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Wilson, E., Jr. (2005). Revue Française De Psychanalyse. Psychoanal Q., 74(4):1211-1237.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Revue Française De Psychanalyse

(2005). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 74(4):1211-1237


Revue Française De Psychanalyse

Emmett Wilson, Jr., M.D.


April – June 1999

“Marcel Proust, Visitor of Psychoanalysts”

This issue of the Revue is focused on Proust and his multivolume novel, Remembrance of Things Past. With the recent appearance of a new English translation, readers might want seriously to consider rereading or making their first-time acquaintance of this work. The novel has now been newly and very readably translated in six volumes under the overall title In Search of Lost Time.1 Even with all Proust's famous digressions and meanderings, and the unfinished quality of the concluding volumes that Proust was working on right up to his death, this undeniably difficult but rich work is rewarding, and one with which psychoanalysts should familiarize themselves. Many have drawn parallels between Freud and Proust, and this volume of the Revue Française de Psychanalyse examines the ways in which Proust's psychological discoveries relate to those of Freud.2

A short summary of this complex novel is not possible. For readers unfamiliar with Proust, we can only hope the frequent allusions to the novel's scenes, episodes, and characters in this issue of the Revue are not too cryptic to follow, but rather sufficiently tantalizing to inspire interest in reading or rereading one of the


1 Proust, M. (2003). In Search of Lost Time, ed. C. Prendergast. London: Penguin; New York: Viking.

2 Editor's Note: For another Quarterly author's comments comparing Proustian and Freudian views of the past, see Eugene Mahon's article in this issue, p. 1063.

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great works of the twentieth century. In attempting to condense a novel of 3,000 pages and hundreds of characters into a few paragraphs, I have prepared the following (admittedly inadequate) synopsis.

As a child, the narrator, Marcel, spends his holidays with his parents at his grandmother's home in Combray, a small town near Paris. There the scene of the ardently desired good-night kiss from his mother takes place, prevented sometimes by the visits of the family neighbor and friend, the elegant, cultured, and charming Charles Swann. The boy hides, waiting for his mother to come upstairs, hoping to insist on the kiss. Instead of becoming angry, the boy's father acquiesces and even lets mother spend the night in Marcel's room.

In Combray, there are two paths that the family takes on walks, Swann's Way and the Guermantes Way, which become highly symbolic in the novel, including standing for the rich and cultured middle class versus the aristocratic world. Swann is a welcome guest in aristocratic salons; his artistic sensitivity and sophistication are legendary. Swann's disastrous, jealousy-driven love affair with the courtesan Odette is narrated; the affair ends in their eventual marriage. As a boy, Marcel loves Gilberte, Swann's daughter. Later, he fancies a love for the Duchesse de Guermantes. As Marcel grows up, he enters the world of the aristocracy and comes to be accepted in the circle of the Duc and Duchesse de Guermantes, through a close friend, the Marquis de Saint-Loup, their nephew. The social gatherings of the fin de siècle society—aristocratic (the Guermantes) and bourgeois—(the Verdurins), furnish many hilarious but bitterly sarcastic scenes.

At the seaside resort of Balbec, Marcel meets Albertine, with whom he eventually develops an intense relationship driven by jealousy, as Swann's was, and he becomes obsessed with her possible lesbianism. Albertine abruptly departs, then dies in an accident. The intense mourning for Albertine becomes a theme, as jealousy had been before.

Throughout the novel, the destructive activity of time is a constant theme, as time changes all the characters and things described.

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Baron Charlus, the duke's brother, a Guermantes as well, is at first portrayed as an arrogant, enigmatic, aloof, and unpredictable character. His homosexuality is discovered by Marcel in a voyeuristic episode. Charlus descends into degradation and sadomasochism as he ages, now nodding to all passers-by out of fear that each might be someone whom he should acknowledge. The aristocracy is more or less devoured by the bourgeoisie, as the vulgar Mme Verdurin becomes the Princesse de Guermantes and Saint-Loup marries Gilberte.

All along, Marcel has wanted to be a writer, but feels he cannot write, and he remains a dilettante, frittering away his time at social events and in affairs. Many years later, at an afternoon reception at the Guermantes, Marcel has intense experiences with involuntary memories, leading to the memory of the longed-for good-night kiss from his mother and his happiness with her. He resolves to save his life by writing it, by capturing experience and involuntary memories, thus reaching his “true self.” However, when he enters the salon where a masked ball is taking place, he is confronted with the recognition of time, aging, and death, and his denial of them. Now the novel is to be written in order to regain time.

Andrée Bauduin and Françoise Coblence, editors of this issue of the Revue Française de Psychanalyse, begin with an overview (pp. 389-391) of the problems with the psychoanalytic studies of Proust. For all the extensive critical and biographical studies on Proust, there is a curious and surprising lack of psychological and psycho-analytic writing about him and his work. Yet Freud and Proust have both been considered discoverers of the human heart, and some authors accord to Proust an anticipatory discovery of the unconscious. The rarity of psychoanalytic works on Proust is thus puzzling, and suggests some particular difficulties in bringing Freud and Proust together.

A contemporary of Freud and of Henri Bergson, Proust was a superb psychologist. His work contains what Freud called “a science of the mind.” One must, however, give little credence to the sometimes alleged equivalence of involuntary memory and the unconscious.

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Proust's recovered past has nothing to do with the repressed. In psychoanalysis, there is a quest directed toward uncovering the past; the work of deciphering signs and indications of the past is what interests the analyst. Proust's “involuntary memory” begins with experiences and sensations, but these are amodal and timeless.

Among the singularities of the work, one must take into account the illusion of transparency between the relationship of the writer to his life, on the one hand, and that of the writer to his narrator, on the other. One can mock, or be irritated by, the multiplicity of works that, through texts and photographs, try to find the keys from which Proust's imagination composed and intertwined novel and biography. Many try to reduce the novel to a double of Proust's life. This seeming reduplication, sustained even by Proust himself in the novel, has had the effect of favoring a certain type of applied psychoanalysis that considers the novel as a direct emanation, but with novelistic mediation, of the personality of the author. These studies forget that the novel is, like all such works, a palimpsest to be deciphered, and that one must not take literally either the episodes of the novel or the theories forged by the author, such as those that concern love or memory.

Still, the novel can throw light on Proust's life, on condition that one take into account the changes engendered by the work of creation, the fictional elements of destinies and characters brought into play. The essays in this issue of the Revue analyze some of the novel's situations without immediately attempting to reattach them to their creator. The authors immerse themselves in many layered aspects of the novel and confront the deep complexity of its characters.

Proust offers much from which we can learn. Immersion into the constructed reality of the novel permits grasping the work as a tool for new psychoanalytic understanding. It offers an exceptional reservoir of themes that we have not finished tapping into. The novel permits us to explore such themes as the links between mother and son and between mother and grandmother, homosexuality in both sexes, and the differences and nuances in primal

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scenes represented. Narcissistic problems are explored through the characters of the work and the fascinating representation of the world of snobs, whether aristocratic or nouveaux riches. The work of mourning in all its detail is exquisitely rendered. Separation from the primary object is described, transposed, and elaborated. The relation to the body and the corporeal is exquisitely detailed, from dream to illness. It is thus in Proust's perspicacity before the duplicity and hypocrisy of feelings and the force of denial, perhaps, that one finds his closest proximity to Freud.

Every analyst in his or her encounter with Proust might want to carry farther these reflections, either on the writer and the particularities of his life, or on the work itself. In that manner, the novel continues its creative role, as the author wished.

On Reading Freud Together with Proust. Pierre Bayard, pp. 393-406.

Bayard, the author of an important work on Proustian digression, reviews the similarities and differences between Freud and Proust. Though roughly contemporaries, Proust and Freud seem not to have known of each other's work. There are many similarities between the two, for both studied man and his psychological suffering, as well as the links between this suffering and the past. But one was a theoretician, the other a writer; this makes all the more interesting the confrontation between them. Starting off with shared observations, each constructed a different object, a different way of understanding the human psyche through his particular vision. We are in the presence of not only two thinkers, but of two fields of knowledge, with their limits, their peculiarities, and their particular modes of sorting out reality.

Proust's work, more than any other, shows the difficulty and impasses of applied psychoanalysis. Treating the literary work as an object, with psychoanalysis on the knowing side, risks missing what this work can show us of psychological life, and also runs counter to Freud's numerous placements of literature in a position of superiority. Freud regarded writers as teachers and was willing to listen to what they could bring to him. This problem is

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especially acute with Proust, for by the number of his pointed psychological remarks, the breadth of his general reflection, and his concrete illustrations, he seems to supply an authentic knowledge of psychological phenomena. The depth of this knowledge leads one to ask whether it could not enrich the Freudian viewpoint—or even rival it. A pedestrian reading of the work through the filter of psychoanalysis carries the risk of failing to understand it and remaining exterior to it, especially since psychoanalysis is such a closed, coherent system.

Does Proust offer a coherent theory of the psyche? This would seem, at first blush, to indeed be the case. There are many seeming parallels between Freud and Proust—for example, in the theory of the multiplicity of the self described in the works of both. As every reader of Proust knows, his emphasis on the plurality of selves is an illusion maintained through the first volumes of this novel, until the final volume, when the narrator makes the decision to become a writer, evoking the idea of another self, the true self, that justifies his decision to write. There Proust speaks of the timelessness, the permanence of memory unalterable through time, leading one to think of the Freudian unconscious, ignoring time and death. The novel seems then to come close to a classic psychoanalytic opposition between the mobility of the surface of the ego and the fixity of the deeper aspects of the self.

However seemingly evident these may be, and however stimulating to the comparing critic, such similarities should not make one lose sight of the very significant differences. The first is where to situate this true self. Proust's involuntary memories—evoked by the taste of a madeleine dampened by tea, by the uneven pavement of the courtyard of the Guermantes—have disappeared from memory but are still active, and we, too, may recover our own when we are in touch with our true selves. But these can scarcely be said to be unconscious, certainly not in the strict Freudian sense, and they are not linked to a chain of traumatic events, which is a crucial aspect for Freud.

Should we call these involuntary memories preconscious? This term does not fit either, for the essential self that Proust evokes is

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situated “somewhere else in the mind,” which corresponds only poorly to the psychic availability of thoughts in the preconscious. A different type of depth is involved here, linked to another system of thought—one that, in order to grasp it, requires that we avoid the temptation to employ traditional Freudian categories. The elements that Proust speaks of are separated less by the criterion of consciousness than by the criterion of persistence, a persistence linked to euphoric access to an eternal truth. In the novel, it is a matter not so much of finding a past that has produced suffering, but of retrieving fragments from time. The remembered scenes have not disappeared from consciousness, but have a certain tonality no longer accessible, a certain atmosphere, that, when found again, gives access to the deeper self.

Moreover, the two types of self are not engaged in a conflictual relationship, as are the Freudian structures that define themselves principally by their opposition, leading to symptoms and to compromise formation. The deeper self is that which has survived the passage of years; it is not the active agent of pressure on the multiple self. It is the happy residue, even the synthesis of the true self.

There is also the question of dynamics, an aspect that is essential with Freud, but which is just about absent from Proust. This leads one to evaluate the play of forces that differ in the two writers. The moments when the true self becomes manifest in Proust mark a certain pressure on his part, but these are exceptional moments, and it is scarcely possible to think along the lines of the dialectical principles of the relation between two psychic structures.

This difference in topical and dynamic treatments cannot be separated from another difference—the most striking one, perhaps: the treatment of time. One cannot take the Freudian point of view and say that the unconscious in Proust, or that which takes its place, ignores time. For Proust, our psyche in all its dimensions seems constructed by a temporality by which only the sequence of unfolding events permits a man to reach his true personality and to become himself. The importance of time comes from the fact that, as the active principal factor of psychic mobility, it causes the changes and permutations of the different selves.

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There again, the final revelation produces a reversal, since the deeper self does not know time, and this failure of recognition of time takes part largely in the definition of the deeper self. But this ignorance of time by the true self does not modify the importance of the major thesis, incessantly repeated, of a perpetual flowing and frittering away of all that surrounds us. On the contrary, it is because this erosion is so dominant and so radical, because we are the passive subjects of time, that it is important that something, these instants of eternity, be grasped in the way of compensation. But this necessity of survival does not invalidate the thesis of the passage of time and its destructiveness, in the Freudian sense in which the unconscious makes the conscious a false mask or a delusion. It tends rather to emphasize the passage of time in our lives and to prove its destructive force.

Even if the angles from which to read Proust are multiple, there is one that dominates all the others and draws them to itself, that is, from the point of view of exploring the relationship between time and the psyche. The Freudian postulate of the fixity of the unconscious is attacked in the novel, or at least brought into question, in general theoretical reflections, and put into practice by Proustian characters. Neither the narrator, Gilberte, Charlus, Saint-Loup, nor the Duchesse de Guermantes maintains the same identity at the end of the novel as at the beginning. One cannot say that each of these character's unconscious has changed, because the unconscious is not an essential element of the Proustian model, but one must recognize that the characters themselves have still been radically transformed. And the fact that they can achieve fragments of an unalterable and preserved past—especially in the case of the narrator, thanks to writing—does not at all modify this metamorphosis brought about by time.

It seems to Bayard that Proust asks questions more clearly than psychoanalysis does, and that Proust can, in taking off from a precise theory and in utilizing concrete examples, give psychoanalysis something to think about, in reflecting on time, fixity, mobility, and the human psyche. We can thus be led to review psychoanalysis from the point of view of this literary work—to ask ourselves,

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for example, whether the plurality of selves cannot furnish another model for thinking about the discordances of the psyche, or whether there is not in Proust a configuration of mourning that differs from that which has prevailed since Freud. This leads us, at least ideally, to put literature at the place where Freud, in certain of his texts, attempted to place it.

Was Proust a Precursor of “Ego-Psychology”? Daniel Widlöcher, pp. 407-414.

Widlöcher emphasizes the lack of direct influence of Freud on Proust or of Proust on Freud. Indirect influences shared by Freud and Proust are quite evident, however. Proust read authors who remained close to the tradition of German psychology. From them, he retained some of the same principles we find in Freud: the relativity of subjective consciousness, the splitting of the ego, and the disjunction between psychic activity and consciousness.

Widlöcher points out the parallels between Proust and Freud in the proximity between the models of mourning found in “Mourning and Melancholia3 and in the volume of this novel whose title has been retranslated (in In Search of Lost Time) as The Prisoner and the Fugitive.4 In Marcel's mourning for Albertine, Proust describes a process in which all our selves have to deal with loss, one by one. All the aspects of Albertine have to be mourned by all our selves. To the detachment of the libido on the Freudian model, Proust responds with a particular type of forgetting. Far from doing away with the past, it places in the past the experience that it destroys in the present. The (internal) object dies because the one who contained it disappears: “It is not because others have died that our affection for them weakens, it is because we ourselves are dying” (p. 560 of the new translation).

The Proustian ego, for Widlöcher, appears as a composite closer to the self of ego psychology than the Freudian structural ego. In Proust, the ego is an ensemble composed of various aspects,


4 In the earlier translation of the novel (Remembrance of Things Past), this volume was entitled The Sweet Cheat Gone.

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contributing to the elaboration of a splintered subjectivity, that of the narrator. What is lacking in Proust is infantile sexuality and the intrapsychic conflict that results, as well as an unconscious in the proper sense of the term. Proust's view of the psyche is a psychology of the self that skips over the topographical separation of consciousness and unconsciousness, ignoring the theory of instincts.

Widlöcher also emphasizes the double temporality marked by the opposition between evidence of time that passes and that of the reparative, recovered instant. In the first, there is a loss of objects, the evanescence of the object of desire. The loved object disappears as one approaches it and thinks to possess it. The reparative instance comes in literary creation, bringing a solution in which the narrator, no longer a theorist of psychology, becomes a writer. He has the double task of constructing the account on which the psychology rests and retracing the experience of incorporated time that leads to the Proustian creation, the act of writing.

It is tempting to see in this double task a replication of the psychoanalytic situation. Psychoanalysis is marked with an alternation between reconstructive narration and sudden insight into experiences. Most often, the subjective experience of the account dominates, intended to inform another person, the analyst. This other, even given his or her mode of listening to the content and not to the formation of the words, is equally caught up in this mode of communication. This is the (lost) time of anamnesis, of reconstruction, of biography. The (regained) time of insight is equally retrospective, but it pertains to that which was just thought; it is the reflective, backward explanation of all or part of that which has been present (implicitly) in the preceding instant of mental life and which is expressed in the conscious experience.

The common traits between psychoanalytic insight and the experience of regained time should not make us underestimate the differences between them. Even if the remembering narrative is the same in both cases, it is not the same for recovered time. Proust the creator has illustrated a Freudian discovery. The bridge between lost time and time recovered implies a dimension that is equally present in psychoanalysis: the object of desire is finally unreachable, and the spirit must, in some way, re-create it.

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Interview with Julia Kristeva: “Proust's Transsubstantiation: A Suspension of Repression.” Andrée Bauduin and Françoise Coblence, pp. 429-452.

Julia Kristeva has published an important critical study of Proust.5 In her interview with the two editors of this issue of Revue Française de Psychanalyse, Andrée Bauduin and Françoise Coblence, she further develops some of the issues raised in her book. Her work and her point of view furnish important counterweights to offset the frequent tendency to idealize Proust because of the extravagance as well as the beauty of his language and style and the aptness of his psychological observations on his characters. In this abstract, I can only touch on some of the points of this rich discussion between Kristeva and the editors.

Kristeva calls her approach intertextuality. She uses all sources of information to describe the semantic network in which, for example, the incident of the “madeleine memory” occurs in the novel. She uses not only the novel itself, but also its manuscripts with their many and extensive corrections, as well as other works of Proust, his correspondence, the facts of his biography, and his social milieu. In short, all these elements are employed to develop not so much an explicating construction, but rather the semantic architecture that surrounds the memory. She ranges far and wide in her analysis, and her analytic approach opens up to us the Proustian world, present and past. She explores what she calls surimpressions, or condensations, of Proust, through an extremely attentive and precise examination of the archeology of these impressions. In her view, a text constitutes its meaning from the relations that it weaves with the discursive environment. Whether the writer is aware of it or not, this environment and social field resonate and contribute to the writing itself, and offer in some way unconscious support to the writing. The archeology of a work provides a fecund means for deciphering the network of unconscious meanings.


5 Kristeva, J. (1994). Le temps sensible: Proust et l'expérience littéraire. Paris: Gallimard. Translation: (1996). Time and Sense. Proust and the Experience of Literature, trans. R. Guberman. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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She discerns in this archeology aspects of what Freud called primary process: displacement, condensation, and overdetermination.

Thus, an incident in the novel may be viewed as a sort of dream, and at the same time as an intertext. The wide range of Proustian memories can be viewed as condensations, and these Proustian condensations have no definable limits. It is the same in reading a text as in the interpretation of a dream and in psycho-analytic listening: we are engaged in an associative work that has no limits.

Taking the celebrated example of the madeleine cake moistened in tea, Kristeva shows the condensations and transformations involved in that memory, examining the name Madeleine as belonging to one of the characters in George Sand's novel, François le Champi, which the narrator's mother reads to him in the novel. Kristeva traces out the ramifications of the name, its contiguities, its displacements, and so on. She shows how Proust absorbs, dissembles, dresses up, and superimposes—in effect, composing hieroglyphics, with the general implication that it is up to us to decipher them. In the case of the madeleine, in the context of his relationship with his mother, the experience shifts metonymically from one woman to another, from one place to another, from one time to another, and opens a complex chain of associations that have become sustainable—visual and olfactory, and so on. The move is from mother to Aunt Léonie, and with it a degradation occurs, for Aunt Léonie is a gossipy, crippled old woman.

Proust mentions fanciful, colored Japanese paper, suggesting that the condition for talking of pleasure is to move from mother to Léonie—or even to Japan, if necessary. And it is the furniture of Aunt Léonie that Marcel bequeaths to a brothel in the novel, just as, in reality, after the death of his parents, Proust gave their furniture to a male brothel. So the episode of the madeleine, read by so many school children in learning French the world over, mobilizes at the same time the underlying texts of the novel and the biography of the author. Love and desire reverse themselves into rejection, hate, anger, and even death. Here we are at the

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heart of the perversion and profanation that underlie Proustian sublimation.

Kristeva discusses the process of sublimation in Proust's writing, emphasizing his excessive, intense sensitivity to experience. Proust tries to bring his writing as close as possible to that which cannot be said, to the experiences and the instinctual from which he necessarily protects himself. Proust wants to be the conveyer of the sensible world in images, in words. To describe this process, Kristeva finds useful Proust's own term, transsubstantiation.

Kristeva feels that Proust approaches something in his writing that goes beyond psychoanalysis, something that indeed seems to go well beyond the clinical field. When he writes that ideas are substitutes for sorrow, or that sorrow is only the path through which certain ideas enter us, he alludes to depressive states, to moments of separation from the loved object, beginning with the maternal object, but he understands and means, more basically, the anxiety of collapse of the psychic apparatus under the assault of what Green called “the work of the negative,”6 which explodes and disintegrates every unity—the unity of the self, of others, and the unity of language itself. The work of the negative includes instinct, desire, and their symbolization. All three interact to the point of placing into question one's identity and life.

Kristeva emphasizes the silence of that which is felt—the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of translating experience into words. She sees in this a closeness to autism for Proust, linking perversion and psychosis. Proust translates this autistic sensation into metaphors and syntax, but also into unheard, exorbitant, excessive accounts. Language itself is rendered ambiguous and polymorphous, leading the consciousness of the reader to states of super-competent memory, as well as to states of forgetfulness, nonsense, and confusion—as much dreamlike as anxiety ridden and pleasurable.

In Proust, we also see the sadomasochistic violence of desire. Kristeva insists on the violence of the Proustian universe and is negative


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about all idealizing readings of Proust. This violence is found in his dissection of amorous love, especially that for Albertine, in which there is an obsessive jealousy, ending in her death. It can also be seen in the sarcasm in which not only all the characters bathe—including the most ideal, such as the Duchesse de Guermantes and Charlus—but also all the ideals of the narrator.

Even in shattering the desiring ego to the point of committing a sadomasochistic act, and in the smashing, pulverizing, crushing of sense and feeling into language, Proust nonetheless maintains the polyphony and grandiose sublimation of his poetic account and of his narrative, and he can, rightly, liken his novel to a painting or to a cathedral.

On the First Chapter of In Search of Lost Time Considered as a Session. Jacqueline Harpman, pp. 457-472.

On a far less metaphysical level than Kristeva, Harpman takes the approach of reading the opening pages of the novel as if they were the narration of a patient in a first session. With care and attention to the unconscious yet rich meanings of the text, Harpman provides a detailed commentary, noting that the 43-page initial chapter could easily provoke 500 pages of commentary. She discerns, in the drama of the kiss and the surrounding associations and digressions, keys to Proust's psychic makeup and to the novel that is to unfold. She emphasizes Proust's intense anger toward women, above all his mother, leading him to create in the novel a whole host of female monsters.

In the novel, the father gives up his role of upholding the law by giving the child Marcel over to the mother and acquiescing to her spending the night in the son's room. In the digressions of these introductory pages, Harpman points out the narrator's association to masturbation and to satisfying himself. The narrator comments about the sadness of not having his mother with him, noting that “the sobbing never stopped.” The sobbing can be discerned in the asthmatic attacks to which he was subject. The themes of sadism and injury to his mother are legion, as well as his vengeance on his father, who, in the novel, has his profession taken away

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from him, for the father of the narrator is not a physician. There is sarcasm, bitterness, and contempt for the character Dr. Cottard, as well as for other physicians who appear in the novel. Although this rich text, prelude to the novel's 3,000 pages, may have been written in an attempt to deal with the traumata of childhood, Proust's psychic suffering continued.

An Essay on the Place Where In Search of Lost Time Was Created. Aline Petitier, pp. 473-489.

Petitier discusses Marcel's search for a guide, master, or mentor to lead him into art and creativity. The theme of the guiding woman is found among the characters in the novel, but these prove inadequate. Proust knew that it was sterile to transfigure the world by solitary meditation, but a mother's hand to guide him was illusory, and his grandmother's attempts to attain a sublime world of art for him were chimerical. In the novel, Swann is the double for Marcel, sensitive but without the ability to create. There are artists and writers who might influence him, notably, the painter, Elstir. Petitier reviews these relationships, some helpful, some disappointing to Marcel. Intellectual debates, which furnish some high humor in the drama, also sometimes end up in vain—as in the conversations with Mme Cambremer, for example, where the insensitivity and shallowness of such discussions are evident.

Proust's ultimate and creative mode of handling experience can be seen in the example of a conversation concerning sea gulls floating on the water at sunset in the volume of the novel entitled Sodom and Gomorrah (pp. 209-215).7 The sea gulls are described via their changing shades of color and their changing resemblances. Petitier points out Proust's handling of these exquisite transitions in shading and color and fantasy as the light gradually changes, until “they're flying away!” as Albertine comments, and night falls. Proust's writing accomplishes a transformation of the experience into exquisite sensitivity. Thus, it is the transfiguring power of words—not that of masters or teachers, intellectual discussions,


7 In the earlier translation, this volume was entitled Cities of the Plain.

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or guiding mothers—that is evident in his descriptions of the changing light, with the sea gulls becoming yellow or mauve, as the scene comes more and more to resemble a painting, whether by Poussin or Monet.

By implication, what is important is Proust's floating attention to what he sees and hears and to what that arouses in him. But the mystery is not evident except in the transmutation into words. It is not an ephemeral vision; it is a transformation in accord with the evolution of light, transcending the passage of time and giving it a spiritual equivalent. Mme Cambremer, who shares the scene in which the sea gulls are described, shows in her comments that she is a dolt, not sharing Proust's sensitivity either to the world or to art. The recognition of true values does not come about except through artistic sensibility—the rarest quality, the most secret, the most precious in the novel. With this sensitivity, experience turns from useless intelligence to subjective impressions that are fleeting, but that give access to another scene. The subjective experience becomes central. One must discern the qualities of the fleeting impression before it is gone and also translate the effect that impression arouses, putting it into words—into something more than “Wow! Look at that!”

Proust, the Parietal Image. The Little Patches of Yellow Wall and Childhood Memory. Marie Bonnafé-Villechenoux, pp. 507-523.

For Proust, writing and painting are closely linked, and both draw on the visual imagery of memories. The emergence of an image—the power of evocation in a flat, two-dimensional space—conditions the emergence of memory and makes his account possible. Early on in the novel, a metaphor of patches of wall is developed, linking spaces and memories.

In this essay, Bonnafé-Villechenoux reviews the path thus taken by Proust, beginning with the taste of the madeleine, evoking visual images of the wall in the boy's room at Combray, of the candlelight on the area of the wall of the staircase—preceding the scene of his pleading with his mother and his father's acquiescence to the two sleeping together. Marcel's childhood scene is indelibly inscribed

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and linked to this memory of the patch of wall lighted by candlelight in the dark. This experience marks the beginning of Marcel's interest in art, writing, musical works, and in what is going to become a focus of his interest: the little piece of yellow wall in the View of Delft by Vermeer. This bright patch of wall becomes the screen representation of an oedipal memory. This theme of visual images of patches of wall runs throughout the novel.

Though it has been often commented on by critics and art historians, Bonnafé-Villechenoux feels that, from a psychoanalytic point of view, this theme is an invitation to the analyst to be attentive in sessions to the construction of memories, to allow the inter-play between images and words to develop at its own tempo. These are mysteries about which art can enable a better understanding—the inscription of memories and fantasies, to use Freud's words, on the “actual surface of thought.”8 As analysts, though our attention is always certainly focused on the discourse taking place, if we use Proust as our guide, we become more sensitive to a background of particular mental images. The analyst will pay more attention, alongside an associative discourse, to certain evocations of figured elements.

In the analytic material, shadows on the walls, memories of a painted paper, reflections, images associated with plastic works, photographs, and so forth all take on a value, in the same way that a dream image is to be interpreted as a sign of defensive distancing, associated with the slow and difficult emergence of a well-guarded latent thought. Such an association in the course of a treatment forms a veritable screen, a surface, the representation of a visual image, that Proust restores to us so well. This approach to the material gives a better understanding of the affect and movement of the transference.

Freud dwelled little on the oneiric image, but paid more attention to the text, considered as a rebus. However, the pictorial


8 Freud's original expression was: “Die psychische jeweilige Oberfläche,” which he used in describing the Dora case (see, in English, Standard Edition, 7, p. 12). The expression also appears several times in his “Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis” and in “Papers on Technique.”

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images involved in the remembering of a dream, which we sometimes perhaps regard as unimportant in a session, presuppose an associative elaboration and are to be deciphered with the same care and value in the process as any other association.

Sesame and Books. Georges Gachnochi, pp. 539-550.

The French title of this essay echoes the title of Sesame and Lilies, a book Proust undertook to translate jointly with his mother.9 Proust, in his preface to Sesame, does not, as the book's author does, praise reading, but warns against its dangers: those of arousing desires in us, making us contemplate supreme beauty and a world of forbidden treasures, the refinding of the lost object.

Gachnochi examines two closely connected scenes from the last volume of this novel, Finding Time Again.10 In the first of these scenes, while waiting in the library of the Prince de Guermantes, the narrator distractedly opens a copy of François le Champi and receives a disagreeable shock, an impression of sadness that coincides with the somber thoughts of the moment. He recalls the night that was perhaps “the most sweet and the saddest of my life,” the memory of his mother reading to him from this book. This involuntary memory, along with others—of stumbling on the uneven paving block of the Guermantes courtyard, and of the sound of a spoon against a plate, the stiffness of a napkin (pp. 175-176)—led him into an investigation into their meanings, and into a long essay on the role of writing and memory in making sense of a life. He resolves to write, to decipher these inner signs, and to seek immortality and denial of time through his writing.

There follows a second, almost traumatic scene when, upon entering the grand salon where a masked ball is in progress, the narrator has the impression that all the guests are wearing make-up to make them appear old. He realizes, though, that they actually are old, and so, too, is he. Gachnochi asks why the recognition of general aging opposes itself to the realization of the work the


9 Ruskin, J. (1851). Sesame and Lilies. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

10 In the earlier translation, this volume was entitled Time Regained.

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narrator has set for himself. The narrator discovers the destructive action of time just at the moment when he wants to capture extratemporal realities. It is in this instant that there is a conscious recognition of the existence of time. He realizes that he himself is an old man; time has passed not only for others, but for him as well. His denial of time is thus recognized, as well as his denial of death.

The narrator places his denial of time and of his aging in relation to his mother. In his mind, he has remained a young man, just as his mother thought of him. His narcissism has kept him unchanged since his youth, continuing his identification with his mother. But, with this brutal confrontation with what amounts to a mirror—the masked ball with the unrecognizable, aged figures—he is forced to take into account the reality of time. Upon entering the salon, the narrator experiences a sense of strangeness, deriving from the destablilization of an identity up until then anchored in his mother's regard.

Swann is present in the memory of the madeleine: as an intruder, the guest whose visits always prevented mother's visiting Marcel in his room. But now, in this final scene, it is precisely a paternal image of Swann, now long dead, as the person who intruded on his relationship with the mother, that permits the narrator to shore up his beginning identification as an authentic artist who is creating his work from inside himself. Swann fulfills the role of the father at this moment of recognition of time and death and of separation from the mother. The two ways of the novel, Swann's way and the Guermantes way, are now united, so that one can enjoy through the narrator the maternal aspects of a lost paradise (the past) and the paternal ones (the future)—both linked to the writing of the novel, a work constantly spurred on by the memory of the past.

The Relevance of Marcel Proust for Psychoanalysis. Hendrika C. Halberstadt-Freud, pp. 585-602.

The author feels that masculine perversions have too long remained enigmatic. Proust focused rightly on the role of the mother

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as the center of the underlying conflict, a view very different from Freud's naive claim that the relationship with the mother is the most affectionate and least conflictual of all human relations. Freud, especially in The Interpretation of Dreams but throughout his work, elaborated a masculine psychology from a masculine point of view, less completely applicable to feminine psychology. If a woman had been the founder of psychoanalysis, would she not have accorded a much more important place to the mother as a central figure, as Anna Freud and Melanie Klein later did? Janine Chassguet-Smirgel's and Joyce McDougall's work on perversions, taking up where Freud left off after several decades, also put the emphasis on the relation with the mother.

Anticipations of Proust's conflicts with and anger toward his mother and other themes of the novel are to be found in Proust's earlier writings, where they are more overt. In this novel, they are much more veiled. The novel was not begun until well after his mother's death. Here the profanation of mother and of grandmother, and the resulting sense of guilt, become central but often covert themes. From the time of the good-night kiss on, there is an unresolved dyad of mutual exchange from which the father is excluded (or from which he has excluded himself). Proust had a sadomasochistic and perverse relationship with his mother, who seemed to say to him: “Be strong, but stay with me, act like a man, remain in my power”—while Proust engaged in blackmailing his mother with his illnesses. Later, the same relationship is portrayed in the novel between the narrator and Albertine, whom Marcel “imprisons” in the same way that his mother kept him prisoner.

In revisiting the story of Oedipus, we find two interpretations, Freud's and Proust's. In Proust, there is not so much an oedipal history as a perverted dyad, a symbiotic, infantile illusion excluding triangulation and preventing oedipal development in the usual sense. The son is victim of the mother, who invades him under cover of taking care of him. Mother is a cruel seductress, strict and enforcing of the rules, while father is permissive and looks on at the relationship between mother and son with a blind indulgence. Mother's behavior and attitude are ambiguous, involving

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either a mixture of love and hate or a dissimulation of all emotion, or are portrayed as trying to convey the opposite of what she actually feels. In Proust, we find an extreme ambivalence toward the mother, an unbelievable desire for love and tenderness going along with a murderous rage. Freud was interested in the vicissitudes of libido, and Proust in the vicissitudes of hate. Love in Proust's sense is always mixed with jealousy and the fear of losing the other's love.

Halberstadt-Freud feels we can learn much from Proust about different forms of homosexuality and perversions. Proust was a master observer, and there are many aspects that one would not know about without the observations of Proust, who knew such things more intimately than Freud. Proust was extremely sensitive and capable of expressing with great finesse what he observed in the interactions of other humans. He was a master of reading expressions and their hidden meanings. Proust saw that hostility can be dissimulated in eroticism. Erotic excitation for Proust contains perversion and is closely linked with fetishization and dehumanization—serving in the novel to repair momentarily the frustrations and infantile traumata that have menaced the masculinity of the narrator.

One can also learn a lot from Proust about feminine psychology and the mother–daughter relationship. The homosexual links of daughter to mother must be analyzed, else an analysis is not complete. It took a long time for the relations between mother and daughter to come to the attention of psychoanalysts, given Freud's rigid masculine model. The struggle is similar for Proust and for women, with the central question being whether pleasure is for the self or for mother. The question becomes: “Who is going to suffer and die because of my pleasure?”

Homosexuality is not an abandonment of the oedipal phase, as Freud and classical theory state, and here Proust comes closer to the facts. There is less of a rivalry with the father and more of an overidentification with the mother—a failure to separate from her and a fight for independence with respect to her, associated with a desire to rest close to her and always to give her pleasure—that

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is at work in homosexuality and in other problems where sex is in question, such as perversions. Proust is much clearer than Freud on this.

Both authors have their strong points and their blind spots, and Proust's view may be seen as complementary to Freud's.

In the Shadow of the Mother–Daughter Bond in Marcel Proust. Raymonde Coudert, pp. 603-616.

In Search of Lost Time (and the earlier translation, Remembrance of Things Past) has often been read and seen as an illustration and exploration of the mother–son dyad, but feminine couples are also present in the novel in an astonishing number—some fleeting and some lasting. To name some examples among the many, there are: Aunt Léonie and Eulalie; Aunt Léonie and the maid, Françoise; Françoise and Eulalie; Céline and Flora; Mlle Vinteuil and her lesbian friend; Odette and Mme Verdurin; Odette and Gilberte; Gilberte and Mme Léa; the Duchess and the Princess of Guermantes; the Duchess of Guermantes and the Princess of Parma; the baroness Putbus and her chambermaid; Mme Bontemps and her niece, Albertine; Gilberte and her unnamed daughter, Mlle de Saint-Loup; and the actress Berma and her daughter. These include mother–daughter couples, lesbian cou- ples, and feminine couples with sadistic or collusive elements.

The paradigm of these feminine couples is the narrator's mother and grandmother, from which the others are quite varied declensions and combinations. Another feminine couple, the wife and daughter of Swann, are excluded from visiting the narrator's family, where Swann is received on condition that he be treated as a bachelor because his wife, Odette, was a kept woman, and his daughter, Gilberte, was conceived from that unfortunate union. The mother–daughter pair, Odette and Gilberte, dominate the attentions of the narrator in the volume called In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower,11 and by the end of the novel, in Finding Time Again, he cannot even tell them apart.


11 In the earlier translation, this volume was entitled Within a Budding Grove.

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The insistent Proustian fantasy is of being a woman, to be a woman with a woman, to know what happens between two women. It appears in the implacable jealousy of the hero in his search for the deep truth about Albertine once she is gone. In the volume called Sodom and Gomorrah, the theme of lesbianism is encoded in the word Gomorrah. Gomorrah stands not just for lesbianism, but also for the mythical territory of the archaic mother– daughter bond, though one that is imagined as more radical, purer, more absolute. Proust anchors in the theme of Gomorrah a passion with two aspects, sadistic as well as amorous. Gomorrah is inseparable from the attack against the maternal, while at the same time giving testimony to an archaic attachment to the old, dark continent. The meaning of Gomorrah for Proust is that of a negative, denied, denigrated, toxic feminism.

As few writers have, Proust approached this incestuous mother–daughter link, the foundation of psychic bisexuality in women, according to Freudian principles. Proust lets us see more than Freud did of this “dark continent.” It is gender itself, not homo-sexuality, that is the secret—not only for the narrator, but also for the writer as well as the reader. The secret of gender for each, for everyone, lies in the fascination felt by both sexes for their fathers and their mothers in this conflict of resemblances, in this combat of identity that runs again and again toward father and then toward mother, toward male and then female, toward the woman in the man and the man in the woman. Being born as, and living as, one sex or the other and one sex and the other is what drives us to desire.

Ambivalence and Challenge, the Relations between Marcel Proust and His Father. Gabrielle Rubin, pp. 637-646.

Proust's father is very much present in this novel, as several episodes show. In actuality, Adrian Proust was a physician of some note who traveled widely and was instrumental in formulating accepted principles of public health. He was also a womanizer and an unfaithful husband, similar in many aspects of his behavior to the Duc de Guermantes in the novel. However, as the father of

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Marcel in the novel, he is deprived of his profession as a physician, and physicians are generally mocked. Three passages in the novel illustrate Proust's very ambivalent relationship with his father.

First, the father is humiliated in his acquiescence to the mother's sleeping in Marcel's room. The father accepts this castration and indeed inflicts it on himself. He is not the guarantor of the Law. His complicity in giving up the mother to Marcel for the night, and in letting Marcel obtain his name-day gift of books, including Sand's François le Champi, two days ahead of time, shows that the Law can be broken. His father abandons Marcel and abandons his role as representative of the Law, thus preventing triangulation. Marcel wants a father capable of fully assuming the role of a father, one who would have helped him through the oedipal phase, but the father in the novel fails to do this.

Proust, throughout his life, consulted doctors about his illnesses, but did not follow their recommendations. All his maladies, Rubin suggests in this essay, occurred in defiance of his father. The asthma was a cry of love, of hate, of admiration, and of denigration of his father.

Yet the father is also presented as triumphant in this novel. An illness of the young narrator prevents him from seeing Gilberte, with whom he is in love. A doctor is called, who prescribes violent and drastic purgatives and milk, “only milk.” Marcel's mother disregards the prescriptions and Marcel gets worse. When, finally, the doctor's orders are followed, Marcel improves. The “imbecile” was a great doctor, and it was the mother who did not follow the rules. Doctors in the novel resemble Dr. Cottard, the character who is an excellent diagnostician, but is presented as otherwise a mediocrity—a fool and a boor. Proust mocked doctors, was certainly ambivalent about them, and was savagely ironic about their intellectual mediocrity. He disregarded their prescriptions, and many of his characters live or die for other reasons—as, for example, the novelist Bergotte, who would have been cured if a doctor had not intervened.

Finally, the father in the novel is presented as sad, maligned, and mistreated. The composer, Vinteuil, who according to Rubin represents Proust's father, is mocked and profaned by his homo-sexual

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daughter and her lesbian lover in the scene in which the two use the portrait of her dead father for their sexual rituals. As noted elsewhere in this issue of the Revue, Proust himself gave the family furniture, and the photographs of the women whom he loved and respected the most—including his mother's—to a homosexual bordello, and permitted the profanation of them by prostitutes.

There was a perverse, cruel side to Proust the man, yet he was sensitive to the pain and sadness that his homosexuality caused his own father. His father's pain must have been immense in facing this strange son, who stopped him short with his incurable illnesses and embarrassed him socially by virtue of his homosexuality. Despite the denigration of the narrator's father in the novel, the paternal presence is as essential in the work as it was in Proust's own life.

Act As If I Didn't Know.” Michel Schneider, pp. 647-660.

In Proust's earlier work, Against Sainte-Beuve, there is an imaginary conversation between Proust and his mother. In it, there is an important comment that indicates a secret pact between them: “Act as if I didn't know,” the mother says as she listens to his explanations and theories. In this work, mother and son play at literature as if they were playing at bandits, hide-and-seek, or with dolls. “You're becoming a writer, and I didn't know it” is another revealing comment, also indicative of their secret pact.

Schneider feels that in these secret pacts may be discerned the origin of Proust's homosexuality and of his being a novelist: a double secret, as it were. There were two unconscious pacts, one of homosexuality and the nonrecognition of the difference between the sexes, and the other of death and the nonrecognition of the irreversibility of time. The first is at the center of perversion, while the second permits artistic creation. Two couples, Vinteuil and his daughter in In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past), and Proust himself in relation to his mother, exemplify this closely interrelated phenomenon of vice and genius—or, in psychoanalytic terms, perverse sexuality and artistic creativity.

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To create a perversion, a contract is required dating back to early childhood, by which each of the two—mother and son, in general—proceeds to a disavowal. That of the son relates to maternal castration: “I pretend that I don't know she does not have a penis.” The mother's disavowal concerns the sexuality of the son: “I act as though I don't know he has desires.” Evidently, between Proust and his mother, sex and sexuality were not the direct objective of this pact of reciprocal not knowing. It is in the domain of literature—in Proust's artistic creations—that sublimation displaces these two disavowals. The mother acts as though she did not know that her son writes; the son acts as though he does not know that she knows.

“Pretend like I don't know” exists at the turning point of neurosis and perversion. It is at the same time internal to the subject, in what Freud designated as a splitting of the ego, and frequently links two subjects, one neurotic and one perverse. “I don't know” characterizes neurosis; it is the fantasy by which pleasure is not possible unless it remains unconscious. But in perversion, the “pretend that” asks the other to assure, through knowing, the not knowing in which the subject wants to remain in order to find pleasure.

In neurosis, there is a game of hide-and-seek between desire and knowing, a reality known but not accepted. On the other hand, to “pretend that I don't know” constitutes a more elaborate contractual disavowal, proper to perversion. There is by complicity a contract of not knowing. There is no transvestite whose mother has not refused to see that her son was stealing her underclothes in order to dress up in them. Finding her son in her undergarments, the mother says nothing and turns away. The disavowal by the mother of the son's perverse behavior is her response to the son's disavowal of the mother's sex.

How is it that Proust was able to become a writer? His novel would not have been written without the presence of perversion, but it also served as a check on his perversion. Usually, we talk of sublimation in psychoanalysis when we speak of creativity. It

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would be more accurate in the case of Proust to talk of a curse, of distress, vice, beauty, laughter, and fault—to attempt to understand the ways in which In Search of Lost Time is not the book of a homosexual, nor a novel of homosexuality, and still less an apology for it, as some have supposed. There are few books more cruel toward homosexuals and homosexuality. It is a novel by a man who loved men, but who suffered from this love. Sublimation is involved, certainly, but as a transposition of the sexual into something it is not.

In the novel, Mlle Vinteuil's lesbian friend, who spat on the composer's photograph, went on to decipher the illegible scrawl of Vinteuil's manuscript of his septet, and shepherded it to publication, restoring him to the figure of a respected father. Thus, perversion gave way to the creation of beauty. Analogously, Proust delegates the sexual impulse to another who is not he, but who is he as well—the author of his novel, the narrator. The offer of an object of knowledge, or of pleasure, is not between Marcel and his mother, but between the narrator and an absolute and anonymous reader.

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Article Citation

Wilson, E., Jr. (2005). Revue Française De Psychanalyse. Psychoanal. Q., 74(4):1211-1237

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