The Memory-Object in Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot
Arguing that Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot has been too circumscribed within the field of historiographic metafiction, this essay argues that a close examination of the novel’s treatment of history and its representation allows for readings that move beyond purely epistemological concerns. Corresponding to Barnes’ belief that novels come out of life, his works are often bursting at the seams, reaching beyond imposed meaning towards the abstract. This essay undertakes a close investigation of the novel’s particular treatment of history and its representation, and argues that ‘history’ is merely Barnes’ shorthand for a more abstract sense of truth or ‘state of knowing’. In Flaubert’s Parrot, Barnes engages with the role of memory in reconstituting past experience and challenges the reliability of the material world to bear witness to our lives. Drawing from historian Pierre Nora’s distinction between history and memory as dead representation and living site respectively, the essay posits that Barnes offers us the memory-object in place of the material artifact; the memory object accommodates the flux of experience and finds its ideal embodiment in the aesthetic object.