Flaubert and the Bears

Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity. –Gustave Flaubert

So my novel was workshopped. I was horribly nervous the whole day waiting to go the workshop at 8 p.m., like I was waiting for my own execution. But I needn’t have worried. My colleagues and instructor were enthusiastic in their praise; specific and constructive in their criticism. It gave me a much clearer idea of what wasn’t working and why not. More important, fixing it seemed, at that moment, both possible and completely worth the effort. It was an exciting few hours.

And now I have to actually do it. When I sat to revise Chapter 1 — that was when Flaubert and his troupe of dancing bears entered my mind; not only entered but sat down and made themselves at home. What a horribly blunt instrument language is, how inadequate to our supposedly profound ideas! That Flaubert came up with such an unforgettable metaphor for this inadequacy does nothing to diminish the truth of his observation.

Everything is there; I see it now, what needs to be there: sharper, deeper, truthier. But how to get it out?


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