Tag Archive | Music

Fetishism in Proust’s “Swann in Love”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    

“Play it again, Sam…”

SONY DSC“As for my wife, I’d never seen her looking as she did that evening (…) her radiant eyes, her serenity, the gravity of her expression as she played (…) I saw all this but I didn’t attach any particular significance to it, beyond supposing that she had experienced the same feelings as I had”. That’s what Pozdnyshev, in The Kreutzer Sonata, thinks when he sees the concert his wife and the violinist, Trukhachevsky, perform. After Pozdnyshev feels, following Nietzsche, the intoxication of music, he thinks his wife’s radiance is due to the same experience. However, the facts are others.

As Pozdnyshev explains, Trukhachevsky “searched the strings with careful fingers and provided a response to the piano. And so it began…” . The Kreutzer Sonata is a dialogue between the violin and the piano; the last unfinished sentence becomes suggestive. It is supposed that what begins is the concert but as the sentence remains open, it calls for ambiguity. What begins together with music is the performance of adultery or sexual act, as far as the open sentence outlines that what follows cannot be said. Rhythm here becomes the key point.  Following Langer, an american philosopher of music, it can be said that the essence of a composition is its movement, and movement is expressed through rhythm. It is the “regular recurrence of events” , an endless preparation from one event to the next. Rhythmical events configure a whole unity of significance with a beginning and a consummation of the fact. It can be said of both the adultery as a relationship, articulated by a chain of events which ends with the sexual intercourse, or of the sexual act, from the beginning until the consummation of it with its respective rhythms.

One of the first things Pozdnyshev remembers about the concert is “how they looked at one another”. That is usually the first contact between lovers. Following Eguchi, the rhythm of the Sonata follows as “restlessness and agitation result (…) from constant eight notes, rhythmic dissonance, dynamic contrast, and ascending passages” . It is not a quiet melody but an exciting one; even silent moments serve to reinforce the passion tone, as Eguchi notes, “Beethoven’s rhetorical pauses create moments of powerful silence, or relative silence, at moments of great emotional intensity”. The silent of the music is that of the lovers, which, in fact, are a speechless language. Therefore, music is the embodied excitement of the lovers, and Mrs Pozdnyshev reveals herself to her husband, as he explains, “everything was against her, particularly that damned music”. The day after the concert, while Pozdnyshev is away from home, the images of the concert begin to invade his mind, and he, for first time thinks “about the two of them making love together”, as he explains, “it was only then that I began to remember the way they had looked that evening when, after they’d finished the Kreutzer Sonata, they played some passionate little encore (…) some piece that was so voluptuous it was obscene (…) Surely it must have been obvious that everything took place between them that evening?”

Crossing borders in Tolstoy’s writings

tolstoyAndrew Wachtel explains in his article History and autobiography in Tolstoy how literary genres are merged to achieved the goal which Tolstoy sought: truth. The technique employed by the Russian writer is highly interesting, he melts autobiographical and fictional elements in a work which results neither biographical not fictional. The difference between fictional and non-fictional isn’t a problem for Tolstoy who was concerned just with truth and the display of the universal. Watchel gives a wonderful example, the relation between Anna Karenina and A Confession. The latter was written after the former and seems, according to Watchel, an ending for the great novel. The idea of marriage in A Confession is linked to the character of Levin in Anna Karenina. In fact it’s difficult to differ from the thoughts of the writer and his works, and I want to point out here such difficulty regarding The Kreutzer Sonata and What is Art?. The final moral claims in Tolstoy’s essay reminds the plot of the novel, moreover, The Kreutzer Sonata seems to be a graphical example of the essay. According to Tolstoy, the perversion of art by the upper-class leads to a perversion of the habits, and that’s what we see in The Kreutzer Sonata, music taken as an excuse for adultery.

There’s another point in these relations between Tolstoy’s thoughts and fictions, that’s “honesty”. In fact, Tolstoy in his essay affirms that the main cause for such a perversion is the artificiality of the “artist”. Tolstoy remains faithful to this idea as he gives expression to his believes, he’s honest, he’s a true artist. Therefore, the close proximity between real life and fiction seems to be justified in Tolstoy’s theory of art.

Embodied Feelings

kreutzer_sonataAmbiguity is one of the most current terms in literary aesthetics. It plays with our perceptions and it’s said to be settled in a blurred border between the conscious and the unconscious; it says without saying and knows at the same time it doesn’t. It’s part of the real world as well as inhabits in the fantastic. In brief, it’s the paradox of “to be and not to be”. The ambiguous likes to go from our dreams to our daily life and makes us grow in the uncertainty. Uncertainty is, I guess, the favourite concept of Todorov talking about the Uncanny which differs from the Marvellous precisely because of this characteristic. Freud refers to the Uncanny as being familiar and not at the same time which is no more than another ambiguity, and this feeling begins in the thresholds of our mind. Like Scnitzler does in A Dream Story where Florin is startled by doubts of perception, or fears or maybe desires, who knows.

Ambiguity is also the language of  sensuality where to want and not have filled pages of adultery. Ambiguity serves the speechless language where embodied metaphors, images or melodies become read by those who are playing the game. Feelings take form in both The Awakening and The Kreutzer Sonata by means of rhythm. What conscious can’t afford is exposed by aesthetic experiences which, like  dreams, translate darkness into light.

Part of the knowledge about the self finds no expression in words, that’s what art is, Tolstoy would say, the communication of what can’t be said, the universal history of feelings.