Flaubert, Gustave (1821–1880)

In French literature of the 19th century Flaubert forms an antinatalistic antithesis to the marked pronatalism propounded, for example, by ->Zola: “The thought of bringing someone else into the world fills me with horror. I would curse my own self if I were ever to become a father. A son of my own! Oh, no, no no! Let my flesh and blood perish along with me and let me not pass the tedium and ignominy of this life on to anyone else.” (Flaubert, quoted in Tintenfass. Magazin für Literatur und Kunst, Nr. 4, Diogenes, Zürich 1981 p. 265)

 

Beginning of Existence Without Consent

Already in the autobiographical novel he composed in his youth, “Memoirs of a Madman”, Flaubert insists, in antinatalist spirit and in a manner that prefigures the work of Georges àPoulet, on the non-consensual character of the beginning of our existence: “But first of all: why were you born? Did you want to be? Were you asked if you wanted to be? It was simply blind fate that brought you into the world… Great as you may be today, you were at one time something as filthy as spittle and as ill-smelling as urine[1]; then you went through various metamorphoses, much as a worm does, and finally came out into this world, near-lifeless, shrieking, crying, with eyes still tight closed, as if you felt hatred for this sun, which you have nonetheless exhorted, so many times, to rise.” (Flaubert)

 

The Last Human Beings and the End of Humanity

Flaubert’s anthropofugal imagination not only prompts him to paint a portrait of the end of humanity and to wish this end to come all the quicker because of the cruelty hitherto displayed by Man; in one passage he even wishes for something that most people, if they encounter antinatalist ideas, perceive as an especially horrific and repugnant possible consequence of these latter: namely, to live on earth as the very last of the human race: “Infinite space will surely have one day to become weary of this speck of dust which makes so much noise and disturbs the majesty of the void. (…) A few last human beings will still wander back and forth across the dried-out earth and call out to one another now and then. But when they approach one another they will wince back in horror, terrified by each other’s appearance. And they will die alone.”[2] (Flaubert) “When the world no longer exists, oh yes, it is then that I would want to live, without Nature, without human beings; how glorious that emptiness will be!” (Flaubert)

 

Ecological Anthropofugality

Flaubert is no proponent, indeed, of an ecologically-based àAntinatalism of the sort that we encounter among supporters of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement; nevertheless, he gives expression to a certain ecologically anthropofugal vision: “The trees will grow and bear their leaves without any human hand being there to rip them down and break them. The rivers will flow on through gaily-coloured meadows; Nature will be free without human beings to subjugate it; and this species will die out, for it was an accursed one from its infancy onward.” (Flaubert)

 

[1] This vaguely recalls the phrase ascribed to Saint Augustine: Inter faeces et urinam nascimur.

[2] The wanderings of human beings in a world of this sort has been powerfully described by Cormac McCarthy in his novel “The Road”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.