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  • Re-Creating Eve: Sedgwick’s Art and the Practice of Renewal
  • Katherine Hawkins (bio)

Eve Sedgwick’s forthcoming essay, “The Weather in Proust,” begins with the Hubert Robert fountain as a model of Neoplatonic rebirth: millions of lives like water droplets, yearning towards the sky and either being propelled by other energetic streams further up or, at their fated height, from exhaustion falling back to be recycled and remade. The fountain provides Sedgwick with a beautiful model for the romanfleuve itself: in the fountain we can perceive the career of one (call it) “soul” passing through many characters; one character being remade anew, over and over; the carefully bound economy of novelistic elements recycling its components in new forms. The fountain launches her into an inquiry on the relationship of closed systems to open ones. The closed system (of gravity, water propulsion, etc.) occasionally erupts in surprise (as when Madame D’Arpajon gets doused with a runaway jet of water). Just so, À la recherche often functions as a closed system (of zero-sum love competitions, deadening habits that turn a beloved icon into a farce, etc.) except when Proust is seized by the element of surprise. That is to say, when it cracks wide open to express something astonishing and new. Unlike the fountain, this is when Proust’s novel is most itself. Sedgwick seeks to articulate what exactly, in Proust, enables the rebirth of self and world out of a dead state of mind, soul, and surround. Sedgwick looks to discover the recipe for this “mysticism,” as she dubs it. I’ve been hunting around for Eve’s recipe for refreshment, wondering how it might be different from Proust’s, and what it has to teach us.

One catalyst for change and renewal in Proust, according to Sedgwick, is a model of companionship in which the boundaries of subject and object are porous and each, in some sense, gestates and grows the other. In the famous “infinity of space” passage from Within a Budding Grove, the grandmother’s presence opens up the narrator’s experience of illness as a suffocating attack1 (figure 1). The threat of penetration is recast as intersubjective [End Page 271]

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Figure 1.

Untitled mixed-media construction with words from Marcel Proust by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. From Works in Fiber, Paper, and Proust exhibit, Harvard University, 2005. Photograph by H. A. Sedgwick.

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comfort by the entry of the grandmother who, in Sedgwick’s words, “embodies an entire ecology of loving energy that animates him from both inside and out.”2 Sedgwick finds concrete versions of immersion and sustenance everywhere in Proust, scenes where “a creature is seen as plunging vitally into, navigating through, or resting in the midst of an element—water, air—that constitutes as well as surrounds and supports it.”3 The elemental surround is perhaps the most real expression (in the Sedgwickian/Buddhist sense of realized, as opposed to understood) of a theme of space that spans Sedgwick’s oeuvre.4 Indeed, the progress of her life’s work illustrates a mode of expansion in which psychical paradigms undergo a process of opening out into a wider dimension of freedom.

An increasingly important means of Sedgwickian expansion is freedom from the first person, perhaps derived from Sedgwick’s Buddhist leanings. In Touching Feeling she describes the Mahayana teaching of emptiness wherein we find an “attraction to phenomena in all their immeasurable, inarticulable specificity, and at the same time an evacuation of the apparent ontological grounds of their specificity.”5 We see her developing strategies for deindividuation in an artistic project she calls Body Articulation, one Tiepolo-influenced example of which we see in figure 1. Sedgwick creates a transformational grammar, a logic of form that plays with the possible organic shapes a single sentence might take. The rules are so loose and simple as to be unimportant: the trunk of the body presents the core of the sentence (subject and verb); the other words of the sentence are written on a number of free-form appendages. Proustian sentences, with their lush, inexhaustible grammatical play, form mutant bodies that might have wings, multiple...