This article reads Flaubert's unfinished final novel Bouvard et Pécuchet as a two-volume epic that demonstrates the secret of the encyclopedia: the fact that different calculi of truth functions can be seen to operate independently in different areas of knowledge, that knowledge itself contains contradictions. Taking Lukács's distinction between “narrative” and “descriptive” realism as a starting point, I argue that Bouvard in fact “narrates” the very changes Lukács describes, depicting a historical shift that speaks not only to changes in literary practice but to fundamental changes in the theory and organization of knowledge itself (compare Umberto Eco's From Tree to Labyrinth). Drawing on Bernard Stiegler's theory of the “proletarianization of consumption” in the postmodern “libidinal economy,” I read Flaubert as offering a prophetic Marxist critique of the political economy (centered around the consumption of information) that determines Bouvard and Pécuchet's estate. The novel's structure as an immoralist bildungsroman—in which the protagonists’ faithful pursuit of Enlightenment ideals eventually leads them to directly reject those ideals—corresponds to and predicts the situation diagnosed by Stiegler in For a New Critique of Political Economy. Finally, I point to a cycle of sublimation and desublimation in the novel regarding knowledge and stupidity, a complex cycle that nonetheless makes it possible to read the ascetic-aesthetic copy-mapping project of volume 2 (the Sottisier) as a cynical but effective response to dehumanizing capitalist processes like proletarianization and the desublimation of knowledge.

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