Marcel goes to the greatest of efforts to uncover Albertine’s secret life. Curiously, he passes up on an opportunity to gather unambiguous evidence.
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. When I could see that Albertine was sound asleep, leaving the foot of the bed where I had been standing motionless in contemplation of her, I would take a step forward, seized by a burning curiosity, feeling that the secret of this other life lay offering itself to em, flaccid and defenceless, in that armchair. Perhaps I took this step forward also because to stand perfectly still and watch her sleeping became tiring after a while. And so, on tiptoe, constantly turning around to make sure that Albertine was not waking, I would advance towards the armchair. There I would stop short, and stand for a long time gazing at the kimono, as I had stood for a long time gazing at Albertine. But (and here I was perhaps 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,89-90)
Landy tries to understand Marcel’s reticence in finally discovering the truth by examining the nature of his love.
Marcel has good reason for continuing his légère amours even as he dedicates his life to literature. For while no amount of shared affection can ever reveal the essence of another person, in love any more than in friendship–such communications being the exclusive province of art–erotic attachments are, as we saw in the introduction, particularly propitious when it comes to uncovering our own essence. The reason is that the very “temperament” that turns all love objects into what we want them (or fear them) to be, and thus prevents us from seeing them as they really are, also constitutes that which we really are at a fundamental level…Our passions, that is, may never reveal the “objective truth” about someone else (i.e., correspondence between our imagination and her reality), but they do communicate a “subjective truth” about ourselves (i.e., coherence among our various projections). And they tell us more about this “innermost part of our being” than do the artworks of others or even our own involuntary memories, since the latter merely indicate the existence of an abiding temperament within us and never its specific nature….This being the case, it is in our interest to preserve our illusions, precisely because they are our illusions, indicative of who, at a deep level, we are. (93-94)
If so, why then does Marcel send out so many spying missions on Albertine?
For Marcel’s spies are in fact never intended to gather the truth in the first place. He knows, after all,that he will not believe what they tell him, since it is easy to discredit what we have merely heard and not seen for ourselves…and since, for the various reasons outlined earlier, no third party can ever be relied on to provide a jealous lover with sound information. Furthermore, Marcel seems always to select the worst possible candidates for the job. (96)
Landy sees this Proustian accommodation with ignorance as a restatement of Nietzsche’s “will to ignorance.”
Science, then, turns out to be no more than a mechanism spontaneously developed by mankind as protection against the dangerous insight that in and of itself life has no meaning, human striving no point or purpose. Our tireless pursuit of trivial fact simply serve to conceal from us that far deeper ignorance, and thus to preserve it, there being no other way it can be preserved once the first rays of doubt begin to dawn on our cognitive horizon. We must persuade ourselves that we are doing everything possible to discover the truth, while continually investigating areas from which we know it absent; we must, as it turns out, double our delusion, not only remaining unaware of the state of affairs but forgetting that we are unaware, becoming ignorant of our very ignorance. (99)