About Bruce Fleming: Books

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Saving Madame Bovary: Being Happy with What We Have

Savannah, GA. Frederic C. Beil Publishers. 
ISBN: 978-1-929490-52-6
Hardcover; 6 x 9 inches
ca. 320 pages
February 2017, $24.95

Tired of being surrounded by stuff? Tired of same-old-same-old? Convinced that adventure always lies somewhere else? So was Gustave Flaubert’s heroine Emma Bovary from the 1857 novel Madame Bovary, and she killed herself. Fortunately, we don’t have to. Nor do we have to be miserable, like poor Emma, who dreams of high life with the beautiful people, yet whom Fate has condemned to an ordinary life with an ordinary husband and an ordinary child in an ordinary town. But what makes her think the aristocracy is made of people any happier than she is? For them, that’s their ordinary. We want what we don’t have. Saving Madame Bovary is a stay-up-all-night read, a book about how we live our lives. Maybe it could have saved Emma, and it can certainly save us. From what? From endless yearning, from boredom when we achieve our goals because they fail to satisfy, from what seems the banality of the everyday. We need to be ready for the everyday and fully embrace it. After all, more things are just more things, and everywhere is somebody’s everyday.

Saving Madame Bovary is a dazzling juggling act of literature (Flaubert, Jane Austen’s Emma—the “other” Emma, Aldous Huxley, and E. F. Benson, among others), sociology (our obsession with brand names), and applied philosophy (what is the nature of the everyday?). The result, in addition to an exhilarating read, is a book that helps people focus on something other than a Gucci bag or a Rolex, whose aura quickly fades, leaving us wanting something else.


Running is Life: Transcending the Crisis of Modernity.

Lanham, MD: University Press of America/Rowman and Littlefield, 2010. The action of running (jogging) is considered as an action that transcends philosophical dualities. It also moves beyond the crisis of Modernity, which is that value is now thought of as individual rather than absolute or collective: if each person is left to value what s/he does, is there any justification for doing one thing over the other? A mixture of philosophy and memoir.

Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide: What Each Side Must Know About the Other - And About Itself.

Fairfax, VA: Potomac Books, June 2010. A consideration of the misperceptions by the civilian world of the military, and the reverse, with an eye to having the two sides understand and accept each other in this age of yawning gulfs—liberal vs. conservative, left vs. right, "blue" vs. "red."

What Literary Studies Could Be, and What It Is.

Lanham, MD: University Press of America/Rowman and Littlefield, 2008. Literary studies in the last half-century has achieved the pyrrhic victory of establishing itself as a methodologically predictable discipline on the pattern of the sciences. This is unfortunate since literature is anything but predictable in its effect, and the only aspects of its study that can be codified are the least relevant to human situations, which are the source of literature and, in the reader, the point of reading it. A blueprint for a new way of approaching literature, both in the classroom and out. Excerpted in the Chronicle of Higher Education December 2008.

Journey to the Middle of the Forest: A Maryland Half-Life.

Lanham, MD: Hamilton Books, 2008. A memoir of a life up to middle-age, largely lived in Maryland. How do we make sense of life? Are the patterns we can all trace after the fact anything but the tracks the mouse makes in the sticks in the Baule mouse oracle, the path of what in fact happened? What do we do to convince ourselves that they mean more than that?

Homage to Eugene O'Neill: Literary Criticism in a New Key.

University Press of America/Rowman and Littlefield, 2008. Part critical essay, part literary behemoth, Homage suggests that literary criticism has run its course as a secondary discipline and might continue with works such as the gargantuan play that follows, in the spirit of O'Neill's "Strange Interludes," with a multi-generational saga of the rise and fall of an industrialist's family. O'Neill's famous "asides" are naturalized as telephone conversations, letters read out loud, and monologues, but the whole has the feeling of soap opera of O'Neill's longer works.

The Thanksgiving Symposium: A Modern Platonic Dialogue on Love.

University Press of America/Rowman and Littlefield 2008. Many commentators have noted the dramatic quality of the Platonic dialogue; some have suggested that this is part of the philosophy. The Thanksgiving Symposium takes this idea and sets a "Symposium"-like discussion on love at an American Thanksgiving dinner. Can "love" ever be defined once and for all, given that it's different for each person, and even the discussion is subject to the human facts of forgetfulness and lack of focus, as well as the givens of a social situation? What does it show us about any philosophy that increasingly it happens in a quasi-scientific laboratory setting of the classroom, where the social situation is defined and its constraints minimized, and where lack of clarity is simply ignored rather than being accepted as part of the discussion?

Bill the Goat's Adult Refresher Guide to Writing.

Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2008. Many adults are unsure about their writing skills, but misconceive the solution as a list of how-tos. The most sophisticated of such lists is The Elements of Style, usually called "Strunk and White" after its two authors. Bill's Guide offers an alternative to such lists, a way of thinking about the effect of writing so that the writer can begin to answer his or her own questions rather than relying on outside experts.

"There are a limited few that have mastered both worlds [of writing and editing]. …Those successful few must rely on wit and wisdom periodically interspersed with the tools of the trade. One such tool just entering the marketplace is Professor Bruce Fleming's Bill the Goat's Adult Refresher Guide to Writing. … Fleming focuses on the reasons why the rules exist. . . This refreshing approach enables the reader to immediately (and hopefully for the long-term) understand why we write the way we do. Even if you are a grammar expert (or editor) give Bill a try. You will be better to the experience." –Robert Taylor, Parameters: U.S. War College Quarterly (Editor's Shelf).

The Aesthetic Sense of Life: A Philosophy of the Everyday.

Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2008. Tolstoy thought that if we fail to notice the richness of the world, is it as if it had never been. But must we spend our lives going about noticing things for the world even to be? Clearly this is silly, though many of the Modernist artists thought it was the case. The Aesthetic Sense of Life suggests that we can chart a course between the life-denying one of saints on one hand, and, on the other, the drowning-in-details smugness of those who fail to raise their eyes from the world they experience. In the middle lies a sense of the aesthetic, a consciousness of patterns that individual details (which vary from person to person) fall into. We let the world take the course it takes, and then articulate the patterns it has assumed. Patterns, like Saussure's langue, are what we share with each other; the particulars of our lives, like Saussure's parole, are ours alone.

The New Tractatus: Summing Up Everything.

Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007. A revisiting and revitalization of some of the major themes of Wittgenstein's Tractatus logico-philosophicus, following the numbering scheme of Wittgenstein's work but covering a much wider variety of topics, from sex and celebrity to childhood and religion, passing through belief, meaning, and the nature of science. The New Tractatus shares with the old a conviction that whatever we do is part of life: the world consists of everything that is.

Why Liberals and Conservatives Clash.

New York: Routledge, 2006. Liberal and conservative are two coherent world-views. Conservatives define their ethics in terms of actions; liberals in terms of actors. The two inevitably clash, but each needs to acknowledge the virtues—which means, the right to existence—of the other.

Disappointment or the Light of Common Day.

Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005. What do Wordsworth, the gold death mask of King Tut, and Robert Frost's "Birches" have in common? They all express what I call "disappointment," in a technical sense: the world-view of someone who realizes that both the state of blind high energy of youth and the more reflective alternative of age are part of the human condition. The book considers the phenomenon of "coloring," whereby we decide that we have been confusing a single quality of something with the thing itself—something that can happen at any time, and thus undermines our search for absolute certainty—and the question of whether war is inevitable.

Annapolis Autumn: Life, Death, and Literature at the U.S. Naval Academy.

New York: The New Press, 2005. A book of memoirs on the paradoxes of teaching English at a military college.

"Bruce Fleming should get down on his knees every evening and thank the Lord for the tenure system. [He writes:] "The war novels we read in class show the waste and pointlessness of war." . . . All this is absolutely accurate." –Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

"Bruce Fleming initiates a no-holds-barred conversation about the task of teaching literature to Naval cadets. His anecdotes and analyses often speak to a plight that goes beyond an institution whose students are paid to attend class. Fleming elucidates aspects of the academy's culture with neither the hushed reverence nor snide cynicism that can accompany writing on the military. Wonderful Stand and Deliver-style scenes... What ties this book together are telling anecdotes that hit on the idiosyncratic nature of masculinity." –John Dicker, City Paper

Art and Argument: What Words Can't Do and What They Can.

Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2003. Can we ever be convinced by arguments? If so, under what circumstances? Is a novel arguing with us? Is it communicating with us? Is art true and false? What is the purpose of literary studies? What is the future of literary theory?

"This work contains wonderful insights into everyday occurrences and helps make certain life experiences seem simple again, in a field that tends to complicate some of the most basic such experiences." Philosophy in Review.

"Let us congratulate Bruce Fleming for having written this book, and for not having written for a coterie but in language that expects to speak to John Doe in the fields of literature and language." Review of Metaphysics

Sexual Ethics: Liberal vs. Conservative.

Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2004. Why are people embarrassed to talk about sex? Does sex have a purpose? Is sex part of the personal or the social spheres? Why do liberals and conservatives butt heads so absolutely regarding sexual subjects? Why is abortion such a hot potato? What is the nature of ethical objections to pornography?

Science and the Self: The Scale of Knowledge.

Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2004. What is the relationship between scientific knowledge and other kinds of knowledge? What are these other kinds of knowledge? In what way is science objective? Can we predict the future in the objective world?

"Unlike ostentatious, disingenuous, 'theoretical' tracts, Fleming's book possesses a distinctive and personal voice. While remaining respectful of the achievements and the fruits of science, Fleming equally pays tribute to the essential, subjective intricacies of human existence. . . . The author's grasp of the objective stance of philosophy and science is both refreshing and noble." –P. B. Gonzalez, Bridges

A Structure Opera. Geneva, OH: Six Gallery Press, 2002. Drawing on Gertrude Stein's attempts to write "operas" in words, answers the question: how does the individual relate to the world?

"Fleming builds a postmodern sandwich that even Dagwood could admire." Review of Contemporary Fiction

Dance Essays: Sex, Art, and Audience.

New York: Peter Lang, 2000.

"Fleming excels as reporter, observer, and soothsayer." Village Voice

One of its essays, "Gender in Dance," excerpted and translated into Swedish for the program book of the Gothenburg Opera, Gothenburg Sweden, Fall 2002.

Twilley: A Novel.

New York: Turtle Point Press, 1997. Experimental novel detailing the world of a small town from the perspective of its eponymous main character.

"The style of the book is riveting, the seamless blending of the banal—described as if seen for the first time—with the meditative and the fabulous offers a fascinating texture. At its best Fleming's writing suggests the verbal effluence of Henry James's allusive style and Marcel Proust's network of nebulous images and memories. The tone of Twilley is literary and philosophical at once. . . Imagine Thoreau totally numb to the excesses and absurdities of commercial culture while still attempting to find 'meaning' in the superficiality of this world. This is Twilley." David Clippinger, Rain Taxi Review of Books

"Twilley is equal parts detailed noticing, wild imagining, and good language… Bruce Fleming keeps company with several of the masters of modern literature." Baltimore Sun

"Conjectures and asides swell the narrative. Objects give off eerie vibes. Mr. Fleming trains a microscopic eye on images of decay worthy of the director David Lynch." Chronicle of Higher Education

"Fleming navigates with the skill and brio of a master literary mariner." Frigatezine

"What makes this book interesting is the force of language that magnifies the most insignificant details. It's like seeing pond water under a microscope for the first time." Weeklywire.com (Speed Reader)

Modernism and its Discontents: Philosophical Problems of Twentieth Century Literary Theory.

New York: Peter Lang, 1995. A study of some of the major texts in twentieth century literary theory. Attempts to identify recurring theoretical difficulties in the Modernist enterprise.

Structure and Chaos in Modernist Works.

New York: Peter Lang, 1995. A study of works by some of the principal figures of Anglo American Modernism that emphasizes similarities of Modernist approach across disciplines. Includes studies of writers (Eliot, Stein, Woolf), a philosopher (Wittgenstein), a historian (Strachey), a film- maker (Eisenstein) and choreographers (Graham, Balanchine).

Caging the Lion: Cross Cultural Fictions.

New York: Peter Lang, 1993. A study of the interaction between Western and non Western cultures, ranging from a consideration of novels by Charlotte Brontë and Hemingway to a Kabuki performance and the Hollywood film Dances with Wolves.

An Essay in Post Romantic Literary Theory: Art, Artifact, and the Innocent Eye.

Lewiston, N.Y: Edwin Mellen Press, 1991. Offers a theory of the nature of art developed especially with respect to literature. Published by arrangement with the Northeast Modern Language Association as the Winner of 1991 NEMLA Book Award in Comparative and Interdisciplinary Studies.

"It abounds in astute observations on art and artists and on the acts of seeing and reading and other experiences of mind and senses." Haverford Magazine Weit im Westen, Freiburg im Breisgau: Rombach, 1985. Text collage to photographs of the American West by Erich Spiegelhalter.

Translations: German-English: Black Forest Moods; Attractions of the Black Forest; Nuremberg City Guide. (Freiburg im Breisgau: Rombach, respectively 1985, 1984, 1983).