Thirteen years of Proust

On 28 July this year I finished the final volume of In Search of Lost Time, a book I began reading in 2000. According to the Proust critic Roger Shattuck, it’s not unusual for people to take a decade to read the Search. Proust took thirteen years to publish the seven volumes of the Search and it took me thirteen years to read it, chugging along at the rate of 90 000 words or so a year.

During those thirteen years, I moved interstate and back again twice, had a parent die, finished one career and simultaneously started two others, wrote my way out of a catastrophe, achieved middle-age, acquired two Proust t-shirts and became happy. And when I’d finally finished reading it, the first thought I had was that the Search is too short, and I needed to read it again.

Not long before I finished the Search just as I was about to begin the final volume Time Regained I realised that this year is the centenary of the publication of the first volume Swann’s Way (14 November if you’re thinking of breaking out the madeleines), a publication that Proust paid for himself because no-one else would touch it.

Two of the main themes of the Search, as far as I can tell anyway, are memory and sex. Curiously these were two of the major themes of the then young and burgeoning theories of psychoanalysis. Prior to the publication of Swann’s Way, Freud had written The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, a title that would have made an excellent subtitle for the Search.

I assume that Proust had read Freud because of his frequent use of the new term ‘invert’ to describe gays and lesbians. ‘Invert’ was used in preference to ‘pervert’. If a pervert was someone commonly supposed to be fixed on a wrong object, an invert is someone fixed on an object that is merely different.

Time  palimpsest

In the Search Proust was writing everything he could remember about remembering, a remembering that is being revised by the passage of time, so that what he knows of a person, and consequently of himself, is being continually rewritten and rewritten, as if Proust were writing his own palimpsest about the palimpsest that is memory.

One of the curious things about the Search is that it reads like the story of someone free-associating on the analyst’s couch. We go forward in time, back in time, sideways in time, travel to points where the narrator wasn’t present and so on, driven by obsession and contingent recall: my mother makes me think of my house, which makes me think of architecture, which makes me think of churches, which makes me think of meeting Albertine, which makes me think of beaches … and so on.

The subject of the Search, called Marcel – because, says Proust, that’s what we might as well call him, if we’re going to call him anything – is dual. The two simultaneous Marcels are the Marcel of the past (actually many Marcels at many points in time), who is engaged in narcissistically struggling to be a writer, and the Marcel of the present, speaking directly to us of the states of mind of the past Marcel. The present Marcel is a thoughtful, lucid, sometimes gossipy voice, who recites the narratives of his past, and comments on that narrative as he speaks.

Proust’s writing of sex is of the obsessions of sex, not only homosexual and heterosexual, but of the many polymorphous sexualities we inhabit in our lives. Perhaps there is no other kind of sex but obsessive sex, perhaps that’s what sexual attraction is – a kind of obsession. Maybe one of the difficulties with romantic relationships is the two parties matching up their levels of obsession, a concept that explains a lot about romantic love and why couples are often either glued together or fracturing.

The Search’s Marcel is born into an obsessive love (for his mother) and as a teenager and as an adult falls into a series of painful and obsessive love affairs, most notably with Albertine Simonet. Marcel’s long and tormented love for Albertine is characterised by his consuming and relentless jealousy and incessant paranoia concerning her possible affairs with other women and Albertine’s attempts to escape from the gilded cage in which Marcel has imprisoned her.

If all babies desire their mother, who herself has desires other than for her baby, then the structure of feminine desire becomes the thing that all of us, as babies, had to negotiate – the event that shapes our experience of the Other. The interesting thing about misogynists is that they are terrified by feminine desire, as if it could turn the world upside down. Which of course it once did. And the misogynist can only form alliances with men who have the same fixation. Their sharing of that fixation can be a way of getting close to each other without actually having sex with each other, and of keeping an eye on each other. The misogynist can’t work out what a woman’s desire could be if she doesn’t desire him, and therefore she will not be allowed to have other desires.

It’s curious that in modern times crises of femininity are always pitched in terms of crises of desire: women have too much desire (are sluttish, promiscuous, abandoned) or have too little (aren’t having enough babies). Crises of masculinity are always couched in terms of violence and power; men have an excess of both (are too criminal) or have too little (are too feminine, and therefore have a crisis of desire). It’s never the other way round except in transgressive horror stories of the murderous mother or the paedophilic uncle.

In The Fugitive, the penultimate volume of the Search, Marcel reflects on his pursuit of women: ‘I pursued one living woman, then another, then I returned to my dead one.’ Of course anyone who has read Proust knows which woman he is apparently referring to when he speaks of her death. But it occurred to me that the ‘dead one’ can also be Marcel’s mother, whose desire for him he continually struggled to awaken and lay exclusive claim to.
In fact there’s a famous paper by the late French psychoanalyst Andre Green, ‘The Dead Mother’, that reads like a description of Marcel’s state of mind. Green writes of infant depression and the melancholia produced by the infant in the presence of a mourning mother, and the later attempts by the child to enliven her, to recover, gain or create her love, even by hatred, indifference or proxy. Thinking about Proust this way there is an unseen ghost inhabiting the pages of the Search: the mourning mind of Marcel’s mother.

Proust books

Modern porn has generated the term ‘MILF’, an acronym for ‘mother I’d love to fuck’. It’s an odd term in many ways, not least because it is very close to a statement that ‘I’d love to fuck my mother’, and makes one wonder about porn’s Oedipal fantasies and its structuring of a possessive desire – a male search for sexual omnipotence, where the other’s desire is completely subjugated to one’s own.

If Marcel were a twenty-first-century character, he would definitely add porn to his list of sexual fixations, which in the early twentieth century frequently included taking young girls of lower station back to his room and either paying them for some kind of sexual contact or just being generally creepy with them. The Search is a revelation of the structure of misogyny and of the misogynist’s failure to come to terms with his overwhelming desire for a woman’s absolute desire for him, and his burying of his desire for other men.

After Albertine, one of the most sympathetically and vividly drawn characters in the Search is Baron de Charlus, the florid homosexual aristocrat. Proust of course was gay, and the depictions of the gay men in the Search are also a simultaneous burying and revealing of Proust’s own sexual identity.

Charlus is convinced that no-one knows he is gay when in fact everyone does. He is the exemplar of the way we consciously give out signs about ourselves – I’m an intellectual, or I’m sensitive to the needs of women, or I’m always so busy, or I love bodies – but fail to understand how we can give ourselves away in all the ways we speak but don’t hear. Charlus’ construction of his public identity is cunning, elaborate and completely useless. The signs we deliberately give out about ourselves rarely speak in the ways we prefer them to, and when they do – when we fall in love for example – they can still lead us into disaster.

Gilles Deleuze, in his book Proust and Signs, speaks of Proust’s unparalleled acuity in regard to this. One of the Search’s most unforgettable characters is the wealthy bourgeois salon hostess, the appalling Madame Verdurin. Deleuze remarks that Mme Verdurin doesn’t laugh; she makes the sign that she is laughing, in effect the sign-of-a-sign. In one memorable scene she does this so demonstratively that she dislocates her jaw.

It’s interesting that contemporary fiction writers in English rarely seem to address the political issues of the age in their work. There are probably many reasons for this – the domination of English fiction by the values of conservative white men, a general obsession with ‘craft’, an almost soteriological belief that the novel and the short story are something transcendent, and so on.

Proust incorporated two of the biggest political events of his time into the Search. The first was the extraordinary Dreyfus Affair that consumed French politics from 1894 to 1906. The second was The Great War. Behind it all, as Proust lucidly shows, is the phenomenon of class – its rigid structures, its collapsing boundaries, its punitive but transitory nature. Given that war, anti-Semitism and the rewriting of class became the great preoccupations of the twentieth century, it looks as if Proust was not just politically attentive, but also right on the money.

The Search is a book that could probably not be published today, not without being edited to death, and its profuse winding endless sentences getting a good crafting. The Search is occasionally incoherent and sometimes boring for pages at a time, and being so complex a narrative has many lacunae. One character dies and later reappears, another is briefly referred to by a different name, characters have experience of events that haven’t yet happened and so on. But none of this matters at all.

Still, a valid objection to Proust is that as amazing as his work is, we’re continually being treated to the spectacle of a man speaking at great length of women’s desire. The women in the Search, particularly Albertine, struggle to speak of their own desires to men. But Albertine doesn’t want to write a million-word novel to be able to do that. She is just taking what she can when she can in any way she can. In her brilliant framing of psychoanalysis, The Weary Sons of Freud, the French feminist Catherine Clement wrote: ‘So I’m a thief. Yes, and with no qualms about it any more. I’m a thief, that is, a woman, forced to steal in a culture made for men …’

One of the first books I read after finishing the Search was the autobiographical novel The Words To Say It, by another French feminist writer, Marie Cardinal. Cardinal’s extraordinarily moving book describes a seven-year analysis she had in Paris that finished a few days before the events of May 1968. For many years she had experienced severe bleeding from her vagina, for which no medical cause could be found. Her analytic journey into her poisonous childhood, the bitter relationship of her parents and Cardinal’s own relationship with her mother describes a savage landscape of imprisonment in the desires of others. In my wondering state about Albertine, Cardinal’s book somehow filled in the Albertine-shaped hole in Proust’s narrative while also telling me that if Albertine had written her own, it would undoubtedly have made a train-wreck of Proust’s.

At any rate I think that beneath the themes of sex, mourning, memory and class in the Search, Proust is asking two overarching questions. The first is, where do our interior lives come from? Freud of course was asking the same question, but in echoing Freud we can risk coming up with a narrative that is sometimes a little too glib; that our interior lives are entirely formed from childhood states for example, and that critical events leave their marks, and these marks are generally the marks left in us by the minds of others and so on.

And while it is true that childhood is formative and our mother’s post-natal state of mind left its marks in ways both profound and elusive, and everybody we encounter leaves his or her mark on us as we do on them, the truth is that we don’t really know where our interior lives come from. We seem to create and own them in the same gesture, inhabiting an identity that is concrete and very fragile, so easily illuminated with shame or pain, but so difficult to locate. Emotions are mysterious, sometimes ungovernable and often appear subject to events outside our control. No-one can say, ‘I’m going to fall in love in exactly ten minutes’, or plan on getting angry after lunch on Thursday. No-one can put their mind in a jar and show it to you.

Proust’s second question is, what does it mean to read? It takes a long time to write a book and immense labour and reserves of imagination, yet it is such a tenuous, hit-and-miss operation. ‘We guess as we read,’ says Proust, ‘we create; everything starts from an initial error …’, which is something of an anticipation of Lacan’s statement that ‘the very foundation of interhuman discourse is misunderstanding’.

The writer is making a huge demand of a reader – that he or she give a book the attention that the writer gave to its creation. This can be a standing invitation to a writer’s narcissism of course, and it often seems to me that one of the characteristics of contemporary mainstream literature written in English is its furtive and not-so-furtive narcissism. And one of the challenges in writing prose these days is how to face and evade one’s culturally facilitated narcissism. How does one write open, alive, non-narcissistic prose? A tentative post-Proustian answer might be, ‘Write a prose of mourning.’

A prose of mourning is not a prose of misery. Proust is a great comic writer, certainly one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read, like a standup who having delivered a punchline on a labyrinthine and excruciatingly ridiculous story, continues to deliver, with impeccable timing, further revelations of the subject in question, so that we are laughing about three different things at once and also laughing because we are laughing so much. Every character of the Search has their comic aspect: Marcel himself, Charlus, Albertine, the Verdurins and the numerous minor characters, such as M Legrandin who takes up tennis in middle age so that he can become fit enough to sprint unseen in and out of houses of ill-repute.

And yet we cannot devote our lives to every book we read. We can only be conscious of the demand, a demand we can never meet or repay. In her essay on psychoanalysis, violence and the power of mourning ‘Violence, Mourning, Politics’, Judith Butler wrote: ‘Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.’ Which is as good a summary of In Search of Lost Time as I’ve ever read.

Anyway, I should let Proust have the last words, in one of those labyrinthine sentences that would probably not make it past an editor’s knife today, sentences that would be sliced and diced in an attempt to make them resemble the kind of reactionary schlock that constitutes so much contemporary fiction writing in English, fiction from which we seem unable to escape, caught as we are in an age of strange narcissism and fatal ignorance.

And when, before putting out my candle, I read the passage which I am about to transcribe, my lack of talent for literature, of which I had had a presentiment long ago on the Guermantes way and which had been confirmed during the stay of which this was the last evening – one of those evenings before a departure when we emerge from the torpor of habits about to be broken and attempt to judge ourselves – struck me as something less to be regretted, since literature, if I was to trust the evidence of this book, had no very profound truths to reveal: and at the same time it seemed to me sad that literature was not what I had thought it to be.


Stephen Wright

Stephen Wright’s essays have won the Eureka St Prize, the Nature Conservancy Prize, the Overland NUW Fair Australia Prize and the Scarlett Award, and been shortlisted for several others. In 2017, he won the Viva La Novella Prize. His winning novel, A Second Life, was published by Seizure, and also won the Woollahra Digital Literary Prize for Fiction.

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  1. Lovely post, Stephen.

    I read the whole series in about six or eight months simply by forcing myself: not allowing myself to read anything else until it was done. Then I sold the books.

    It would not be true to say I hated every moment, but the only parts I enjoyed were when external events, such as the Dreyfus affair, miraculously worked their way into conversations in the salon. I didn’t find the experience amusing; it was an effort of pure will to get to of the end of Time Regained. I kept imagining that I was in hell. A peculiarly privileged hell.

    You are a more patient person than I am.

    1. Jesus. I could never force myself to read a book I hated. I think Proust worked for me cos I took so long to read him. Though I’d advise a decent paperback set. Reading huge hardbacks in bed for 13 years has given me wrists of steel.

      1. Proust as a gym alternative; perhaps I would have liked it more in that light. (I would insert the emoticon with a slightly dubious smile, but you have said somewhere that you hate them.)

        I had the same set as the photo. Heavy indeed.

  2. I liked the fact that your epical reading of the search matched the epic of its writing. Of course, there are as many different ways of reading as there are ways of being in the world. When I read the search as an adolescent the reading became an obsession and its world got the better of me and I drifted happily but aimlessly through the story. On my second sailing I got onto the idea that Proust was outlining the development of modern technology, and that idea fascinated me. I don’t know if I could go again, but doubtless there would be a new fascination each time it is read, more so than any other text I can think of.

    1. I’ll definitely read Proust again. Apart from the humour, I love those long hesitant divergent sentences. And taking so long to read it means that the text has all kind of resonances for me; that was when I was reading about Marcel and Gilberte; that was when Marcel found Charlus in the S&M brothel etc.
      And toward the end I started to read the Search as one man’s appalled undoing of his own misogyny, so it will be interesting to re-read in that light.
      Last night I was reading Robert Walser who was writing at the same time as Proust in an adjacent country; one writing the longest book in the world, the MS like a palimpsest, the other writing the shortest stories in micro-script.

  3. I meant to say thanks for sharing your ways of reading Proust. I know some reading groups who read Finnegan’s Wake do so one sentence at a time. That would kill any pleasure derived from reading the À la rechereche, which can be a solo read only I suspect.

  4. Congratulations. I have been reading the first volume on and off for years – I was supposed to have finished it in second year French some time in the 1970s and probably answered questions in an exam on it, despite not having finished it. The one advantage of taking so long and reading it in French rather than my own language is that you actually take the time to notice everything, in between looking up words in the dictionary – and there is so much to notice, including funny bits, which most people don’t agree are actually there, so I’m glad to discover that someone else sees them too. And I agree – Proust over Joyce any day.

    1. Proust is the only reason I regret giving up French at school.
      Whenever I read Joyce I just want to punch him. Metaphorically of course.

  5. One lament: how À la rechereche du temps perdu’s fame is due mostly to its Minties Moment, a point somewhat ironically underscored by the original English translation title, considering too how the work never passes into pastness but lives in a forever present due to its dizzying alternation of passe simple and pluperfect tenses. As always, there’s the act of reading and knowing what you know about a text, and extra-textual gloss.

  6. Thought provoking and violent, as usual. Would love to take a long walks on the beach with your article, but not commit to anything quite so soon. Just wondering how you understand ‘a prose of mourning’ as necessarily in conflict with ‘one’s culturally facilitated narcissism’, though? Doesn’t mourning necessarily involve the loss of an object or ideal, and is subsequently dependent on either identification with or othering of (or perhaps both) it? How does this disrupt or complicate patterns of culturally fostered narcissism? Does mourning permit a differentiation from objects/ideals or is it a sort of response to the loss of something formerly assumed to be a part of the self? Interested to know what you meant by that statement.

  7. “Thought provoking and violent, as usual.”. That’s definitely going on the cover when I publish my masterpiece.
    White Australia is the land of failed mourning. Which is to say it is the land of melancholia. Which is to also say it is the land of malignant narcissism.
    And if we learn to do the work of mourning (probably only Aboriginal people and asylum-seekers and a few others are engaging with that work currently – we make them do it for us) then yes we lose an ideal. But it’s a malignant ideal. Literature is full of these malignant narcissistic ideals. I’d argue that the recent furore over the Slattery poetry plagiarism has more to do with the loss of an ideal, about poetry and its production. Posts about murder and massacre have excited less comment at Overland, and Slattery didn’t do anything that terrible. Faked a poem. But what he did do was challenge – albeit unintentionally – literature’s pompous and highly-controlled modes of production and policing, which so many of us are significantly invested in. And unable to mourn the revealing of that, writers resort to moral outrage, an outrage that is just a manifestation of our narcissism. I haven’t seen any interesting defence of Slattery’s actions. But there’s definitely one to be made.

      1. I’ll get it chiselled up straight away. It’ll make a nice contrast to my father’s epitaph, which is a quote from the English comedian Tommy Cooper: ” Gone – ‘just like that.’

        1. Well yes, your fathers epitaph is certainly a good one. And seems to sum up death quite nicely. Thought provoking violence reminds me of some of the images of wrathful Tibetan deities I have seen. I imagine it to be necessary at times.

          1. Yes I agree. The problem with violent responses is that the outcomes are often unpredictable. But I think a thought provoking violence is probably more an anger at an attribute rather than a person. Like being anger at hatred but not at the person who hates, if that makes sense.

  8. Stephen, I want to quote you back to yourself, in full. Ok, that’s a bit weird I know, but I feel like you have nailed your ideas very clearly here that sum up your entire Overland blog project for the last few years… at least the Aussie-and-lit side of things, which has been much of it:

    “White Australia is the land of failed mourning. Which is to say it is the land of melancholia. Which is to also say it is the land of malignant narcissism.
    And if we learn to do the work of mourning (probably only Aboriginal people and asylum-seekers and a few others are engaging with that work currently – we make them do it for us) then yes we lose an ideal. But it’s a malignant ideal. Literature is full of these malignant narcissistic ideals. I’d argue that the recent furore over the Slattery poetry plagiarism has more to do with the loss of an ideal, about poetry and its production. Posts about murder and massacre have excited less comment at Overland, and Slattery didn’t do anything that terrible. Faked a poem. But what he did do was challenge – albeit unintentionally – literature’s pompous and highly-controlled modes of production and policing, which so many of us are significantly invested in. And unable to mourn the revealing of that, writers resort to moral outrage, an outrage that is just a manifestation of our narcissism.”

    1. Of course there are good ideals. That’s the whole point of ideals.A malignant ideal is one that displaces the mourning and doesn’t allow it to occur, or says it isn’t necassary. John Howard’s refusal to say ‘sorry’ was of such an order. It denied the fact that his project of a kind of comfortable white supremacy was hollow. He didn’t say ‘sorry’ because in his view nothing had actually happened for anyone to be sorry for. To acknowledge Aboriginal dispossession would have shattered his world view.
      In terms of literature, if a poet says ‘Poetry has a glorious future’ that looks to me like a narcissistic refusal to acknowledge the conditions under which literature is being made. If the actual planet’s future is in doubt, how could poetry have one? Only if you believe that poetry is some kind of transcendent phenomenon.
      A ‘good’ ideal is an internalised experience or understanding or capacity that knows that obligations to others are infinite, and everything is problematic morally and politically, even though the ethical, politically-committed life is the only life. ‘People are worth caring for’ is a non-malignant ideal. Engaging in a relationship with someone knowing you will definitely lose them one day, is non-malignant. Losing someone, grieving for them and yourself, but one day accepting they are gone while still missing them, is non-malignant. Accepting responsibility for one’s past destructive actions without blaming anyone else is non-malignant.

      1. “He didn’t say ‘sorry’ because in his view nothing had actually happened for anyone to be sorry for. To acknowledge Aboriginal dispossession would have shattered his world view.”

        As much as I despise John Howard, you have absolutely no way of being acquainted with his internal life. To assert that you are
        privy to such special knowledge says a great deal more about you than him.

      2. Thanks Stephen. That helps a lot. To me, it’s like you are saying: be realistic. which means: there are others, and you could listen to them.

        Yesterday, the phrase “our otherness” turned up in my life. This has seemed so precise and yet beyond other thought on the matter, like “my otherness, AND your otherness AND their otherness etc” “the other, an other”.

        “our” seems to include mine and yours but also something else, something that is there in the midst of whatever interaction there is.

  9. I would like to read more about non-malignant ideals!! And how they can work in the politisphere! reading your blog over the past months is always a confronting and enlivening step into truths I am mute to express as you do; I am always glad for many of my unformed and emerging wonderings to find the light of clarity here, mingling happily with things I have never considered!

    1. “I would like to read more about non-malignant ideals!!”

      Me also. I figure that if I can work out how the malignant narcissism of Australian life is structured I’ll know something about what is needed to address it.
      I’m not one for recommending books to people, as it’s a fraught process, but I think in looking at mourning and narcissism then probably the book I mentioned in the post by Marie Cardinal, ‘The words to say it’ and also ‘The New Black: mourning, melancholia and depression’ by Darian Leader would make a good double header. Leader is a Lacanian psychoanalyst and writes short books that are lively and engaging and very easy to read. They could be knocked over in a few days.

      1. “Non-malignant ideals” is a toxic avenue by which experiencing the pain and anger necessary to overcoming our problems is avoided.

  10. Looking around at the world you got the narcissistic bit right: the modern equivalent of a memoir or autobiography such as Proust’s, a work of half-mourning (because the remembrances are mostly involuntary, but still enable the remembering of what is forgotten), seems to be taking a selfie (in a multitude of different forms).

  11. “Posts about murder and massacre have excited less comment at Overland”

    Maybe that’s because Overland is selective about which articles are open to comment.

    1. I’ll try and address your several comments at one time.
      First, as far as I’m aware the vast majority of OL posts are open to comment. I say ‘majority’ because I think that the print journal articles when put online aren’t open for comments. There’s nothing sinister in that though. And I imagine that like all prudent editors the OL editors reserve the right to turn off comments on any post they choose according to their policies.
      Second, when someone like Howard, or any other politician makes drastic decisions that affect so many people, and may often cause great suffering, a citizen is entitled to speculate on their interior state, particularly when there seems to be a pattern to their decisions and actions.
      Third I find your statement ‘ “Non-malignant ideals” is a toxic avenue by which experiencing the pain and anger necessary to overcoming our problems is avoided’ a little problematic to say the least. When someone puts ‘pain’ and ‘anger’ together and frames them as positive and necessary events or capacities, I get a bit concerned.

  12. “The misogynist can’t work out what a woman’s desire could be if she doesn’t desire him, and therefore she will not be allowed to have other desires” fuelled by the “overwhelming desire for a woman’s absolute desire for him”, and other things you most likely have thought about.

    There are a lot of misogynists around! What woman hasn’t experienced this?!

    We are all thieves by your comment, and I would add liars too – how else does one survive in a society where one is potentially a target at any interaction for such treatment, gross or subtle?! It is a a perfect set-up to breed dishonesty in the name of survival…and people wonder why relationships are so fraught, and women so angry.

    And it is women who question, step back, disengage, forgive, and find honesty in a way of living that is outside the mainstream but still existing within it. And in this I wonder, how does a man free himself from this toxic arena he has created? When you are the victim you have something to work with to build a way out, to forgive; when you are the perpetrator you only have yourself to forgive, and that must be hard.

    1. then again, nothing happens in isolation, so in general the perpetrator probably has a number of others they could forgive, but having so much power and influence, as the white male created culture affords most men, must require a bit of effort to untangle oneself from.

      And of course, there are females who benefit from this toxic set-up, who reciprocally use men’s desire of her desire to achieve their own goals. So we could also ask, how do women using the misogynists set-up find a way out of the toxicity too, or maybe they are just better thieves and liars than most of us.

    2. I’m not clear about everything you’re asking here, but I’ll try and address what you are saying.
      I don’t think Clement is using the term ‘thief’ perjoratively. The opposite in fact. She is reclaiming the term as a positive attribute to resist male privilege.
      My experience of men who use violence is that they don’t learn to ‘forgive’ themselves, they learn (when they do learn) to take responsibility. Forgiveness isn’t on the table.
      Most of us have types of privilege we have to work through, and it varies on the context, but male privilege is of a particular kind being so endemic. So maybe when thinking about this, men just have to become successively more transparent to themselves. And to do that, the voices of others are always going to be most helpful. Those voices might include other men of course, but especially refer to those who aren’t men.

  13. Yes, not pejoratively at all, I am agreeing with you, and Clement.

    And I am suggesting we could be liars too, in traversing the males created dominant culture, as an addition to being thieves, in order to survive.

    And yes, thanks for refocusing my rambling to the greater contexts of privilege and responsibility, honesty and listening.

    But why no forgiveness?

    1. Because for an abusive man an appeal to forgiveness can very easily be code for ‘We must forget this ever happened and never talk again about the things I do.’

  14. “I haven’t seen any interesting defence of Slattery’s actions. But there’s definitely one to be made.”

    Nor have I, but I wondered about such a defence during and after the Overland post beat-up of the scandal, which came to nothing. My way of thinking about the affair is that the so-called ‘cento’ defence by the named plagiarists was a clever, post-hoc, self-serving attempt to cover up a discovered deceit, and if accepted, plagiarism itself becomes a rule-bound genre and so part of big L literature. Plagiarists exonerated, careers intact, and status quo retained. I don’t know what you think of anarchy or terrorism as political stances, or what defence you have in mind (will it will be a post in itself?), and I understand too some of the self-serving elitism and political and social neglect which more often than not accompanies big L literature, but, in short, how to defend plagiarism outside the literary system without inviting anarchy or a sort of literary terrorism (unless you think those a good thing)?

    1. No, I’m not going to write a post on the Slattery issue. My ‘defence’ wasn’t going to be an attempt to justify his actions. It’s a done deal. Someone passed off others work as his own. End of story. I was more interested by the responses and the outrage. Given the parlous state of contemporary lit in English I had already imagined that this sort of stuff goes on all the time, given literature’s conservatism and its increasing dominance by academic creative writing courses and the academics who run them. It’s not a story about one man’s moral duplicity.
      The academy is rife with plagiarism paranoia, so I have assumed that’s because so many people do it. When I did some post-grad study a few years ago, every essay I wrote was passed through some sort of weird filter which did a net search for its contents. One essay I wrote was deemed to have had 60% of its contents taken from Wikipedia. When I protested very strongly that this was impossible, I was told that it didn’t matter because no-one took any notice anyway!

  15. Yes, Turnitin, turnitout, turnitup, turnitdown… no one really cares except those gatekeepers with vested interests.

    1. Melancholia is what happens when we get stuck in grief. Grief is an easy thing to get stuck in of course because it’s perfectly normal to grieve for long periods.
      The object (the good inner experience and the shape it takes and the changes it makes in us) created inside us by the one we love when he or she is living is something we get glued to, and quite rightly. When we lose the person (or experience or community or culture) and grief floods in we can get glued to the grief instead. The grief can become malignant as it were. We end up looking at our own grief and it looks back at us. The person or experience we lost, becomes doubly lost because all we see now is our grief. That’s the narcissism.

  16. I hardly think that the mortal melancholia of the indigenous people of Diego Garcia which they called sagren was narcissistic sour grapes. Isn’t much melancholia a critical realism about the world including politics? I am not talking of pretensiouss self~congratulating existential tedium vitae but something more like the boistrous Jacobean melancholia. Its not that I disagree Stephen. I think there is context to be added to what you just said. And a pleasure it is to take part in your Proust celebrations.

    1. Yes I agree there’s a contect that needs to be fully realised when we are speaking about Indigenous people. But I’d argue that Indigenous people are often doing mourning successfully and aren’t stuck in the malignance I’m referring to. They really know how to mourn. They’ve had lots of practice.

  17. And eventually the people of Diego Garcia decided to turn their grief which kept the memory alive and did not accept a forgetting into political action and consequently a proper historical record.

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