Bovarysm: The Art-Philosophy of Jules De Gaultier. By Wilmot E. Ellis. Seattle: Number sixteen, University of Washington Chapbooks. Sixty-five cents.
Nothing illustrates better the philosophical provincialism and the immanent moralic taint of the Anglo-Saxon world than its almost studied ignorance of a philosophic Titan like Jules De Gaultier and its periodic slaver over Bergsons, Euckens, Unamunos, Spenglers and—but the list is interminable. Havelock Ellis—whose mind is a veritable watch-tower for independent and daring thinkers—has alone, I believe, written about him in England, while in America, in 1913, in the “International” I announced him, and again, in 1919, in “Shadow-land,” which two essays on De Gaultier are now in my “Forty Immortals.” As the philosophy of this thinker, who ranks with Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, does not smoothe the popular cat the right way, my trumpetings fell on dead ears, as did Havelock Ellis’ in England. In France De Gaultier comes slowly to the fore because he is an “unofficial philosopher” and because, as Mr. Ellis says in his compact, condensed, and clearly written exposition of De Gaultier’s philosophy, “the guardians of the status quo scented a menace and have, in one way or another, and by the usual insidious methods, blocked the propagation and general discussion of them” (that is, of his doctrines).
Mr. Ellis has been a student of the philosophy of Jules De Gaultier for many years, and in this brochure he has given to the English-speaking world for the first time a complete survey, of the Frenchman’s philosophy of Bovarysm and his great doctrine of universal illusion as the condition of life, together with an exposition of his cosmic aesthetic: life is justified by its spectacular and dazzling beauty without beginning, without end, without ethical purpose.
Hence Mr. Ellis’ compound word, “art-philosophy.” “De Gaultier,” says Mr. Ellis, “retains the intellectualism and the disillusioned joy of living of Nietzsche, his Apollinism and his Dionysism. With De Gaultier, the sadness of life is transformed into an aesthetic sensibility, eager to perpetuate the spectacle, to evoke it, to describe it.” His score of books sustain an altitude as high and as serene—serene, above all, when viewing the catastrophes of Man — as Spinoza or Shakespeare. The Beethoven who will put in symphonic form the core of De Gaultier’s vision of God as Supreme Artist of Chance and Beauty, unallied to messianic hopes, has not yet been born.
Schopenhauer gave to the world the formula of “The “Will to Live.” Nietzsche changed the formula to “The Will to Power.” De Gaultier has given to us “The Will-to-Illusion.” Mr. Ellis says that “these concepts are not mutually antithetical; rather, they are successive links in a metaphysical chain. Or, dropping the metaphor, it appears that these three concepts may be harmonized and merged into one supreme generalization, namely, the will to live exuberantly in a world inherently one of illusion.” But, to me, there can be no will-to-live or will-to-power unless there is a will-to-illusion. De Gaultier’s formula is primordial. Buddha knew this when he taught that neither the will-to-live nor the will-to-power could be destroyed until the will-to-illusion was abolished. Emerson also hit it when he said “God’s method is illusion.”
De Gaultier is more daring than Buddha, for he says even if life is a mistake, a tragic error, an eternal evil, I pronounce it worth while because it is a tragedy invented for my artistic delight! He is the first great satanic philosopher (Nietzsche’s Superman is messianic), a thinker who celebrates Evil for its dramatic and aesthetic values. De Gaultier says humorously that “the most advanced freethinkers are almost ready to make the sign of the cross at sight of me.” He also says, “I am the man who has lost his mask and who walks naked.” This is the spiritual loneliness of Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche over again. But, as De Gaultier has himself written to Mr. Ellis in the section of this mentally fascinating brochure which tells of the philosopher’s life and influences, “Nietzsche ended my loneliness.” “It is one of De Gaultier’s major accomplishments,” says Mr. Ellis, “to have retouched the Nietzschean philosophy with his own Gallic sensibility, thus rendering it more acceptable to those who do not feel particularly receptive towards German intellectualism. But De Gaultier is no mere adapter and expounder of Nietzsche, as our John Fiske was of Herbert Spencer; the French thinker has made some distinctively original contributions to modern philosophical thought.”
The most “distinctively original” contribution is De Gaultier’s invention of the word Bovarysm, which is now in general use in intellectual France. It is drawn from Flaubert’s Emma Bovary, the female counterpart of Don Quixote. Bovarysm, as expounded in De Gaultier’s book, “Le Bovarysme,” is the universal illusion caused by the power bestowed on man alone of conceiving himself as he is not (“se concevoir autre quit rtest”). Here is the leitmotiv of all the tragedy and comedy of the planet. “By, an unassailable chain of induction De Gaultier extends this faculty of Bovarysm,” says Mr. Ellis, “to include the group, the nation, humanity itself, and finally universal mind (assuming for the moment that there is such an esse). Bovarysm, our philosopher n^aintains, is the underlying law of evolution.” In De Gaultier’s “Le Genie de Flaubert” this underlying law is further expounded through the work of Flaubert. It receives further masterful development in “UIllusiontUniverselle.” Man is thus the eternal liar, aping, as Cabell says, egotistic ideals of himself. There is no truth. To know the truth one would have to be the Absolute, God. Whatever is, is a romantic lie, as Emma Bovary discovered. To the universe as a Romantic Lie, De Gaultier cries, “Evohe!”
Mr. Ellis gives us a fine exposition of De Gaultier’s distinction between Instinct and Knowledge, action and contemplation, Dionysus and Apollo. The philosopher of Bovarysm is himself personally an Apollonian—he has a “horror of action,” he once said to Doctor Oscar Levy, the English editor of the works of Nietzsche. “De Gaultier,” says Mr. Ellis, “takes the road to the ivory tower; and he arrives at his destination. Much of his writings is devoted to glowing descriptions of what he sees from the ivory tower, descriptions that fully earn for him the title of ‘artist-philosopher’ and that will delight the minds of all true artists, whether or not they accept De Gaultier’s metaphysics.” Indeed, the clarity, the beauty, the concentration of this artist-philosopher’s style place his works among the great literary adventures of those who love that rare union of mighty conceptions with perfection—and at times lyrical perfection—of form.
This brochure ought to be read by every intellectual in America. It is a tantalizing appetizer to the banquet spread for humanity by this daring, rich, and beautiful spirit, one of the glories of vital philosophic thought.