Beckett on Proust: Albertine


Beckett follows Albertine from Marcel’s first visit to Balbec.

Thus her relationship with Mme. Bontemps, her early amiabilities, the effect of a declamatory beauty-spot on her chin, her use of the adverb ‘perfectly ‘ for ‘quite,’ the provisional inflammation of her temple constituting an optical centre of gravity about which the composition of her features is organised, are sufficient taken together to establish an Albertine as remote from the first Albertine, the beach flower, as yet a third aspect, characterised by a pronounced nasal enunciation, a terrifying command of slang, the disappearance of the inflamed temple, and the miraculous transference of the beauty-spot from her chin to her upper lip, is remote from the second. Thus is established the pictorial multiplicity of Albertine that will duly evolve into a plastic and moral multiplicity, no longer a mere shifting superficies and an effect of the observer’s angle of approach rather than the expression of an inward and active variety, but a multiplicity in depth, a turmoil of objective and immanent contradictions over which the subject has no control. (32)

 But Albertine is a fugitive, and no expression of her value can be complete unless preceded by some such symbol as that which physics denotes speed. A static Albertine would soon be conquered, would soon be compared to all the other possible conquests that her possession excludes, and the infinite of what is not and may be preferred to the nullity of what is. Love, he insists, can only coexist with a state of dissatisfaction, whether born of jealousy or its predecessor–desire. It represents our demand for a whole. (39)

There is no limit to her deceit and none to his faculty of suffering. And in the midst of this Tolomea [a region in Dante’s Inferno. JE] he knows that this woman has no reality, that ‘our most exclusive love for a person is always our love for something else,’ that intrinsically she is less than nothing, but that in her nothingness there is active, mysterious and invisible, a current that forces him to bow down and worship an obscure and implacable Goddess, and to make sacrifices of himself before her. And the Goddess who requires this sacrifice and this humiliation, whose sole condition of patronage is corruptibililty, and into whose faith and worship all mankind is born, is the Goddess of Time. No object prolonged in this temporal dimension tolerates possession, meaning by possession total possession, only to be achieved by the complete identification of object and subject. The impenetrability of the most vulgar and insignificant human creature is not merely an illusion of the subject’s jealousy (although this impenetrability stands out more clearly under the Röntgen rays of a jealousy so fiercely hypertrophied as was that of the narrator, a jealousy that is doubtless a form of his domination complex and his infantilism, two tendencies highly developed in Proust). (41-41)

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