All being come from little, and it would only take a little for them to have come from nothing. An oak comes from a gland, a man from a drop of water. And in that gland, in that drop of water, how much superfluity! Every seed occupies only one point. The too much contains the enough; the former is the necessary place for the latter, and its indispensable food, at least in the beginning. The enough must suffer nothing in itself; [Nul ne doit le souffrir en soi] but it is necessary to love it in the world; for nowhere would there be enough nothingness, if there had not always been a little too much of each thing in each space.” – Joubert
LI’s animadversions about Blanchot, in yesterday’s post – the humble pointing out of a codicil that was wrong here, and perhaps not enough attention paid to this point here, cher maitre – received a couple of emails yesterday boxing our ears. Now, our point wasn’t really to diss Blanchot – honestly, while LI may be a puffed up idol of his own bad self, we aren’t so puffed up that we think the battle of LI against Blanchot, like the battle of Baal with Jehovah, would end in anything other than our complete route and desolation. Our suggestion is merely that Joubert’s project for a great book is, in the end, not a Mallarmeene project, and that perhaps there is reason to look at the function of literature within various lives not as a thing segregated or sacrificed for, but as an unpredictable force in a social set up in which rumor has a large place.
There is much in Joubert that suggests a turn to Pascal, especially in the use of conceptual analysis as a sort of fable – that is, a story with a moral point. The implicit nihilism of conceptual analysis – its way of dethroning traditional glories – beauty, large views, principalities and powers, the noble – becomes the way of ascesis, science here, serving as the puppet of theology, to re-coin a phrase. In Joubert’s case, conceptual analysis is always about atomizing the large, and then atomizing the atoms, until you have, on the one hand, the hardly anything at all, and on the other hand, a sort of potential immensity – God, in other words. The way this comes out in Joubert is oddly similar to passages in the Upanishads.
But the turn to Pascal is sorted through the very non-Pascalian history Joubert lived through.
“It is just by the face that one is oneself. The body shows the sex more than the person; the species more than the individual.
Below the head, the shoulders and the chest begins the animal, or that part of the body where the soul ought not to please itself.
There is, in the face, something luminous, which isn’t found in the other parts of the body.“
So far, in my sketch of the poisonous relation of Joubert and Restif de la Bretonne, I’ve cast Restif’s wife, Agnes Lebegue, in the shadows. But Agnes deserves better – poor woman, she never got it during her lifetime. There is a word that is frequently used about the way Restif treated her – avilissement. To make something or someone vile. Restif’s fame, which rested on his neurotic (and premeditated) confessing, makes Agnes’ fate peculiarly horrible. If she had lovers, that fact was exploited by Restif immediately. As we have seen, he even wrote a book about her entitled The Cheating Wife. As the estimable Beaunier puts it, she was “not that “whore’ [catin] who Restif too much insulted.” Restif and Agnes endured a lot of poverty before Joubert ever met them. Agnes kept the family going, sometimes, by her work as a seamstress making fashionable clothes. Sometimes, she moved back to Joigny, her village, and sold hats.
Touchingly, the affair between Joubert and Agnes began – and we have the proof in the letters Restif stole from his wife and published – in literature. This wasn’t Paolo and Francesca, however. Rather, Agnes claims to have been annihilated by the cares of marriage, the continual needlework, the racking poverty. “Dear friends,” she writes – supposedly to both Joubert and Fontanes – “you have opened my soul; you have shown me that I have the faculty of thought, of writing! I will consecrate to you the firstborn of that precious faculty.” Which she proceeded to do, daily – Joubert advised her to improve her style by writing him a daily letter. She is exaggerating, however, Joubert’s effect on her. In fact, when Restif met her she was a writer. Restif systematically denigrated the productions of her pen, just as he systematically exaggerated her ‘fredaines’ – her love affairs. When Restif published her letters, he was, in a way, finally publishing her writing – but in order to truly put the mindfuck in, he added to the letters comments denigrating him, her husband, while changing the addressee to make it look like she was writing to several lovers at once, thus making her out to be the kind of Marquise de Merteuil.
In fact, things had reached the point between Restif and Agnes that Agnes left the household. Joubert connected her to a lawyer, Stigmatin de Lamarque, not only to take care of the possible divorce, but to deal with the rumors, and the passing around of the manuscript of The Cheating Wife. However, the couple still had daughters. Evidently, Agnes still spent time in the apartment in Paris. Which is how, one night, Agnes, alone in her room, is intruded upon by her raging husband [“my hand, gesticulating, touched her hair two or three times,” as he put it, in a self justifying retrospective]. At the end of that night, she gave up. She wanted peace. She would give up Joubert.
But Restif won’t. He declares war on Joubert. He even declares war on the man with the false fingers, La Reyniere, who – in this battle – had taken Restif’s side against his wife. La Reyniere’s crime was to counsel against publishing The Cheating Wife.
“The end of the Cheating Wife is an astonishing thing. It had to be finished. Restif imagines, for an epilogue and apotheosis, the death of Restif. M. Marivert writes to Madame Marivert. [two characters in the book] He has come to Paris: “I came to see our friend. I found the two sisters in tears: he had just passed away. …” Madame Jeandevert (Agnes) gave out heavy signs of grief; an instant afterwards, she had a dry eye and a serene air. Thus, it is necessary that this crime be punished. And Restif narrates the death of his widow, the burial of his widow.
Morality: “This work is an arsenal for the defense of some persons actually living…” And those persons, it is only Restif, who, dead and buried, admits that he lives still. “Finally, it was necessary to make … the Milpourmils and the Nairesons [Milpourmil is the name of a friend of Joubert, Naireson is Joubert] ashamed, in showing them nakedly the woman for whom they sacrificed the friendship they had vowed to her husband.”
Joubert certainly found that even in the little apartment, the little circle about a little writer, there was enough superfluous emotion to explode in his face. There is a letter from his friend Fontanes, who is in London, at the end of the year 1785, responding to a question from Joubert, who wanted to know if, as Restif said, his novel, Paysan Perverti, were a bestseller in England. Fontanes assures him he hasn’t found the novel in the bookshops.
LI wonders why Joubert asked that question. We have a theory.