Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett: The Stoic Comedians

Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett: The Stoic Comedians

Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett: The Stoic Comedians

Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett: The Stoic Comedians

Excerpt

The stoic is one who considers, with neither panic nor indifference, that the field of possibilities available to him is large perhaps, or small perhaps, but closed. Whether because of the invariable habits of the gods, the invariable properties of matter, or the invariable limits within which logic and mathematics deploy their forms, he can hope for nothing that adequate method could not foresee. He need not despair, but the most fortunate resolution of any predicament will draw its elements still from a known set, and so will ideally occasion him no surprise. The analogies that underlie his thinking are physical, not biological: things are chosen, shuffled, combined; all motion rearranges a limited supply of energy. He has been typically, at typical points in history, an ethical theorist weighing duty against preference without extravagant expectations, a hero aware that in defying the gods he yet fulfills their will, a gambler calculating odds, a proponent of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and in our time a novelist filling four hundred empty pages with combinations of twenty-six different letters.

It has taken us several centuries to realize how the Gutenberg Revolution transformed literary composition into a potentially Stoical act. So long as writing was the graph of speech, its highly stylized limitations, its nuances synthesized from discrete particles, were tacitly allowed for. Tones, gestures, live inflections, meeting eyes, these cata-

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