warrant close examination, since, originally they consisted of men who had previously run the Big Company, and currently they share many of the same names, or names from the same five families. Little known, too, is the fact that oil companies can declare every well ‘exploratory’, thus legally spared taxation, even if they’re foolish enough to have a head office in the U.S. Iraq has the world’s richest oilfields – over 33 million barrels a day – and most of them are yet to be tapped. These fields have a hidden bonus, too: the oil is under such pressure that it spurts out by itself, sparing the expense of pumping. So there’s an awful lot of money at stake, and you can bet your bottom dollar that America will eventually do anything it takes to secure those fields. In the meantime, oil companies have raised the price at the pumps, an essentially illegal practice known as ‘buncing’, where the price beans, say, increases, and a store raises the price of beans it already owns. The gas you’re now paying more for is the same gas you were paying less for last month. If the current ‘crisis’ creates an oil shortage, it won’t kick in for a year or so. The price rise now is a mix of commodities speculation – a practice where people who make nothing but money dictate prices for people who actually make something real – and sheer greed, the motto of Wall Street. Right now, in the militarised Gulf, it’s at the imminent threat stage, and confused by the sudden arrival of several divisions from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, come to aid their Shia co-sectarians, who are attempting to govern Iraq’s chaos with an army that recently fled from the ‘terrorists’, shedding their weapons and uniforms on the way. Iran has clearly forgotten its bloody and inconclusive war with Saddam’s Iraq, in which millions died, and the unlamented ex-president, Ahmadinajad, had the job of indoctrinating eleven-year-old children to fight, promising them all the joys of martyrdom, some of which many were too young to appreciate. Will America fight alongside the unforgiven and eternally-hated Iranians? Not likely. But, of course, no American recalls how their government, along with Britain’s M.I.6, destroyed Iran’s democracy in the 1950’s, restoring the late Shah’s brutal tyranny, and even encouraging its hideous excesses, such as the Savak’s tendency to arrest, torture and murder without legal process. Is the Iranian assistance to Iraq now purely altruistic? Perhaps not, since Iran has always laid claim to parts of Iraq – oddly enough the oily parts – as well as regarding the Strait of Hormuz as its private lake (Teheran’s only feasible war strategy being to sink oil tankers in the Strait, effectively preventing shipment of much of the world’s high-grade oil. Don’t kid yourselves, Canadians, your tar-sand bitumen, no matter how well-refined, is shit, useful only for the most basic purposes. It’s the ‘Light Sweet Crude’ that makes the sophisticated wheels of industry turn, not to mention the wheels of any car not wishing to destroy its pistons every year by exploding crap inside them. And this good stuff, the light, the sweet, and the crude, comes only from the Gulf, where pliant tyrants rule the tiny emirates, which have more money than they know what to do with – unless you count building artificial islands and sub-aqueous hotels — but rampaging chaos, or its impending version, still reigns over the richest fields. Now, chaos is something the fiends in their Pentagon don’t mind, since it’s easy to manipulate, and to operate within without attracting any attention. They far prefer a military dictator, of course, since that means only having to pull the strings of one puppet. What they loathe and fear most is a relatively stable quasi-democracy like Iran, which cunningly avoids giving America any valid and legal reason to invade it, by playing chess as if they invented the game, which they did. This latest move, into Iraq, appears to create a stalemate with America – the emphasis being on ‘appears’. America seems unable to make a viable move; yet if they don’t, Iran’s next move could well create a Shiite Union between Iraq and Iran, both awash in the good oil, and both intent on disrupting life in the pseudo-Sunni theo-kleptocracy of Saudi Arabia, where the ever-less-fabulous oil wealth is divided between a pullulating ‘royal’ family, and an hereditary priesthood espousing an especially nasty and heretical version of Islam concocted by a eighteenth-century lunatic, named Wahhab, who possessed severe delusions of grandeur. Among its many aberrations, the Wahhabite heresy declares the Shia to be non-Muslims, along with the Sufis and other variants of Islam. It also bans music, a sure sign of insanity, condones slavery, and views women as sub-human chattels. Yet the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar, is such good friends with the Bush family that he’s known affectionately as ‘Bandar Bush’. Go figure. Yet, with an Iranian-Iraqi Shia power block, old Bandar better make sure his pals get him a U.S. passport, since his homeland has been a bloodbath waiting to happen for some time now, while the country’s theocratic element has been spending its share of the oil cash in opening schools all over the world to teach their hateful heretical Wahhabite form of Islam to as many of the disadvantaged billions as possible. In league with the original King Ibn-Saud – a title accorded by the British to the man with more wives and goats than anyone else – Wahhab, who viewed himself as greater than the Prophet Mohammed, shaped his dogma according to the king’s needs. Since a Muslim cannot attack a fellow Muslim, the Shiite Iranians were declared non-Muslims so that Ibn-Saud could raid their rich trade caravans. Ardent believers in Wahhabism include the late Osama bin Laden’s hydra-headed al-Quaeda, whose local branches are now too numerous to mention, but include pretty much all the organizations responsible for senseless atrocities on every continent in the world. Wahhabism was behind 9/11, and the Boston Marathon bombing. It is responsible for the bombings, murders and kidnappings in Somalia, the South Sudan, and Nigeria; as well as in Britain, France, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bali, and the Philippines. The preponderance of Wahhabite-funded schools, financed by Saudi oil wealth, alongside numerous websites, are entirely responsible for the fitful reign of terror dominating the last two decades. I stress that these people have nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, yet the more anti-Muslim sentiment grows in the West, the more their membership expands, for, “As every schoolchild learns, those to whom evil is done do evil in return” (W.H. Auden). Since the root of this evil is so easily located in the Saudi Wahhabite heresy, one wonders why it has not been pulled out, just as one wonders why the only planes allowed to fly after 9/11 were those carrying members of the Saudi royal family out of America. It is well known that the more frightened a population is, the stronger its government will be. Is it possible that the Wahhabite terrorists – who, when all is said and done, amount merely to a few hundred people suffering from a mix of brainwashed mania and legitimate grievances – serve someone’s purposes perfectly? Who ordered all U.S. fighter planes to stand down on 9/11, and why? This question alone, among the many others, needs answering.
This is the kind of background one requires of the media, yet why does one not get it? Take a close look at the executive boards of oil companies and companies in the war business. It should be someone’s Ph.D. thesis. The same names crop all over the places where serious wealth is to be had. U.S. ‘intervention’ only occurs where such people’s money is at stake. Why no help for Syria, by far the biggest catastrophe in the Middle-East, which is saying alot? Answer: no oil, dummy. What happened to the brief democracy in Egypt, now returned to a comfortable military dictatorship just like the one supposedly sprung by the ‘Arab Spring’? Answer: Israel did not like the hostile tone it was hearing from the Muslim Brotherhood. Why does Israel have so much clout in America and Canada? Answer: take a look around, then ask yourself why five percent of the population occupies so many powerful positions, makes so much noise, and controls so much wealth. But don’t tell a soul, because the brand of anti-Semitism – a literally meaningless term in the Semitic Arab world – is impossible to remove. All the major newspapers are shamelessly pro-Israel, as if the Jewish State has done, and could do no wrong. The odd article detailing Palestinian grievances is thrown in so that these rags can ‘prove’ their lack of bias, yet when the column inches are compared, pro-Israel encomia stretch a mile or so, and Palestinian-favourable laments amount to a couple of feet. By contrast, read the Israeli press, like Ha-Aretz, which convey a true sense of the divisions of opinion within Israel itself. Some of the articles would have anyone writing them here thrown in jail. Okay, the Holocaust did happen and was indeed the greatest abomination committed by an allegedly-civilized nation; and Israel does have a right to exist; yet the Palestinians also have rights, or do in theory. They had nothing whatsoever to do with the Nazi Holocaust, yet they were driven from their homeland, entire villages destroyed without trace, and are now forced either to live in an apartheid state, or as refugees abroad, often in camps worse than prisons. Even if so-called peace talks get off the ground, they will stall over control of Jerusalem, a symbolic, rather than holy place for both Jews and Muslims. The problem created by Zionism has no solution – unless it is a reprise of the ‘final’ one – and everyone knows it. Why the endless stream of U.S. Secretaries-of-Sate bother to try solving the insolvable is beyond me. This is why most Jews have no desire to live in Israel, which itself is more symbol than actual homeland. Many of my Jewish friends even regard America as the Promised Land, and hardly any believe the Torah has any more historical value as a property deed than the Koran, or, for that matter, the so-called New Testament, whose geography, let alone historicity, is provably fictional, cobbled together in bad Greek by Roman schismatic Jews who had never left Italy in their lives. You won’t hear this stuff on your radio or television, however, because the powers that be know very well that religion – from the Latin religare, ‘to bind together’ – is a great pacifier of the masses, promising, like a parent or school, punishment for bad behaviour, and great rewards for the good, meaning ‘the meek’, who shall inherit the earth only when the multi-national corporations have reduced it to a toxic trash heap, or a smouldering cinder. The only future those people believe in is the next quarter’s bottom-line. The board of a corporation is legally forbidden to make any decision which will lower share-holder dividends. Legally forbidden. So wonder not why such organizations fail to decide on matters like more environmentally-friendly ways to dispose of their poisonous by-products. Only strong and concerted public lobbying can force them to behave responsibly; and even then governments, largely the pawns of corporate interests, can pass laws subverting the will of the electorate. If there was any justice in this world, the Jews would have been given Germany as their homeland. They would have been much happier there, and it would have given the Germans a chance to atone, instead of trying to forget their whole nation went mad for twelve years. If, if, if…
If Justice were truly for all, fines, like speeding tickets and the rest, would be levied according to the culprit’s income. To a poor man $100 is a hardship; to the driver of a Ferrari it is merely a license fee. When you can afford a crack lawyer, you don’t go to jail; but if you’re in court with some overworked loser from Legal Aid, abandon all hope before ye enter. A heart surgeon here murdered his two children, stabbing them multiple times, yet his crack lawyer, with some quack psychiatrist, got him acquitted on the grounds of ‘temporary insanity’. Try that defense after robbing a bank. No, my friends, justice, like democracy, is a myth by which we imagine life is endurable. As the Dalai Lama once said, “What mystifies me about humanity is that you lose your health trying to make money, then spend the money trying to regain your health. You live in memories of the past, and fantasies about the future, ignoring the present, and refusing to believe you will die. Thus, when you do die, you have never even lived.” I would add to this that if you rely on the corporate media for your knowledge of the world, you will die in utter ignorance, believing you are well-informed.
What is the point of giving the right to vote to someone who hasn’t a clue what the candidates or their parties really stand for? Why does the American working class consistently vote against its own interests by electing Republicans? Why does anyone watch ‘Fox News’, which actually peddles opinions, not news, since opinions are cheap and can never be wrong? Why do so many right-wing media yackers have to shout all the time, when the only people listening to them agree with every malicious word they say? These are mysteries to be probed. Being blind, I no longer own a television, yet have never missed the box. When I encounter one in a hotel room, on rare occasions, I find the hundred-odd channels broadcasting hysterical nonsense, scarcely differentiated from the ads that seem to run every five minutes. Such ‘serious’ programs as you can find are aimed at a kindergarten audience, and any discussions are on a level of banality so stupefying that one fears for any audience they may have. If this is where most people obtain information – along with the dubious and frighteningly unreliable Internet – then why bother with education? Why pretend any vote is ‘democratic’ when no voter has access to any real information on the issues involved? In the United States of Amnesia, history does not really exist beyond a few legends and a great many outright lies. Why do so many Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 atrocity? Why do they continue to believe that the people they elect for Congress or Senate have their best interests at heart, when these people consistently vote against these interests? How many still think Obama was born in Kenya, and why? How did ‘Socialism’ become a pejorative, when it means what the Constitution promises: rule by the people for the people?
In 1776, 95% of Americans worked for themselves, producing real items, crops or manufactures; and only 5% of the national income came from non-productive sources, like rent or usury. Now 95% of the population work for a salary, for a ‘boss’, and 1% control 98% of the wealth. How did this happen? How can a Constitution written for the social order of 1776 even be considered relevant today? The right to bear arms? Come on, N.R.A., that was added at a time when the country had no standing army, and it seemed wise to have a potential militia familiar with weapons. Guns don’t kill people? I think we all know that’s bullshit. By all means go hunting, but not with laser-sighted automatic machine guns. That is not sport. America, the whole world views you as an armed madhouse – because you have become that. What has made a nation which began as the greatest advance in human history, embodiment of our noblest dreams, become so stultifyingly stupid? And this stupidity is now its greatest export, if not the only one. Last year I found British television to be plumbing new depths of idiocy, every talking-head adopting the tone of pseudo-manic excitement pioneered by U.S. media. Does the audience need to be kept awake or something? You wouldn’t want house guests talking like that. I have watched unmitigated Hollywood crap in places like Burma and Papua-New Guinea, where most of its content must be incomprehensible, yet its short-attention-span editing and noise levels seem to compel viewers to watch for neuro-psychological reasons, much the same as being beaten-up commands attention without interest. Admittedly, I did watch Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf on Jordanian television, with some Bedouin in a desert tent, whose only comment on the hauntingly beautiful yet hopelessly obscure film was that, “It have no wolf…” I think Miami Vice was on next, engaging more interest, but disapproval at the scandalous behaviour and dress of women. When was the last time any American channel played a Bergman film? Or Fellini? These giants of the cinema have been replaced by midgets, like Tarrentino and others whose names are not worth remembering. The culture is dying a slow and painful death. No one reads a book anymore, although they may buy many, in order to appear as if they read them. Is there not a way we can salvage this wreck of a civilization? Does this ‘dumbing-down’ benefit someone? If so, who, and why? Is it all to end, as T.S. Eliot predicted, “not with a bang but a whimper”? Always follow the money to find your answers to these mysteries, and then refuse to take the bullshit any more. Stand up and fight, if you believe there is anything to fight for. Life is about Now, not when or then. It is never too late to build a better world. I only wish I could be of more help, yet remain sincerely, Paul William Roberts (I warned you it might be zany. Blame it on the Moon, or the Bossa-Nova).
LETTER FROM GEORGE SAND TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, 12th January, 1876
My cherished Cruchard [note: a term of endearment],
I want to write to you every day; but time is lacking absolutely. At last here is a free moment; we are buried under the snow; it is the sort of weather that I adore: this whiteness is like general purification, and the amusements of the house seem more intimate and sweeter. Can anyone hate winter in the country? Snow is one of the most beautiful sights of the year!
It appears that I am not clear in my sermons; I have that much in common with the orthodox, but I am not of them; neither in my idea of equality, nor of authority, have I any fixed plan. You seem to think that I want to convert you to a doctrine. Not at all, I don’t think of such a thing. Everyone sets off from a point of view, the free choice of which I respect. In a few words, I can give a resume of mine: not to place oneself behind an opaque glass through which one can see only the reflection of one’s own nose. To see as far as possible the good, the bad, about, around, yonder, everywhere; to perceive the continual gravitation of all tangible and intangible things towards the necessity of the decent, the good, the true, the beautiful.
I don’t say that humanity is on its way to the heights. I believe it in spite of everything; but I do not argue about it, it is useless because each one judges according to his own personal vision, and the general aspect is for the moment poor and ugly. Besides, I do not need to be sure of the safety of the planet and its inhabitants in order to believe in the necessity of the good and the beautiful; if the planet departs from that law it will perish; if the inhabitants discard it they will be destroyed. Other stars, other souls will pass over their bodies, so much the worse! But, as for me, I want to gravitate up to my last breath, not without the certitude nor the need of finding elsewhere a GOOD PLACE, but because my sole joy is in keeping myself with my family on an upward road.
In other words, I am fleeing the sewer, and I am seeking the dry and the clean, certain that it is the law of my existence. Being human amounts to little; we are still near the monkey from which they say we proceed. Very well! a further reason for separating ourselves still more from it and for being at least at the height of the relative truth that our race has been admitted to comprehend; a very poor truth, very limited, very humble! well, let us possess it as much as we can and not permit anyone to take it from us. We are, I think, quite agreed; but I practice this simple religion and you do not practice it, since you let yourself become discouraged; your heart has not been penetrated with it, since you curse life and desire death like a Catholic who yearns for compensation, be it only the rest eternal. You are no surer than another of this compensation. Life is perhaps eternal, and therefore work is eternal. If this is so, let us do our day’s work bravely. If it is otherwise, if the self perishes entirely, let us have the honor of having done our stated task, it is our duty; for we have evident duties only toward ourselves and our equals. What we destroy in ourselves, we destroy in them. Our abasement lowers them, our falls drag them down; we owe it to them to remain upright so that they shall not fall. The desire for an early death, as that for a long life, is therefore a weakness, and I do not want you to admit any longer that it is a right. I too thought that once; I believed, however, what I believe today; but I lacked strength, and like you I said: “I cannot help it.” I lied to myself. One can help everything. One has the strength that one thinks one does not have, when one desires ardently to GRAVITATE, to mount a step each day, to say to oneself: “The
Flaubert of tomorrow must be superior to the one of yesterday, and the one of a day after tomorrow more steady and more lucid still.”
When you feel you are on the ladder, you will mount very quickly. You are about to enter gradually upon the happiest and most favorable time of life: old age. It is then that art reveals itself in its full sweetness; as long as one is young, it manifests itself with anguish. You prefer a well-turned phrase to all metaphysics. I also, I love to see condensed into a few words what elsewhere fills volumes; but these volumes, one must have understood them completely (either to admit them or to reject them) in order to find the sublime activity which becomes literary art in its fullest expression; that is why one should not scorn the efforts of the human mind to arrive at truth.
I tell you that, because you have excessive prejudices AS TO WORDS. In truth, you read, you dig, you work much more than I and a crowd of others do. You have acquired learning that I shall never attain.Therefore you are a hundred times richer than all of us; you are a rich man, and you complain like a poor man. Be charitable to a beggar who has his mattress full of gold, but who wants to be nourished only on well-turned phrases and choice words. But dear brute, ransack your own mattress and eat your gold. Nourish yourself with the ideas and feelings accumulated in your head and your heart; the words and the phrases. THE FORM to which you attach so much importance, will issue by itself from your inner digestion. You consider it as an end, it is only an effect. Happy manifestations proceed only from an emotion, and an emotion proceeds only from a conviction. One is not moved at all by the things that one does not believe with all one’s heart.
I do not say that you do not believe: on the contrary, all your life of affection, of protection, and of charming and simple goodness, proves that you are the most convinced individual in the world. But, as soon as you handle literature, you want, I don’t know why, to be another man, one who should disappear, one who destroys himself, who does not exist! What an absurd mania! what a false rule of GOOD TASTE! Our work is worth only what we are worth.
Who is talking about putting yourself on the social stage? That, in truth, is of no use, unless it is done frankly by way of a chronicle. But to withdraw one’s soul from what one does, what is that unhealthy fancy? To hide one’s own opinion about the characters that one puts on the stage, to leave the reader therefore uncertain about the opinion that he should have of them, that is to desire not to be understood, and from that moment, the reader leaves you; for if he wants to understand the story that you are telling him, it is on the condition that you should show him plainly that this one is a strong character and that one weak.
L’Education Sentimentale has been a misunderstood book, as I have told you repeatedly, but you have not listened to me. There should have been a short preface, or, at least, a good opportunity, an expression of blame, even if only a happy epithet to condemn the evil, to characterize the defect, to signalize the effort. All the characters in that book are feeble and come to nothing, except those with bad instincts; that is what you are reproached with, because people did not understand that you wanted precisely to depict the deplorable state of a society that encourages these bad instincts and ruins noble efforts; when people do not understand us it is always our fault. What the reader wants, first of all, is to penetrate into our thoughts, and that is what you deny him, arrogantly. He thinks that you scorn him and that you want to ridicule him. For my part, I understood you, for I knew you. If anyone had brought me your book without its being signed, I should have thought it beautiful, but strange, and I should have asked myself if you were immoral, skeptical, indifferent or heart-broken. You say that it ought to be like that, and that M. Flaubert will violate the rules of good taste if he reveals his own thoughts and the aim of his literary enterprise. This is false in the highest degree. When M. Flaubert writes well and seriously, one attaches oneself to his personality. One wants to sink or swim with him. If he leaves you in doubt, you lose interest in his work, you neglect it, or you give it up.
I have already been in combat with your favorite heresy, which is that one writes for twenty intelligent people and does not care a fig for the rest. It is not true, since the lack of success irritates you and troubles you. Besides, there have not been twenty critics favorable to this book which was so well written and so important. So one must not write for twenty persons any more than for three, or for a hundred thousand.
One must write for all those who have a thirst to read and who can profit by good reading. Then one must go straight to the most elevated conceptions within oneself, and not make a mystery of the moral and profitable meaning of one’s book. People found that with Madame Bovary. If one part of the public cried scandal, the healthiest and the broadest part saw in it a severe and striking lesson given to a woman without conscience and without faith, to vanity, to ambition, to irrationality. They pitied her; art required that, but the lesson was clear, and it would have been more so, it would have been so for everybody, if you had wished it, if you had shown more clearly the opinion that you had, and that the public ought to have had, about the heroine, her husband, and her lovers.
That desire to depict things as they are, the adventures of life as they present themselves to the eye, is not well thought out, in my opinion. Depict inert things as a realist, as a poet, it’s all the same to me, but, when one touches on the emotions of the human heart, it is another thing. You cannot abstract yourself from this contemplation; for man, that is yourself, and men, that is the reader. Whatever you do achieve this, your tale is a conversation between you and the reader. If you show him the evil coldly, without ever showing him the good, he is angry. He wonders if it is he that is bad, or if it is you. You work, however, is to rouse him and to interest him; you will never succeed if you are not roused yourself, or if you hide it so well that he thinks you indifferent. He is right: supreme impartiality is an anti-human thing, and a novel ought to be human above everything. If it is not, the public is not pleased in its being well written, well composed and conscientious in every detail.
The essential quality is not there: interest. The reader breaks away likewise from a book where all the characters are good without distinctions and without weaknesses; he sees clearly that that is not human either. I believe that art, this special art of narration, is only worth while through the opposition of characters; but, in their struggle, I prefer to see the right prevail. Let events overwhelm the honest men, I agree to that, but let him not be soiled or belittled by them, and let him go to the stake feeling that he is happier than his executioners….
Note: George Sand died later this same year, before she could read Flaubert’s last completed book, Three Tales, one of which, ‘A Simple Heart’, was specifically written to please her and take some of the above advice to heart. Their friendship spanned many decades, producing what is generally conceded to be the greatest of all literary correspondences (which now exists in a far better translation than the one quoted above). ******************
It would be remiss of me not to throw in a word on politics here.
“The history of the human mind is a history of stupidity.” Voltaire
The proposed bill in Ottawa effectively to ban prostitution proves Flaubert’s maxim that “people get stupider by the hour”. Has anyone in the House of Idiots ever read a history book? No government has ever succeeded in banning prostitution, just as no nation has ever managed to drag Afghanistan out of the twelfth century. The bill, if anyone is dumb enough to pass it, would simply further endanger the lives of sex-trade workers by outlawing the safe haven of the brothel and making street work somewhat impossible (since is there a street anywhere where one can be certain not to encounter someone under 18?). I suggest a lie-detector test for members of the kindergarten on the hill asking, “Have you ever paid for sex or thought of doing so?” Those who pass clean can vote, the rest must abstain. I imagine, human nature being what it is, that the mere threat of such a test would leave this bill dead in the water. Hypocrites all of them, not to mention inveterate and pathological liars. We’ll leave the Ukraine hypocrisy for another time, but bear this in mind: Democracy does not work, and for reasons stated succinctly by Plato, but still more succinctly by Voltaire above. With tender good wishes, Paul William Roberts.