Friday, April 27, 2007

Crazy Marcel is at it again

Welp, I'm back onto Proust, this time The Fugitive, otherwise known as In Search Of Lost Time 5: Shackin' Up. In this installment, Albertine has moved in with Marcel, a spectacularly implausible scenario that enables Proust to expound at great length upon the subject of sexual jealousy.

(And by the way, we now get to actually call him Marcel, as at last, after four volumes and thousands of pages, the nameless narrator throws us this brittle little bone:

Now she began to speak; her first words were "darling" or "my darling," followed by my Christian name, which, if we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book, would produce "darling Marcel" or "my darling Marcel."

That's cleared up then!)

If I sound a bit irked by the whole project, it's because ISOLT has increasingly, since the latter half of The Guermantes Way, borne an increasingly heavy burden of denial on the subject of the author's, and by extension the narrator's, homosexuality. That is to say, there's no question that the narrator ("my darling Marcel") is supposed to be straight, but no straight man I have ever met has climbed up a stepladder in order to watch, through a transom, for half an hour, two other men have sex (see, I think, the opening pages of Sodom and Gomorrah, which I could check if I hadn't already packed it for our move). This bit of cognitive dissonance was not difficult to tolerate during the early stages of the story, but now that, in ISOLT 5, we're treated to an endlessly unfolding escalation of the narrator's preoccupation with his live-in lover's own possible homosexuality, we have begun at last to roll our eyes. Throw in the predatory man-love of the sinister Baron de Charlus, the cringing engagement of the totally gay violinist Morel, and the lesbo collusion of Albertine's friend Andree, and we could be forgiven for wondering if, in fact, darling Marcel was the only heterosexual in early-twentieth-century Parisian society.

And as if all this isn't enough, how is it exactly that this unemployed wannabe writer is able to afford all these dresses, hats, gowns, and kimonos (yes, kimonos) that he gives to Albertine? It is all so danged convenient.

I know, I know, give a sickly fey cork-ensconced shut-in a break, you say. And you're right--there is a lot to love in this book (ably translated, I should add, by Carol Clark), most particularly the acerbic descriptions of the boneheaded Morel, and Charlus's devious efforts to control him. But I have got to confess that I miss the hell out of the Swanns, and Balbec, and dear old Grandma...and long for the future days of literature when a gay guy can just write a freaking book about being a gay guy.

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