An article by Borges in defence of Bouvard and Pecuchet, written in 1954 seeks to answer some of the criticisms levelled against that magnificent work. I personally have a feeling that my almost reverent appraisal of that work has got something to do with a faint foreboding I have always carried with in me. It is like, I always tend to repeat to myself in moments solitude - That one either has to be born a genius to change the world or stupid enough to swallow whatever is. I don't belong to the former, so my lot is to swallow, however bitter whatever is.
Borges, citing some of the critics say the presence of two protagonists, Bouvard and Pecuchet, the copy clerks, is nothing more than a verbal artifice. Much more tellingly, another critic has said it is a kind of two-man Faust. But the lamentation of Faust in his study about the invariable vanity of his learning of various fields, is contrasted with the two protagonists in a seminal way - Bouvard and Pecuchet is the story of a Faust who is also an idiot. That is the key for if one can convincingly posit Bouvard and Pecuchet lacked the mental capacity to the enterprise they put themselves to, the whole project of Flaubert would crumble down. The story of two imbeciles reviewing the achievements of all mankind would end up as a fallacy. The problem would lie with them and not the human pursuit to know the world and the fruits of that labour. Borges says, the common line of refutation of this theses is to prove the falsity of it's premise, that is, Bouvard and Pecuchet are imbeciles. He quotes Maupassant as having said Bouvard and Pecuchet are 'two fairly lucid, mediocre, and simple minds' of which Borges himself is not convinced. He writes he wouldn't be convinced even if Flaubert were to make such an assertion because the text itself refutes this.
He venture to suggest an alternate justification for the work, which is, I must say, beautful as anything from Borges. It is the pervasive idea of two elements combining in individuals - simplicity and wisdom. 'That fools teach more than wise men because they dare to speak the truth' is one among the many quotes he invokes in defence of this. Well - Do you feel convinced? The beauty of Borges's mind is as ravishing as ever, but I happen to remain doubtful about this spefic line of argument.
I have always thought that Bouvard and Pecuchet are not imbeciles per se, essentially, but it is the enterprise they involve in, that gives them that appearance. Their actions precede our judgement, and it is the act that defines them, even to the extent of that judgement being recursively valid.
Why do I tend to remember the words of another French who wrote years later - "Whether the earth or the sun revolves around the other is a matter of profound indifference. To tell the truth, it is a futile question."?
Indian people are inclined to consider the universal seriously in expressing their ideas of things. This can be easily seen in the fact of their verbal usage in which they have so great an inclination to use abstract nouns. In Sanskrit, an abstract noun is formed by adding -ta (f.) or -tva (n.) suffix to the root. These suffixes correspond to th (Greek), -tas (Latin), -tät (German), -té (French), -ty (English), and etymologically they have a close connection. In these European languages, however, abstract nouns are not often used except in scientific essays or formal sentences, while in Sanskrit they are often used even in everyday speeches. For example, "He becomes old," "Er wird alt," is expressed in Sanskrit ''He goes to oldness": vrddhatam (-tvam, -bhavam) gacchati (agacchati, upaiti, etc.); "The fruit becomes soft," "Die Frucht wird weich" is expressed in Sanskrit "The fruit goes to softness": phalam mrdutam(-tvam, -bhavam mardavam) yati; "He goes as a messenger," "Er geht als Bote" is expressed "He goes with the quality of messenger": gacchati dautyena; "A man was seen to be a tree" is expressed "A man was represented by the quality of tree" (puman kascid vrksatvenopavarnitah). The European languages express the individual by its attribute or quality realized concretely by the individual itself, while the Sanskrit expresses the individual only as one of the instances belonging to the abstract universal.
- Hajime Nakamura
Tell me, isn't that mightily revealing?