Nervous History: Irony and the Sublime in Flaubert’s L’Education sentimentale



In this second of my close readings, I set forth in greater detail my understanding of irony and the sublime, the two principal rhetorical figures whose structural and modal affinities with historical pains and violences my book attempts to situate within an interdisciplinary framework. Similar in structure yet different in mood, irony and the sublime emerge in the following analysis as two sides of what Linda Orr has called a “headless” hermeneutic—a literary, historical, and critical narrative in which “two mutually exclusive figures of history occupy the same terrain and must be ‘thought’ together.”1 Orr’s critical corpus is those massive romantic histories of the French Revolution that, in the wake of the repeated betrayal (in 1830, 1848, and 1851) of the democratic ideals of 1789, had come to sound merely quaint to a world-weary Flaubert. But it is precisely Flaubert’s mistrust of the expressive medium bequeathed to him (of, that is, the referential and transformative powers of language) that makes his novel about the Second Republic particularly resonant for readers today. As an exploration of the ways in which an overfamiliar historical symbolic can be made to regain something of its former vividness, relevance, or sense of urgency, L’Education sentimentale serves not only as a rich mirror of the political and historical tensions afflicting France after mid-century but also as an uncanny presage of the “waning of affect” that increasingly characterizes our “postmodern” culture.2


Political Violence Compassion Fatigue Ideological Center Political Upheaval Expressive Medium 
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© Vaheed Ramazani 2007

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