The Need for Mystery


Only when Albertine is asleep does Marcel cease to worry about her deceptions.

 By shutting her eyes, by losing consciousness, Albertine had stripped off, one after another, the different human personalities with which she had deceived me ever since the day when I had first made her acquaintance. She was animated now only by the unconscious life of plants, of trees, a life more different from my own, more alien and yet one that belonged more to me. She had called back into herself everything of her that lay outside, had withdrawn, enclosed, reabsorbed herself into her body. In keeping her in front of my eyes, in my hands, I had an impression of possessing her entirely which I never had when she was awake. Her life was submitted to me, exhaled towards me its gentle breath.  (V,84)

Albertine’s sleep provides him with an unexpected chance to solve her mysteries.

Sometimes when she was too warm, she would take off her kimono while she was already almost asleep and fling it over an armchair. As she slept I would tell myself that all her letters were in the inner pocket of this kimono, into which she always thrust them. A signature, an assignation, would have sufficed to prove a lie or to dispel a suspicion….But (and here perhaps I was wrong) never once did I touch the kimono, put my hand in the pocket, examine the letters. In the end, realising that I would never make up my mind, I would creep back to the bedside and begin again to watch the sleeping Albertine, who would tell me nothing, whereas I could see lying across an arm of the chair that kimono which would perhaps have told me much. (V,90-91)

 Why did Marcel not act and satisfy his obsessive curiosity about Albertine’s other lives? The answer is a paradox; he longs more than anything to unmask her unknown life, but to satiate his curiosity is to kill his love.

The image which I sought, upon which I relied, for which I would have been prepared to die, was no longer that of Albertine leading an unknown life, it was that of an Albertine as known to me as it was possible for her to be (and it was for this reason that my love could not be lasting unless it remained unhappy, for by definition it did  not satisfy the need for mystery), an Albertine who did not reflect a distant world, but desired nothing else–there were moments when this did indeed appear to be the case–than to be with me, to be exactly like me, an Albertine who was the image precisely of what was mine and not of the unknown. (V,91-92)

 

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