Sunday, May 07, 2006

Language -- Flaubert’s cracked kettle and how he tried to mend it


Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the time we are longing to move the stars to pity. -- Flaubert, “Madame Bovary”

Frederick Brown’s “Flaubert: A Biography” is reviewed by Eric Ormsby, who concludes by saying this about Flaubert’s lifelong attempt to improve the acoustics of the kettle.
From his letters it seems clear that Flaubert was often inundated by impressions. Style provided a means of ordering the world. And style was not only physical in some vague sense; it was acoustic. Night after night he would shout his sentences out to the stunned flower-beds and dumbstruck nightingales in his Croisset garden. Words must connect justly with other words, but they must echo in actuality as well. Style was not only a barricade, imposing limit and order on the unruly; it was also the slow, stubborn, patient mending of that irreparable crack in the kettle.
He doesn't mention the bears, but I imagine they kept dancing.

The Least Affordable Place to Live? Try Salinas

That was the headline in today’s NYT. Who knew?
In 2005, the least-affordable place in the country to live, measured by the percentage of income devoted to mortgage payments, was Salinas, Calif.
The article points out that the 11 least-affordable metropolitan areas in the country are all in California, topped by Salinas of all places. There are many causes, but one appears to be the impact of Proposition 13 on municipal zoning, discouraging housing development that would keep up with the growing population.

A different kind of local zoning situation apparently was behind the dire straits of music in Salinas suggested by the photo I took two years ago during a brief visit to John Steinbeck’s hometown.