Davis: 216-230; Moncrieff: 294-314
by Dennis Abrams
A year before his first visit to the Verdurins’, Swann heard the Sonata for Piano and Violin, and responds to one particular phrase that “led him first this way, and then that, towards a state of happiness that was noble, unintelligible, and yet precise.” Music and memory. “It even seemed, for a moment, that this love for a phrase of music would have to open in Swann the possibility of a sort of rejuvenation.” Swann hears the phrase again at the Verdurins’ “And it was so particular, it had a charm so individual, which no other charm could have replaced, that Swann felt as though he had encountered in a friend’s drawing room a person whom he had admired in the street and despaired of ever finding again.” Swann learns that the piece is by a composer named Vinteuil, and dismisses the possibility that it is the same Vinteuil who teaches piano at Combray. Swann reveals that he knows people in high places. Dr. Cottard’s reaction. Swann, Odette and the music. “…the little phrase by Vinteuil that was like the anthem of their love.” Swann and the young working girl in his carriage. Swann has tea at Odette’s home. Oriental furnishings and chrysanthemums.
In his book The Western Canon, Harold Bloom discusses Proust in a chapter entitled “Proust: The True Persuasion of Sexual Jealousy.” I thought this might be a good time to begin sharing with you some of Bloom’s thoughts on the subject, to consider and keep in mind as we read deeper into “Swann in Love.”
“In Search of Lost Time (herein called Search for short), which, unfortunately may always be known in English by the beautiful but misleading Shakespearean title, Rememberance of Things Past, actually challenges Shakespeare in its powers of representing personalities. Germaine Bree observed that Proust’s personages, like Shakespeare’s, resist all psychological reductions. Again like Shakespeare, Proust is a master of tragicomedy: I wince as I laugh, but I have to agree with Roger Shattuck that the comic mode is central to Proust because it allows him representational distance in exploring the then partly forbidden matter of homosexuality. Because of Proust’s preternatural comic genius, he also rivals Shakespeare at portraying sexual jealousy; one of the most canonical of human affects for literary purposes, handled by Shakespeare as catastrophic tragedy in Othello and near-catastrophic romance in The Winter’s Tale. Proust gives us three magnificent sagas of jealousy: the ordeals, in sequence, of Swann, Saint-Loup, and Marcel (I will call him Marcel, even though the Narrator gives him that name only once or twice in the enormous novel). These three tragicomic, obsessive anguishes are only one strand in an encyclopedic work, yet Proust, like Freud, can be said to join both Shakespeare and the Hawthorne of The Scarlet Letter in confirming the canonicity of sexual jealousy. It is hell in human life but purgatorial splendor as materia poetica. Shelly affirmed that incest was the most poetical of circumstances; Proust teaches us that sexual jealousy may be the most novelistic.
In 1922, the year of Proust’s death (he was just fifty-one), Freud published a powerful, brief essay on sexual jealousy, “Certain Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia, and Homosexuality.” There is an opening association between jealousy and grief, and Freud assures us that persons who seem not to manifest these two universal affects have undergone severe repression, so that jealousy and grief become even more active in the unconscious. With grim irony, Freud divides jealousy into three parts: competitive, projected, delusional. The first is narcissistic and Oedipal, the second imputes to the loved one a guilt, whether real or imagined, that belongs to the self; the third, over the border into paranoia, takes as its usually repressed object someone of one’s own sex. As is cutomary with Freud, the analysis is highly Shakespearean, though more in the mode of The Winter’s Tale, which Freud did not mention, than in the tragic darkness of Othello, where Freud once specifically located projected jealousy. Leontes in The Winter’s Tale almost systematically works through Freud’s three varieties of jealousy, Proust’s three grand cases of jealousy leap over the normal or competitive variety, dally briefly with the projected sort, and center themselves ferociously in the delusional mode. But Freud is Proust’s rival, not his master, and the Proustian account of jealousy is very much Proust’s own. Applying Freud to Proust on jealousy is as reductive and misleading as analyzing Search‘s vision of homosexuality in a Freudian way.”
The reading for the weekend:
Davis: Page 230 “A second visit he made to her…” through Page 248 “…but possessed by another.”
Moncrieff: Page 314 “More important, perhaps, was a second visit he paid her a little later.” through Page 339 “…but himself in thraldom to another.”