7608020870_f534eb495a_zIt is widely known how memory is important in Proust’s work. In “Swann in Love”, its main function is to reveal the truth, especially, the truth about Odette and Mme Verdurin. As Deleuze writes, “the objective is to find the truth and memory serves to this purpose (Proust and Signs, 3)”.

Mme Verdurin’s behaviour acquires a new significance upon the light of Odette’s truth. Now, Swann reminds some moments putting them together and seeing the whole picture:

“Oh, Mme Verdurin, she won’t hear of anyone just now but me. I’m a “love”, if you please, and she kisses me, and wants me to go with her everywhere, and call her by her Christian name’

Through memory, there is the possibility of encountering two stories or worlds: one while reading, and the other one remembering the reading. For Swann it means a difference between living and remembering something. The significance of memory is very close to psychoanalysis, where one changes the meaning of the past remembering it and the self acquires its real truth. These two worlds conform two different entities of significance and are related to oneself and to one’s perspective of the reality, and to the others, which are important so far as they conform such worlds. In Swann’s case, his experience was determined by Odette’s several worlds and their respective selves.  Her changes have a strong sexual component, which make her to perform different “Odettes” in front of the other. Each “Odette” is a lie if it is seen as the total Odette, and that was Swann’s problem: he took the part for the whole. However, every Odette configuring a complete picture is the truth about Odette. In this case, a multiple sexual life. Rivers emphasises homosexual characters in Proust as being considered as actors: ‘these characters display a constant, theatrical interpenetration of various modes of identity: half-hidden selves (…) and selves which are projected in order to survive’ (Proust and the Art of Love).

In fact, memory gives us a more complete meaning of our past experiences as our current distance allows us to get the part and insert it into the whole of our self which is rarely displayed as such.

The Truth about Odette in “Swann in Love”

-1040x940-15When Swann meets Odette he does not like her as her beauty responds to a traditional conception. She is not a cultivated woman as she shows, for example, asking if Vermeer, who died in 1675, is still alive. She seems to be seduced by Swann’s intelligence and cultural interests. She appears as someone who looks for affection and is devoted to Swann; she is sensitive in love matters in contrast to Swann’s first frivolity. Her main interest seems to be that of seeking a husband and a marriage in which she could develop her wife’s duties.

 In opposition to Swann, she appears as naïve and innocent; in fact, she looks as a Swann’s perfect victim. Moreover, she lacks personality or an own life. That is also one of the reasons she is a perfect Verdurin’s faithful.

The fact that she has no personality is related to her unknown past and it is expressed in her high attachment to Swann’s desire. She appears as unable to say “no”, which makes her a potential sexual slave and extremely vulnerable. Moreover, she is someone in relation to Swann, to his perspective or presence, which in this case, is that of the reader too. Odette is not presented as a consistent self; it suggests again the idea of performance (like Mme Verdurin) as far as she is not for herself but for the other. When she meets Swann, she performs a self: a delicate and helpless Odette; she performs a sexuality: she is heterosexual and a beauty expression of the Western canon; and these two performances belong to a specific world constructed by herself which gives to Swann and the reader an image of Odette based on a lie. It is a lie, as we will see later, because the part of Odette is presented as the whole.

Among all the topics which can be found in the story, Odette is one of the most important; she herself constitutes a topic. Odette begins to be suspicious for both Swann and the reader, as the process of discovering Odette is the same for they two. The first sign of Odette’s falsehood is suggested by her financial necessities which make Swann a necessary help for her.  Swann begins to spy Odette because he thinks she is been unfaithful. At this point he is excited by the idea of knowing Odette’s other life, which remains a secret for him. He is fascinated with the idea of discovering the truth about Odette, which is especially related to her sexual life. His first attitude regarding Odette’s infidelity is that of a scientist or of a doctor in sexual matters. At the same time, he is an artist finding out the secret of a masterpiece. A potential forbidden life of Odette makes her more attractive to Swann as a mystery which involves a work of art.

Swann discovers that Forcheville met Odette in her house. Forcheville becomes a rival for Swann. Mainly because Mme Verdurin sees the relationship between Swann and Odette too dangerous for her. Swann is taking away Odette from Mme Verdurin. That is the reason for finding a substitute for Swann. From now on, Swann is put apart from the faithful.   Swann discovers gradually Odette’s multiple affairs in France and abroad. She has had a lot of lovers both for money or pleasure. At this point the missing past of Odette begins to appear. Swann is now completely jealous of been missing Odette. He feels anxious and he needs to know everything about her.

The second important scene regarding Odette’s truth takes place when Swann receives an anonymous letter containing all Odette’s affairs (hetero- and homosexual ones).

Finally, Odette tells the truth to Swann who is horrified by it. Swann’s approach to Odette’s sexuality is mainly conformed by a medical perspective. As Rivers argues, the characters in the novel show contradictory selves (‘kindness and cruelty, sadism and altruism’). According to him, this expression concerns mainly the 19th century medical idea of a homosexual person as a kind of schizophrenic. Proust would include himself in this group and it could also explained the idea earlier mentioned of “performing selves”.

Together with Odette’s confession, the approach to sexuality conforms Foucault’s explanation concerning the relation between the discourse of confession and the scientific sexual discourse, both of them extremely important in the Western history and culture. According to Foucault, the methodology of confession is similar to that of science as they are based in observation and interrogation. The ‘truth of sex’ was born in the Western and institutionalized by religion and then, by the medical science which gave the correct view of sexuality. However, in this case, Odette has another truth which conforms a very challenging idea of the genre. A whole new set of sexual possibilities is being presented in literature, as Freud did in psychology. As Rivers points out, the whole assumptions of female roles in the Western world are completely distorted provoking thus a revision of the meaning of “man” and “woman”.

The whole past of Odette comes out: she was sold by her own mother. This particular fact could be seen in relation to her successively acts of selling herself. A possible psychoanalytical explanation could be that of “the compulsion to repeat” explained by Freud. It consists in a traumatic experience lived in childhood which the subject makes to come back again and it is related to the death drive because it is presented as a threat for the self. The compulsion to repeat would be an instinct because it is stronger than the pleasure principle. This behaviour of Odette is linked to a sadomasochist figure who, as Haberdstadt affirms, connects cruelty with pleasure. The sadomasochist used to find love in his childhood in exchange of something else which could not be pleasurable.

Finally, the relationship between Swann and Odette is inverted regarding the beginning, as it is Swann who becomes the victim of Odette’s lies.

Fetishism in Proust’s “Swann in Love”

cover_9070727_clippedIn In search of Lost Time, there are many topics regarding sexuality which can be analysed. I will be posting them during the next days as part of my MA research, all them based on the chapter “Swann in Love”. By now, there is here a brief thoughts on Fetishism.

The first scene suggesting fetishism takes place at the Verdurins. Mme Verdurin likes to touch the bronze grapes and to think her husband feels jealous about it. Swann too engages with this pleasure. It is a slight suggestion of Mme Verdurin homosexuality as the round form of the grapes reminds a feminine body or some parts of it. Moreover, Swann, of whom we know to be heterosexual, enjoys it too.

A similar scene takes place in the carriage between Swann and Odette. Swann finds a new pleasure touching Odette’s cattleyas, which will result later on in the sexual act. Even language itself expresses a continuum from the object, which is also related to her breast, to the whole woman, that is from the part to the whole – which is typical in fetishism. The use of the metaphor ‘do a cattleya’ becomes a substitute for “making love”. Thus, the “cattleya” becomes a sexual symbol which refers to the object itself and to a reality beyond itself.

‘And long afterwards, when the rearrangement (or, rather, the ritual pretence of a rearrangement) of her cattleyas had quite fallen into desuetude, the metaphor “Do a cattleya”, transmuted into a simple verb which they would employ without thinking when they wished to refer to the act of physical possession (…) And perhaps this particular manner of saying “to make love” did not mean exactly the same thing as its synonyms’.

Art and love, as well as the artistic and sexual object are slightly confused with each other. It is the music of Vinteuil which makes Swann feel love. As a result, he thinks to love Odette, however, he could be in love with the music or with what music provokes on him. Later on, Swann will ask Odette to play this some piece of music again. He feels pleasure listening it, especially when it is played by Odette. Music works as a substitute for the sexual act; it is a part of Odette who plays it. And, again, like the cattleyas, music is a continuum of Odette, and the sexual desire goes from the artistic object to the real person, which in this case becomes the sexual object. This relation between sex and music is clearly expressed by language identifying ‘playing again’ with ‘kissing again’.

Painting too is involved in Swann’s love for Odette. She represents Swann’s aesthetic values and she resembles Botticelli’s portrait of Zipporah, of which Swann in in love. Swann likes Odette because she represents Zipporah’s features. Therefore, Odette is subordinated to the aesthetic values at the same time that she herself has a value making possible an aesthetic experience.

Odette embodies art in the tangible world joining the artistic object and the sexual one in herself. It fits with the idea of Halberdstadt who argues that in perversion, a part of the lover believes in the real beloved and, another part, in the fantastic one.

‘Or else she would look at him sulkily, and he would see once again a face worthy to figure in Botticceli’s “Life of Moises”; he would place it there, giving to Odette’s neck the necessary inclination; and when he had finished his portrait in tempera, in the fifteenth century, on the wall of the Sistine, the idea that she was non the less in the room with him still, by the piano, at that very moment, ready to be kissed and enjoyed, the idea of her material existence would sweep over him with so violent an intoxication that (…) he would fling himself upon this Botticceli maiden and kiss and bite her cheeks’

I would like to note that, according to Deleuze, in Proust, the revelation of the essence belongs to art. In this case, Swann apprehends Beauty through music and painting, and then he is able to find this essence in Odette, who becomes a part of the work of art.

The important point is that Odette never constitutes a sexual object by herself but it is always needed the presence of a mediator, in this case, of art.               


Baroque and Modernism: Two Styles, Two Souls

3965eadf8b2b9be1b353f0f6b2b1faa3_660The narrator of Death in Venice suggests a very interesting and challenging topic. Among all the worries about art, so typical in Mann’s novels, this one particularly presents a thoughtful question. Is the artistic style and form linked to morality? One could write pages and pages trying to reply and analyse such a dilemma, because it is a dilemma as far as such a reflection involves not just art but the whole of society.

Gustav Aschenbach, the main character of the story, is an artist and as such he is experimenting a change in his conception of beauty. Gustav’s art, since its beginning, has represented the European decadence, a feeling broadly felt in Europe since the turn of the century. But Gustav feels a rebirth in his appreciation of beauty, one which has to do with simplicity. At this point, the narrator shows a chain of reflections, of wonderings regarding such simplicity. If art is simple in its forms, will then moral suffer a simplification?

“does not this in its turn signify a simplification, a morally simplistic view of the world and of human psychology, and thus also a resurgence of energies that are evil, forbidden, morally impossible?”

He is completely joining the representation of art, that is, of aesthetics, to morality. Modernist works indeed are replete by discussions on ethics and aesthetics. To simplify the form of art could mean here for the narrator a primitiveness, a coming back to human simplicity on its moral statements, a less deep thought.

It is possible however to take a general look in the history of literature to affirm, until some extent, the possibility of this statement. If there is a moment in which the form, the style and the meaning of art is opposed to the simplicity looked for by some modernists artists, it is Baroque. The Spanish Golden Age is full of incomprehensible poets, it can be actually considered the most difficult literature in Spain. And, indeed, this literature coincides with the Imperial time, the discovery of America, and the Inquisiton. All that is marked by a strong institutional power, especially the reign, the state and the Church in their most hierarchical display. There is a lack of simplicity both in art and in the representatives of society. It is the opposite side of Mann’s dilemma; the moral code was highly established and controlled. Moreover, when Modernism arrived at Spain, it was condemned by the Church, especially because of its simplistic and free spirituality, which comes back to Mann’s idea.

Modernism is also known by its polemical topics which have to do with their aesthetic representations. Therefore, Mann is not far away of reality, and the adequacy of style and interiority seems to be a fascinating topic within the sociology of literature.

The Encounter with Beauty and the Self

IMG_3645_2The large tradition of Confession in the Western culture is developed by Michel Foucault in his History of Sexuality from a very challenging approach as he usually does. According to him, the confessional pattern goes from a religious practice to a medical one highly developed in the 19th century. Sexuality has always been one of the main victims of these two methods becoming thus scrutinise until the minimum point. Narratives of sex have been usually presented as “confessions” of intimate experiences, not because the narrator could feel himself as a sinner or deprived -in psychoanalytical terms- but because of the strong powerful tradition of confessing something unusual which is attached to the will of knowledge.

The structure of confessional narrative can be seen as well in works such as Frankenstein or The Turn of the Screw, where a story is explained inside the story in an epistolary form. There is something there which should be told, which cannot remain as an individual experience. It is the necessity of confession detached of its religious aims but still surviving as a path towards knowledge. The same kind of narrative is presented in The Immoralist by André Gide; in this case it is a sexual one, which links the text again with Foucault’s theory.

In this short novel, Michel encounters his best male friends to confess his truly self, that is, his homosexuality. The novel was published in 1902, its themes are indeed very modernist ones. Together with homosexuality, the importance of the body and sensuality as paths towards self-knowledge, beauty and art, are some of the topics one can encounter in it. In fact, homosexuality is not explicitly expressed until the very last sentence of the novel. What arouses in Michel in his twenties is the apprehension of beauty. While he is extremely sick, he finds out in Africa beauty, something that he had not discovered earlier. It is through the beauty of healthy manly bodies that he experiments a strong desire for life. The setting in this part of the novel, Africa, evokes colour, smells, sounds, all what can be perceived by the senses, and it is in fact through them that Michel experiments life. The body thus becomes a medium for knowledge, it is what is first experimented. The importance of the body is present along the novel as far as it expresses the inner state of Michel. He is in fact sick until he is able to find beauty around him, and this beauty is primary found in men. As he discovers himself, his healthy situation improves. In Freudian terms, the body and its sickness work as a metaphor of the self and express it.

In Chopin’s  The Awakening, sensuality is also a path towards self-awareness. Edna discovers her body and its sensuality and beauty when she begins to realise of her own identity apart from social conventions; it is a similar experience of that of Michel’s.

In this kind of self-realizations, the importance of nature as something which calls for the sensual impressions is crucial. The self is in relation with the whole at the moment of its own encounter. Nature and beauty are close to each other and the last one is especially crucial to relieve one self.

Across the Mirror

6206545106_6f3c6fedfc_zThe Others (2001), a film by Pedro Amenábar, is an interesting adaptation, though a very personal one, of Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw (1898). If in the film, the two children are alive and the two apparitions represent to be death, in the novel, the two children are death and the supposed phantoms are not so but alive intruders in the house. This difference makes a kind of mirror effect between the novel and the film, both being highly thrilling in their respective forms.

The main point of the story remains in both sides: the role of the children in the relations between death and life. That’s exactly what the first narrator in James’ novel affirms to be “another turn of the screw” as two children in a scary story becomes more dreadful than just one. In fact, the first inhabitants of the house to be aware of the presence of the others are the children. But in this case there is as well another mirror effect. In the novel, the little boy is more liable to see the phantoms, while in the film, it is the girl who first realises of the presence of the others.

Both the novel and the film present together a similar story from different points of view. If true that Amenábar did not offer a faithful adaptation, his creativity is nonetheless valuable. In fact, the best way to approach the film is keeping in mind the novel and vice versa. Moreover, both mediums writing and film making are also complementary which provokes a nice encounter between two different periods of time.     

Beyond the Wall

florMuroNikolai Gogol (1809-1852) was a Russian writer  who deserves to be noted as a Modernist pioneer. Donald Fanger, in his book The Creation of Nikolai Gogol, describes some of Gogol’s writing features. It is surprising to see how, in a predominant Romantic and Realistic period, Gogol is concerned with form and words merely. As Fanger says, the detail is the main figure in Gogol’s narrative where the argument is absent. Gogol was concern with the fact of artistic creation as it will be for Kafka and Woolf a hundred years later.

Gogol wrote, “Only that came out well, which I had taken from reality, from data known to me. I could only divine the man when the smallest details of his exterior were present to me”. However Realistic it could seem, the attention to the smallest details reminds as well Joyce. In fact, the absence of plot is quite significant as it is prominent in writers of the 19th century.

The pre-revolution Russian literature is a source of discoveries. One is startled by the surprise of finding there, in a culture traditionally far away from the European continent, numerous innovative literary techniques as well as writers of high value such as Dostoyevsky and  Tolstoy, among others. It looks like a buried culture during the 20th century, which should be rediscovered in this new millennium.

Modernism? What is really all about?

tumblr_lhyqmwpHVj1qcg92oo1_400Roger Griffin, in his article “Modernity, modernism and fascism”, affirms Fascism to be a form of political modernism. To agree with this idea or not, it’s necessary, first of all, to clarify the difference between modernity and modernism. Modernity is a period of time mainly related to a highly industrialisation and use of technique; one of the most common examples of it is the First World War which became the maximum expression of a technological society through military tools and massive destruction never seen before. The highly dehumanisation of this war weapons marked, among other things, a change of mentality in the Western society. Modernism then is the reaction to modernity, to this new cultural phenomenon of highly mechanisation.

However, modernism is a quite contesting term as far as it is full of contradictions and ambiguity. Griffin explains how modernism looked for a regeneration of the Western culture in a period of important decadence especially outlined by Nietzsche. This view lead to a seeking for an elite to guide society into new values , a defence of eugenics or a protection of the pure race in different European countries. A very important example of that is the Bloomsbury Group. It should be noted how this aspect of modernism is usually kept apart. But modernism seems more a kind of cultural monstrosity, nor less interesting, where a writer such as Virginia Woolf could both defence eugenics and produce a work full of sensibility like To the Lighthouse. (It could not be forget that later on, nazis will be one of the most cultivated elite).

Griffin says fascism to be a political modernism, it means then, fascism is a reaction against modernity and its main treats such as mechanisation. But was not the whole Holocaust a very highly technical process of extermination? An extreme rational plan to renew the Western culture? Was not Nazism a new elite like the ideas of the Bloomsbury Group? But was not UK the great ideological enemy of German?  It seems we have here modernity and modernism (in its aims to “save” the European culture) at the same time.

All this casual politically incorrect connections seem to put in question the first part of the 20th century. I would suggest we need research and a lot of courage to look at things and understand them.

Study Day at Oxford





Friday 26th April 2013, Worcester College, Oxford

Organised by
Jennifer Rushworth, Worcester College, Oxford, and Richard Mason, King’s College London

We are pleased to open the Call for Papers for an upcoming postgraduate study day especially dedicated to graduate students working on Proust. The aim of this venture is to encourage dialogue and collaboration between current students of Proust and to gain a greater awareness of trends at the cutting edge of Proust studies. Since postgraduate study in the humanities can often be an isolated affair, the motivation behind this study day is that of enabling discussion and the sharing of ideas within a friendly and informal environment, and the establishment of a network of early-career Proustians for the purposes of future events and research.

Papers, in either English or French, should be a maximum of 20 minutes and should aim to present a significant aspect of the speaker’s current research, however provisional or tentative. New theoretical approaches to Proust, as well as any other aspect of Proustian research (sources, intertexts, and so forth), are particularly welcome.

Please email 250-word abstracts (text only, no attachments please) by 1st March 2013 to both and Please remember to include your name, affiliation, and thesis title.

There will be a registration fee of £10 payable on the day to cover the costs of organisation and refreshments.