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Lost Time Thursday: Thoughts on Yaoi

And for the invert vice begins, not when he enters into relations (for there are all sorts of reasons that he may enjoin these), but when he takes his pleasure with women. The young man whom we have been attempting to portray was so evidently a woman that the women who looked upon him with desire were doomed (failing a special taste on their part) to the same disappointment as those who in Shakespeare's comedies are taken in by a girl disguised as a youth. The deception is mutual, the invert is himself aware of it, he guesses the disillusionment which the woman will experience once the mask is removed, and feels to what an extent this mistake as to sex is a source of poetical imaginings. Moreover it is in vain that he keeps back the admission "I am a woman" even from his demanding mistress (if she is not a denizen of Gomorrah) when all the time, with the cunning, the agility, the obstinacy of a climbing plant, the unconscious but visible woman in him seeks the masculine organ. We have only to look at that curly hair on the white pillow to understand that if, in the evening, this young man slips through his guardians' fingers in spite of them, in spite of himself, it will not be to go in pursuit of women. His mistress may castigate him, may lock him up, but next day the man-woman will have found some way of attaching himself to a man, as the convolvulus throws out its tendrils wherever it finds a pick or a rake up which to climb. Why, when we admire in the face of this man a delicacy that touches our hearts, a grace, a natural gentleness such as men do not possess, should we be dismayed to learn that this young man runs after boxers? They are different aspects of the same reality.

Remember when I said that the strangeness of the mores in Proust is always outweighed by the illusion of familiarity created by the physical detail and social comedy? No? Anyway, it's not true anymore. If in Guermantes, the past was a foreign country admirably adapted to tourism, with a McDonald's on every corner and a brightly-colored map in the center of the square, here in Part One of Sodom and Gomorrah we've entered a region of the past where the tourists call themselves "travelers," or maybe "adventurers," and brag about being the only English speaker on the train. Here, things really are done differently. M. spies on an unexpected sexual encounter between M. de Charlus and Jupien, the tailor. This provides an opportunity for Proust's Thoughts on Homosexuality, which are as convoluted as his metaphors and a little less sure of themselves.

Eventually Part One ends and we're back to business as usual: going to parties, forgetting people's names:

I tried to recall hers as I talked to her; I remembered quite well having met her at dinner, and could remember things that she had said. But my attention, concentrated upon the inward region in which these memories of her lingered, was unable to discover her name there. It was there none the less. My thoughts began playing a sort of game with it to grasp its outlines, its initial letter, and finally to bring the whole name to light. It was labour in vain; I could more or less sense its mass, its weight, but as for its forms, confronting them with the shadowy captive lurking in the interior darkness, I said to myself: "That's not it." Certainly my mind would have been capable of creating the most difficult names. Unfortunately, it was not called upon to create but to reproduce. Any mental activity is easy if it need not be subjected to reality.

. . . but the title of this volume strongly suggests that there will be plenty more where that came from. Stay tuned!


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 16th, 2016 12:15 am (UTC)
I always do find historical Thoughts on Homosexuality fascinating. You want it to be a universal, but it's so clearly not, and I wish I understood the variations better than I do.
Sep. 16th, 2016 07:17 pm (UTC)
It's fascinating! and sometimes, as here, a little uncomfortable. Proust's narrator is very obviously Proust in a lot of ways, including highly intimate ways -- or at least creates a hyperrealistic illusion of autobiography -- but he's also setting himself up as outsider anthropologist to a group RL Proust was a part of. I don't want to claim too much about that, because I've been avoiding Proust biography while I'm reading. But it's interesting, for sure.

I don't know if I do want it to be universal, even. I think there's probably wisdom in a wide variety of approaches to sexuality. I don't know that "gay guys are secretly women! and lesbians are men!!!" is one of the wisest. But at the same time, I feel for these 19th and early 20th century attempts to make a "scientific" account of homosexuality that also invites or at least leaves room for sympathy.
Sep. 16th, 2016 09:30 pm (UTC)
but he's also setting himself up as outsider anthropologist to a group RL Proust was a part of.

Oh, was he? I had no idea! My knowledge of Proust consists solely of soggy madeleines and your posts. That kinda makes it even more interesting, though, the strange double consciousness of the author vs the narrator vs the expected reader.

Moreover it is in vain that he keeps back the admission "I am a woman" even from his demanding mistress (if she is not a denizen of Gomorrah)
I also sort of love the idea of the mistress who *is* a "denizen of Gomorrah". What happens then? Do they share their secrets and enjoy a cheerfully platonic friendship? I like to hope so.
Sep. 16th, 2016 02:34 am (UTC)
OH boy...and ye gods...

Sep. 16th, 2016 07:22 pm (UTC)
BUCKLE UP, there might be some kind of ride ahead! But first, three hundred pages on the complicated etiquette of eating the last cheese-and-cracker combo on the party platter.

(well, that will also be a ride worth taking, if I know Proust <3)

Edited at 2016-09-16 07:31 pm (UTC)
Sep. 16th, 2016 12:01 pm (UTC)
I will forever think of this volume of Proust as "Proust's Thoughts on Yaoi." Not that I am likely to have the chance to use this appellation ever, but I bet it would kill at a geeky academic cocktail party.
Sep. 16th, 2016 07:29 pm (UTC)

People who want to talk about Proust are everywhere! The trick is to find them . . . by talking about Proust!

This may not be good advice. Nevertheless, I've been following it.

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


blase ev

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