- The Weather in Proust
To read the essays collected in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s The Weather in Proust, lovingly and lucidly edited by Jonathan Goldberg, is to hear their author’s inimitable voice again, and while buoyed up by her preter-natural intelligence and stylistic virtuosity, to feel anew the pain of her loss. This response is no doubt quite un-Buddhist—but I am confident that Sedgwick would have understood it, as she understood just about everything. These pages put us back in the presence of one of the great critics of our time—a critic who, like Proust, or like the benign transference that Sedgwick discusses in this volume’s titular essay, can indeed to said to hold us, as Jonathan Goldberg has suggested. So while one response to reading this book is something as apparently simple as sadness, the sadness is inextricable from gratitude for the gift that the book represents—for the more of Sedgwick that each of these essays extends to us, and in which we can find not just consolation, but also the pleasure, the excitement, the refreshment, and the surprise that she has always afforded us.
One of my favorite lines in Sedgwick is this sentence from the Proust chapter of Epistemology of the Closet: “Who hasn’t dreamt that A la recherche remained untranslated, simply so that one could (at least if one knew French) by undertaking the job justify spending one’s own productive life afloat within that blissful and hilarious atmosphere of truth-telling[?]”1 Sedgwick, it seems, was already writing about the weather in Proust. But there is also a Sedgwickian weather, and The Weather in Proust offers us the opportunity to spend more of our lives afloat within that blissful and hilarious atmosphere.
As editor, Jonathan Goldberg demonstrates an elegant sense of narrative structure and momentum. His organization of the essays links them in such a way that they tell a compelling story: the essays on Proust begin the book on an emblematically resonant note, recognizing his enduring importance for Sedgwick and building on her reputation as an eminent Proust critic; the second set of essays continues teasing out themes from the first and shows Sedgwick returning, sometimes in [End Page 805] unexpected ways, to the field of queer theory that she did so much to establish; the final essay eloquently evokes, as Goldberg puts it, “the ground note encounter with impending death, and with Buddhism,” that underlies the book as a whole (xiv).
The title essay opens the volume by opening up its characteristic themes: its Buddhism, of course, but also its Kleinian (and Balintian) argument against a certain version of Freud, and its attempt to model various styles of critical “relaxation.” While the classic Proust chapter of Epistemology memorably expresses a fantasy of floating in Proust’s atmosphere, the specificity of that atmosphere necessarily recedes behind the chapter’s (and the book’s) dominant concern with the paranoid machinery of the closet.
In “The Weather in Proust,” however, Sedgwick revisits the atmosphere of the Proustian novel in a way that subtly captures its peculiar textures, flavors, flows, and of course temperatures. Like the weather in Proust, the weather in this essay is sometimes stormy. Given its polemical orientation, the essay cannot always sustain the summer mood that, as Paul de Man noted, distinguishes Proust’s novel, and that informs so much of Sedgwick’s writing, too. But Sedgwick is as gifted a polemicist as she is a close reader, so one can hardly complain about the rockier passages in this essay, even if one is not always moved to agree with them. In its very provocativeness, in fact, Sedgwick’s essay displays the cutting edge that made her one of the boldest and most radical theorists of the queer even while it takes the work in apparently nonsexual or non-queer directions.
The essay that follows, on Cavafy and Proust, is filled with dazzling insights and intimations and is almost dizzying in its richness. Goldberg explains that he has put...