- The Mother of Us All?
I have long believed that the late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick saw herself, at least in relation to gay male readers, as our mother. My proof has been two consecutive rhetorical questions posed by Sedgwick in her very brilliant third book: Epistemology of the Closet. The questions concern how Marcel Proust’s brilliant and very big novel, A la recherche du temps perdu, or Remembrance of Things Past, positions any reader of it as, if not the mother of Proust per se, then certainly that of Proust’s narrator. “Is it not the mother to whom both the coming-out testament and its continued refusal to come out are addressed?” asks Sedgwick. “And isn’t some scene like that,” she asks as well, “behind the persistent force of the novel’s trope, ‘the profanation of the mother’?” (248). Then again, as I had already noticed, Sedgwick also saw herself as Proust. “Who hasn’t dreamt,” she had asked there as well, still rhetorically, “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” (240). Of course Proust is not the only gay or eventually “queer” man, Sedgwick herself admitted, with whom she could identify. The breast cancer that would eventually metastasize and kill her, Sedgwick writes in an early essay (“White Glasses,” to be later included in the collection Tendencies), had prompted her to see herself, in particular, as a gay man with AIDS.
The Weather in Proust, a collection of work done late in life by Sedgwick (while knowing she would eventually die of the cancer) and then edited after Sedgwick’s death by Jonathan Goldberg (a good friend and former colleague of hers), both confirms and complicates this self-oriented belief of mine, as well as the Proust-oriented notice I took. The book, incidentally, should be accepted by any reader as a thoughtful and even, notwithstanding the “chemo-brain” of which Sedgwick would often rather jollily complain, still a brilliant gift—from both Sedgwick and Goldberg. It complicates what Sedgwick calls the “big idea,” derived from the psychoanalysis of Freud and Lacan, of identification—of, for instance, seeing herself as Marcel Proust or as a man with AIDS. (She says here that she has always liked big—or rather, “pretty chunky”—ideas, [End Page 191] although, to judge from many things she wrote about it elsewhere, she does not seem to have enjoyed being big . Fatness did not make the woman basically jolly. In fact, she admits—in The Weather in Proust—to having been depressed.) Instead of identification, Sedgwick gives us the idea, derived from the object-relations psychology of Michael Balint and Melanie Klein, of “internalization.” The book complicates, as well, the idea of “the mother.” Sedgwick now gives us the idea, derived from Klein’s work in particular, of either “good” or “bad” mothers to internalize or, as it happens, not to internalize. In A la recherche, the narrator’s mother as well as his mother’s own mother are very good ones; their servant Françoise, claims Sedgwick, is a very bad one: “[I]t seems clear that in many places in Proust, Françoise rather starkly represents the bad mother, and one whose presence in the novel, like that of the mother herself, persists well into the narrator’s artistically productive adulthood” (26). The book also complicates the idea of truth-telling. (“Who hasn’t dreamt that A la recherche remained untranslated, simply so that one could … justify spending one’s own productive life afloat within that blissful and hilarious atmosphere of truth-telling.”) Instead, Sedgwick gives us the idea, derived from the Buddha and his disciples, of simply non-dualistic hence proto-deconstructive “realization.”
In Buddhism, you see, the quest for knowledge is important—only not as an end in itself. It is important because the main cause of human suffering is human ignorance, or our not understanding things as...