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White on Duffy (2015)


Duffy, Larry. Flaubert, Zola, and the Incorporation of Disciplinary Knowledge. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. Pp. xvii + 280. ISBN: 978-1-137-29753-2

Claire White, King’s College London

This is first and foremost a book about how literary texts of the nineteenth century incorporate existing bodies of knowledge about the body, and what this can tell us about the shifting borders and interactions among disciplines. Gustave Flaubert’s and Émile Zola’s extensive bodies of work and documentary manuscripts provide the terrain for this illuminating and deeply researched study, which focuses on the writers’ incorporation of extra-literary—principally medical—material into their works of fiction. Ranging across the fields of toxicology, orthopedics, statistics, pharmacology, and psychiatry, the book sets these writers’ engagement with medical discourses in the context of an evolving disciplinary culture.

Duffy’s approach is rooted in genetic studies, and his careful mining of manuscripts (Flaubert’s in particular) is often key to the persuasiveness of his readings. But it is the author’s insistence on the situation of the work of literature “within wider discursive and disciplinary configurations” (12) that underpins the study’s specific angle and insights: Duffy is less concerned with compiling and analyzing those extra-literary sources on which Flaubert and Zola draw in order to reconstitute the paths of medicine’s influence on literature, as he is with exploring the more complex correspondences, or dynamics, between literary and non-literary discourses. Crucial to this approach is Duffy’s account of the literary text’s own active reflection on the processes of (discursive) incorporation it undertakes. How does the text present, and understand, its own integration of knowledge from extra-literary disciplines, or other “bodies” of discourse? Where both Flaubert and Zola include scenes of literal incorporation—Emma Bovary’s arsenic poisoning, for instance, or, in Zola’s Le Docteur Pascal, hypodermic injections—these can be understood, Duffy argues, metaphorically, as moments when the documentary text depicts its own ingestion of extra-literary material. In this, the author provides a further inflection of Susan Harrow’s Zola, The Body Modern (2010), by tying together the fictional subject’s corporeal destiny and the body (or corpus) of writing at particular moments of invasion, ingestion, and assimilation. But the present study also insists on the importance of a further corps: that of the professional scientific or medical body, which seeks to constitute the ways in which the physiological body can, or should, be described, diagnosed, and treated. How might Zola’s and Flaubert’s procedures of incorporation encourage the reader to reflect, in turn, on those new configurations of professional and disciplinary bodies that took shape in the early nineteenth century, “offering commentary on [...] how bodies of knowledge—and especially the professions that produce them—come to be constituted” (3)?

Part one is devoted to tracking the formation, and institutionalization, of pharmacy as a discipline at the beginning of the century. Flaubert’s Homais is read as representative of “a new pharmaceutical ideology” (35) which sought to straddle medicine and chemistry, and which emblematized a new kind of “disciplinary pouvoir-savoir” (61). Part two examines those attempts in Madame Bovary to correct two (symbolically overdetermined) figures of deformity: namely the Aveugle and Hippolyte, whose club foot becomes the wretched stake in a struggle over (medical) professional capital. With recourse to Foucault, Duffy presents the body as the site on which “disciplinary” power exerts itself, in a double sense: the corporeally deviant must be corrected, and the deformed body finds itself crisscrossed by rival medical discourses. The health profession’s endeavors to “redress” the physiologically abnormal are framed as attempts to address wider concerns about the social body, or body politic. Part three focuses on two novels by Zola: his “roman judiciaire,” La Bête humaine, and the final work of the Rougon-Macquart series, Le Docteur Pascal. In the former, Duffy examines the involvement of psychiatry in the criminal justice system, arguing that Zola develops an ironic view of the contemporary thought of Cesare Lombroso, particularly its proposed ties between criminality and external appearances. Instead, Zola returns to earlier psychiatric discourses which insist on a criminal’s hidden disposition.

The final chapter returns the reader to a wider reflection on the procedures according to which the Naturalist text incorporates scientific discourses. As the work which assimilates, via recapitulation, the preceding novels of the series, Zola’s meta-fictional Le Docteur Pascal stages, perhaps more than any other, the omnivorous character of the Naturalist text. Here, the hypodermic therapy that the doctor hero sets out to develop—itself a transposition of Dr. Jules Chéron’s “thérapeutique dynamique” (196)—is read as a metaphor for Naturalism’s regenerative assimilation of scientific thought. In focusing on those moments at which the boundaries of the body are compromised, this study seeks to demonstrate how two authors reflect—to ideologically different ends—on the literary text’s own open borders. Such attention to the aesthetic self-consciousness at work in the author’s engagement with medical discourse allows Duffy to bring important new inflections to the clichéd self-caricatures of Zola as anatomist and Flaubert as dissecting surgeon. 


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