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Malcolm Bowie's Freud, Proust and Lacan: Theory as Fiction stages a dialogic exchange between psychoanalysis and writing. Sigmund Freud's and Jacques Lacan's theories are analyzed as fiction, and Marcel Proust's fiction is analyzed as theory. The result is an exciting and provocative substitution of one for the other whereby theory becomes fiction and vice versa. When Freud wrote his psychological theories, he was outspoken about their tendency to become fiction, whereas Proust's fictional characters theorize endlessly about the human mind. Lacan's "discourse of the Other," which is always a fictitious discourse, no matter what it is, is also an attempt to give his analysis of the unconscious mind a scientific basis worded, nonetheless, in a language that is metaphorical and opaque. Bowie's wonderfully [End Page 298] close readings of Freud, Proust, and Lacan juxtapose radical psychological theories with twentieth-century imaginative literature.
Bowie begins with "desire" as a major conceptual nostrum of the age and ends with "theory's intermittent self-awareness as passion." He argues that the imagery of all three writers combines the sexual and intellectual modes of desire into a portrait of the mind that, in all its pursuits, whether theoretical or fictional, is enthusiastic, rapacious, and self-consuming. In this "passionate" pursuit of goals the mind oscillates between certitude and fiction, between fulfillment and ruin. Bowie's metaphor for this dialectic is Titian's Diana and Actaeon, in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, showing Actaeon's astonished gaze directed simultaneously at the goddess and the stag's skull. It is the glance of the hunter who has become the hunted. Actaeon thus symbolizes Freud's, Proust's, and Lacan's quest for an elusive truth that is always both inside and outside the cave, because the hunter of truth, as Lacan describes the process, is and always has been inside the cave where truth resides. This paradoxical pursuit of knowledge, with its ever-receding goals, epitomizes an archaeology of the mind that fuses desire and death.
For Freud, psychoanalysis, like archaeology, is the exploration of anterior states. Both fields are concerned with burial and excavation, with the uncovering of the past, and with its rendering in the present. Freud believed that a person's psychic relics (buried by time and by repression) are more durable than the archaeological ones that are always unearthed incompletely or in fragments. Unlike archaeologists, Freud and Proust believed that the privileged territory of the unconscious mind or of involuntary memory always resurrects its relics intact. The temple of the psychic past is never in ruins; it surfaces complete, untarnished, and in the present. Although Bowie could have pursued a few of these connections in more detail, the suggestion is there, and the reader can draw all the necessary conclusions. The important point is that Proust's theories of love and jealousy embedded in his fiction and in the privileged moments of involuntary memory do resemble Freud's theories of the unconscious: psychoanalysis, like involuntary memory, uncovers the past.
Proust also acts as a link, if a link is needed, between Freud and Lacan. A la recherche du temps perdu, with its rich metaphorical veinings—the "madeleine," the Vinteuil sonata, Venice's uneven paving stones, the starched napkin, the tinkle of the coffee spoon on the cup—illustrates the fact that nothing in the unconscious or the subconscious is ever lost. Freud firmly believed in the veracity of his fictional constructions, such as Moses and Monotheism, and Proust believed in the body's capacity to resurrect past time. For Lacan, however, as his analysis of Edgar Allan Poe's The Purloined Letter demonstrates, certitude...