Proust in the Tearoom

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Proust in the Tearoom
Proust in the Tearoom
Author(s): Jarrod Hayes
Source: PMLA, Vol. 110, No. 5 (Oct., 1995), pp. 992-1005
Published by: Modern Language Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/463025 .
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JarrodHayes
Proust
in
the
JARROD HAYES is finishing
his dissertation, "Something
Queer about the Nation: Sexual Subversions of National
Tearoom
tasse n.f ... Urinoirpublic.... On dit parfois tasse a the. Syn.: theiere....
the n.m.... Prendre le the, copuler notammententre homosexuels....
theiere n.f ... Urinoirpublic (frequentepar les homosexuels).
Colin and Mevel (613, 618)
Identity in Maghrebian Literature of French Expression," at
the Graduate Center,City Universityof New York.He teaches
Frenchat QueensboroughCommunity College, NY His recent
publicationsinclude"Approches
de l'homosexualite et de l'homoerotisme chez Boudjedra,
Mammeriet Sebbar"(Prdsence
francophone, 1993) and "Madonna in Living Color: Race,
Color, and Sexuality in Music
Videos"(FoundObject, 1992).
TH
IS MUCH taking of tea in A la recherche du temps
the description of Combray, if not the whole
Indeed,
perdu.
novel, is said to result from taking tea with a madeleine. The French expressions in which tea serves as a metaphor or euphemism for homosex
in public rest rooms1 assume particular significance when the narrator
of La recherche describes the baron de Charlus, Proust's most notorious
homosexual, engaging in tearoom sex:
ERE
Or notre maitre d'hotel, qui croyait que le mot ?pissotiere> .... .tait <pistiere>>,n'entendit jamais dans toute sa vie une seule personne dire <pissotiere>,bien que tres souvent on pronon9atainsi devant lui.... Constamment
le maitred'h6tel disait: <<Certainement
M. le baronde Charlusa pris une maladie pour rester si longtemps dans une pistiere.Voila ce que c'est que d'etre
un vieux coureurde femmes.... A la pistierede la rue de Bourgogne,j'ai vu
entrerM. le baron de Charlus.En revenantde Neuilly, bien une heure apres,
j'ai vu ses pantalonsjaunes dans la meme pistiere, a la meme place, au mi(3: 694-95)
lieu, oi il se met toujourspour qu'on ne le voie pas.>>
Now our butler,who thoughtthat the wordpissotiere ... was really pistiere,
never once in the whole of his life heard a single person say pissotiere, albeit the word was frequentlypronouncedthus in his hearing.... Constantly
the butler would say: "I'm sure M. le Baron de Charlus must have caught
a disease to stand about as long as he does in a pistiere. That's what comes
of chasing the ladies at his age. ... As I passed the pistiere in the Rue de
Bourgogne I saw M. le Baron de Charlus go in. When I came back from
Neuilly, a good hour later, I saw his yellow trousers in the same pistiere, in
the same place, in the middle stall where he always stands so that people
shan't see him."2
(5: 249)
992
993
JarrodHayes
This essay examines the possibility of other such
tea parties in La recherche. I do not propose yet
anotherkey to unlock hidden meanings in Proust's
text; instead, I examine the implications of coded
or secret languagesas systems of floatingsignifiers
whose instabilities threatento disruptrepresentation.The problematicof interpretingor deciphering
secret codes is a recurrenttheme in La recherche.
What if all the tea partiesProustdescribes are also
tea partiesin the sexual sense?
In the tearoomoccur many illicit encounters,not
only tea parties but also the clash of oppositions
such as heterosexual/homosexual,secret/open, ignorance/knowledge, truth/lie, spectacle/spectator,
exhibitionist/voyeur, public/private-distinctions
the narrator works to understand, explain, and
maintain.These distinctionsare destabilizedin the
tearoom,even thoughthe economies of representation, of narrative,and even of interpretationmay
depend on them. How does the introductionof the
tearoomas an actualplace, as a metaphor,and as a
possible though never certainkey for decoding secret language out the problematicof interpretation
as a dubious affair, filled with uncertaintyand the
panic of contagion,in short,as an activity thatmost
appropriatelytakes place within tearoomwalls?
In examining the tearooms in Proust's text, I
argue in the end that the tearoom serves as the site
for a de Manian allegory. De Man interprets La
recherche as an "allegory of its own reading,"as
"thenarrativeof its own deconstruction."Although
this characteristicis not unique to Proust,since for
de Man "any narrativeis primarilythe allegory of
its own reading"(76-77), I concentrateon the tearoom's role in this Proustian allegory of reading
and on the implications of this role in La recherche's sexual and interpretiveeconomies. Like the
books the narratorreads in the toilet (where he also
masturbates)as a child (1: 12; 1: 14), La recherche
is a text best suitedfor readingwithinthe epistemological system that governs the tearoom. Monique
Wittig describes La rechercheas "a war machine"
and traces the "delayed effect" whereby the secret
of homosexuality opens up like a "Trojanhorse,"
spilling out its contagion until the whole novel
is infected. By the end of the novel, she argues,
"Prousthas succeeded in turning the 'real' world
into a homosexual-onlyworld.... Everybodyends
up being homosexual"(73-74). The tearoom is an
importantpart of this Trojanhorse effect. Once its
secret is out, the tearoomspreadsa plague of interpretive uncertainties that contaminates the entire
work as well as the body of criticism that attempts
to understandit. WhereasWittig describesa contagion of homosexuality, I argue that the tearoom
representsa relatedcontagionof doubt(which may
also involve the fear of a contagious homosexuality). The possibility thattakingtea is a code for homosex infects not just the most sacredof Proustian
passages (the descriptionof the madeleine) but the
entire system of Proustianmemory;thus the paradise gainedfromtakingtea might,in fact,be Sodom.
Epistemology of the Tearoom
In "Tearoomsand Sympathy; or, The Epistemology of the WaterCloset,"Lee Edelmanshows how
homosexual panic and anticommunist hysteria
make the tearooma source of anxiety.He describes
the "magnetizingpull of the dangersthatare seated
in that unseen space, that cavity concealed by the
toilet stall doorthatleads ... towardanother'country' whose agents are always already operating
within-always already operating even, or even
especially, within the men's room itself, in which,
for heterosexualmen, it is never sufficient for one
to be in orderto be, with any certaintyor security,
a 'man"' (169). The dangerthat emerges from this
particular Trojan horse is epistemological: "the
metonymic 'contagion' of epistemological doubt"
(165). The tearoomis hauntedby "a particularheterosexual anxiety about the potential inscriptions
of homosexual desire and about the possibility of
knowing or recognizing whatevermight constitute
'homosexual difference'" (160). How does one
know, for example, whether men in a public rest
room are doing what they "should" be doing or
having a tea party?For Edelman,"theinstitutional
men's room constitutesa site at which the zones of
public and private cross with a distinctive psychic
charge"(158). This crossing occurs when Charlus
is seen without being seen, seen performing a secret act without having his secret revealed. The
epistemologicalcrisis that accordingto Edelmanis
inherent in the tearoom is at work not only in the
tearoomCharlusfrequentsbut throughoutthe text.
994
Proustin the Tearoom
Edelman's epistemology of the tearoom resembles Eve Sedgwick's epistemology of the closet.
Sedgwick's closet is a locus of ignoranceas a form
of knowing. Its glass walls, instead of hiding, reveal homosexuality as an open secret, like Charlus's yellow pants,which show beneaththe tearoom
walls, which do not hide but display the hidden
qua hidden. Sedgwick's analysis in Between Men
of the male homosocial-homosexual continuumor more specifically of the barrierthat interrupts
this continuum, separating the homosocial from
the homosexual-also has importantimplications
for the closet and for the tearoom.If that barrieris
unstable,if men cannotknow for sure whethertheir
male bonding constitutes homosexual or homosocial desire, then the walls of the closet they may or
may not be in are not quite as transparentas those
of the eponymous closet of Sedgwick's Epistemology. In fact, the effort on the part of straight men
to construct or fix that barrier,to prove that they
are straight,constitutesthe performanceof heterosexuality JudithButlerdescribes:
Insofaras heterosexualgendernormsproduceinapcanbe saidto opproximableideals,heterosexuality
eratethroughtheregulatedproductionof hyperbolic
versionsof "man"and "woman."These arefor the
mostpartcompulsory
oneswhichnone
performances,
of us choose,butwhicheachof us is forcedto negotiate.... Suchnormsarecontinuallyhauntedby their
own inefficacy;hence,the anxiouslyrepeatedeffort
to installandaugmenttheirjurisdiction.
(Bodies ThatMatter237)
The hauntinginefficacy of male heterosexual performance,then, is the possibility thatthe performer
may fail to make clear thathis performanceof heterosexuality is not the one a closeted homosexual
performs.This same anxiety hauntsEdelman'stearoom. On reaching a crisis point, this haunting
might also be the homosexual panic described by
Sedgwick in Epistemology.Some performancesof
heterosexuality may be laughable; others, such as
queer bashing, are violent. Queer bashing, as a
possible element of male bonding or homosociality, is a violent attemptto separatethe homosocial
from the homosexual and to deny the possibility
thatthe bashersare in the closet.
Charlus'spresumedheterosexuality is affirmed
in the eyes of the butler,who believes Charlushas
caught the clap from womanizing. Thus the secret
of Charlus'shomosexuality is displayed in public
and nevertheless remains a secret, as Charlus remains in the closet while having sex in (almost)
plain view. Laud Humphreys, in TearoomTrade:
Impersonal Sex in Public Places, describes the
paradox in which the tearoom, a public facility,
guards the secret of those who go there to engage
in impersonal sex. So in a sense, public sex in the
tearoomremainsprivate,and the tearoomprotects
the closet. Thus Charlus'shomosexual behavior is
mistakenlydiagnosedas a contagiousvenerealdisease contractedheterosexually.
The butler,ignorantof the tearoom'ssecret, cannot pronouncethe tearoom's signifier correctly,as
if the sign containedthe essence of the referentso
completely (as propernamesoften do for the young
narrator)that not knowing one necessarily entails
not knowing the other.The tearoom is thus a site
associated with the misuse of language.The butler
is not the only characterwho makes pronunciation
mistakes.The directorof the hotel in Balbec makes
them, as does Francoise, a domestic servantof the
narrator'sfamily whose propensityfor such errors
reminds the narratorof the butler's mispronunciation and elicits the description of Charlus in the
tearoom. Like the butler and the angels stationed
outside Sodom (3: 32-33; 4: 42-43), Francoiseinterpretshomosexual signs as offering heterosexual
meaning and declaresthat if she had a daughterfor
Charlusto marry,he would make the perfect husband. When the narrator'smother points out that
Frangoise'sdaughteris alreadypromisedto Jupien,
the vest maker who becomes Charlus's protege,
Franqoisereplies, "Ah!dame, . . c'est encore quelqu'un qui rendraitune femme bien heureuse.I1y a
beau avoir des riches et des pauvresmiserables,Ca
ne fait rien pourla nature.Le baronet Jupien,c'est
bien le meme genre de personnes" 'Ah, yes! ...
there's anotherof them that would make a woman
very happy. It doesn't matterwhether you're rich
or poor, it makes no difference to your nature.The
Baronand Jupien,they'rejust the same sort of person' (3: 32; 4: 42). Indeed, in the first pages of
Sodome et Gomorrhe, which directly precede Fran-
coise's remarks, Charlus and Jupien meet and
Jarrod Hayes
cruise, and the narrator listens to the sounds of their
lovemaking through a wall. In likening Jupien and
Charlus, Francoise reveals a secret but remains ignorant, just as the butler remains unaware of the
secret the tearoom reveals about Charlus. That
Francoise contracts the butler's habit of mispronouncing pissotieres as well suggests that the tearoom's contagion also applies to the tearoom's
signifier: "Ses fautes de francais corrompaient le
langage de Francoise tout autant que les fautes de
sa fille. ... [E]lle ne disait jamais pissotieres,
mais-avec une legere concession a la coutumepissetieres" 'And his faulty French was quite as
much to blame as that of her daughter for corrupting the language of Francoise .... [S]he never said
"urinals" but-with a slight concession to customary usage-"arinals"' (4: 329; 6: 86-87). Francoise
catches other mispronunciations from the butler
(4: 421; 6: 220-21), but in pissotiere, she catches
more than a linguistic mistake, for ignorance of the
signifier coincides with ignorance of the signified.
Unable to detect the secret of Charlus's homosexuality, Francoise is ignorant of the secret codes that
go with it. Whereas the homophobic imaginary
often represents homosexuality as a contagious
disease, for Francoise, not knowing homosexuality
is contagious.
Though some characters in La recherche are ignorant of secret homosexual codes, readers need
not be. The novel never indicates that the narrator
or any other character knows the sexual meaning
of theiere, tasse, or prendre le the, but it does negotiate between sexual knowledge and ignorance
on the part of characters and readers, playing on
differences in how much they know to comment
on the function of secret codes in the production of
sexual knowledge. In the following passage prendre le the could certainly hide a homosexual secret:
[L]'heure faisait souvent que je rencontrais dans la
cour, en sortantde chez Mme de Guermantes,M. de
Charluset Morel qui allaient prendrele th6 chez ...
Jupien, supreme faveur pour le baron! Je ne les croisais pas tous les jours mais ils y allaienttous les jours.
II est du reste a remarquerque la constance d'une
habitudeest d'ordinaireen rapportavec son absurdite.
Les choses 6clatanteson ne les fait generalementque
par a-coups. Mais des vies insensees, ou le maniaque
995
se prive lui-meme de tous les plaisirs et s'inflige les
plus grands maux, ces vies sont ce qui change le
moins. Tous les dix ans, si l'on en avait eu la curiosite,
on retrouveraitle malheureuxdormantaux heures ou
il pourraitvivre, sortantaux heures ou il n'y a guere
rien d'autre a faire qu'a se laisser assassiner dans les
rues, buvant glace quandil a chaud, toujoursen train
de soignerun rhume.I1suffiraitd'un petit mouvement
d'energie, un seul jour, pour changer cela une fois
pour toutes. Mais justement ces vies sont habituellement l'apanaged'etres incapablesd'energie.Les vices
sont un autreaspect de ces existences monotones que
la volonte suffirait a rendre moins atroces. Les deux
aspects pouvaient etre egalement consid6ers quand
M. de Charlusallait tous les jours avec Morel prendre
(3: 553; ellipsis in orig.)
le thd chez Jupien.
[I]t often happened,because of the hour,that I met in
the courtyard as I came away from her door M. de
Charlus and Morel on their way to have tea at ...
Jupien's, a supreme treat for the Baron! I did not encounterthem every day but they went thereevery day.
It may, incidentally,be observed that the regularityof
a habit is usually in direct proportionto its absurdity.
Really strikingthings we do as a rule only by fits and
starts.But senseless lives, of a kind in which a crackpot deprives himself of all pleasure and inflicts the
greatest discomforts upon himself, are those that
change least. Every ten years, if we had the curiosity
to inquire,we should find the poor wretch still asleep
at the hours when he might be living his life, going
out at the hours when there is nothing to do but get
oneself murderedin the streets, sipping iced drinks
when he is hot, still trying desperatelyto cure a cold.
A slight burst of energy, for a single day, would be
sufficientto change these habits for good and all. But
the fact is thatlives of this sort are on the whole peculiar to people who are incapable of energy. Vices are
anotheraspect of these monotonousexistences which
the exercise of will-power would suffice to renderless
painful. Both aspects were to be observed simultaneously when M. de Charluscame every day with Morel
to have tea at Jupien's. (5: 48-49; ellipsis in orig.)
The narrator does not attempt to decode the expression prendre le the', nor is he aware of its multiple
significations. The phrase supreme faveur and the
discussion of pleasure, vice, and perversion that
follows suggest that my reading of Proust's text
may be justified. The daily ritual of tea, which
brings together three of the novel's most notorious
996
Proustin the Tearoom
homosexuals (thoughJupienand especially Morel,
a musician and protege of Charlus, may be bisexual), so perplexes the narratorthat he is driven to
explain it, even as he attemptsto dismiss his curiosity with the conditional ("si l'on en avait eu la
curiosite, on retrouverait"). If prendre le the involves only drinking "une boisson inoffensive et
distinguee" 'an inoffensive and distinguishedbeverage' (Colin and Mevel 618), the narratorcannot
understand why three homosexuals have turned
such a banal activity into a ritual that cannot be
missed, why they would find taking tea so thrilling
when they must have many exciting sexual things
to do-things that the narrator,presumablyheterosexual, can only imagine, observe as a spectator,
and compare to the mating rituals of birds, the
flight of a bumblebee,or the pollinationof orchids.
Charlus'shabit threatensthe narrator'sdismissive
characterizationof habitude as an absurdity.Usually, people of such habits are rather dull; sometimes they spice up their dull lives with vice. The
narrator,therefore, opposes the supposed dullness
of Charlus'stea parties and the excitement of (homosexual) vice, overlooking the possibility that
they are the same thing. The ellipsis between chez
and Jupienbriefly leaves the object of the preposition in suspense, as if to surprise the reader, as if
chez Jupien were the last place on earthone would
expect to find a tea party;Mme Verdurin,Mme de
Guermantes,and Odettehave elegant salons de the',
but who would leave Mme de Guermantes'ssalon
for Jupien's? Readers in the know can see that
Charlusgets the last laugh by propellingthe narrator, who fails to read a sexual meaning in prendre
le the, into interpretive overdrive. The narrator
spends much of the novel showing off his theories
on and knowledge of homosexuality, but he does
not know as much as he thinks he does. Indeed the
narratoris attemptingto shift the object or emphasis of unknowing from the supposedly heterosexual self to the homosexual other.Perhapsthis shift
masks the narrator'slack of self-knowledge with
ignorance of his (homo)sexual other, a failing that
is "excusable" because this other is exotic, more
like orchids or bees than like people.
Charlus,who for the narratoris so much the epitome of a homosexual that his proper name can
stand for the more general signifier homosexual
(3: 15; 4: 18), can make or breaka salon de the. He
creates one for Jupien, a nobody in the highfalutin
social scene of La recherche,and threatensto transform Mme Verdurin'ssalon de the into anothersort
of tearoom:"Et surtoutplus de tasses a cafe glace!
Donnez-les a celle de vos amies dont vous desirez
enlaidirla maison.Mais surtoutqu'elle ne les mette
pas dans le salon, car on pourraits'oublier et croire
qu'on s'est trompede piece puisquece sont exactement des pots de chambre"'No more iced-coffee
cups, remember!Give them to one of your friends
whose house you wish to disfigure. But warn her
not to have them in the drawing-room, or people
might think that they had come into the wrong
room, the things are so exactly like chamberpots'
(3: 773; 5: 356-57).
The homosexual as figured by Charlus marks
the instabilitybetween the tearoomas salon de the
and the tearoom as public rest room. Surely some
of Proust's tea parties are tea parties in the literal
sense.3But one can never be sure whethertea party
signifies literallyor sexually;one can never be sure
that the word tea is not hiding somethingelse. According to Jean-PaulColin and Jean-PierreMevel,
theiere first appeared in print with a homosexual
connotation in 1890, prendre le the'in 1910, and
tasse in 1925. Using these senses to read Proust,
therefore,is not anachronistic.Several semihistorical works on subcultures contemporaneous with
La recherche'scomposition include discussions of
tearoom sex. In Paris gay 1925, by Gilles Barbedette and Michel Carassou,when Andredu Dognon
is asked whether sexual encounters were easier in
1925 than in 1981, he replies, "Infiniment plus
faciles! Elles se faisaient surtoutaux <baies>. Les
baies, c'etait <les tasses>. Nous les appelions ainsi
car nous avions un langage code.... Et des tasses,
il y en avaitpartout,a Paris"'Infinitelyeasier!They
mostly happened in the "bays." The bays were
tasses. We called them thatbecause we had a coded
language. And in Paris, there were tasses everywhere' (58). Brassai, in Le Paris secret des annees
30, writes that despite the dangerof being arrested,
"les invertis revenaientfidelement a leurs theieres
et a leurs tasses, surnoms des vespasiennes" 'inverts returnedfaithfullyto theirtheieresand tasses,
as public rest rooms were nicknamed'to partakein
a "balletnocturne"'nocturnalballet' (55):
JarrodHayes
A la tombeede la nuit,en memetempsqueles reverberes,les vespasienness'allumaient,
petiteschapelles
sujettesa d'etrangescultes.Autantd'edicules,autant
de pointde rassemblement
et de fraternisation
deshomosexuels,surtoutautourdes urinoirsronds,a trois
stalles, dont la dispositioncirculairepermettaitun
contactentreles hommes.
(54)
At nightfall,alongwiththe lanterns,publictoiletslit
up like little chapelssubjectedto strangeformsof
worship.So manykiosks,so manyplacesfor homosexualsto gatherandfraternize,
especiallyaroundthe
roundurinalswiththreestalls,whosecircularlayout
contactbetweenmen.
permitted
Brassai describes the tearoomas a chapel, a site of
ritualssuch as Charlus'sdaily tea partywith Morel
and Jupien. Brassai also identifies the tearoom as
partof a subculture,a secret to most of Paris'spopulation. He reveals this secret, along with such activities as the "balsdes homosexuels" 'homosexual
balls' (166) represented with photos of male and
female transvestites dancing with and embracing
more conventionallyattiredsame-sex partners.The
photo that accompanies the essay on tearoom sex,
however, is merely one of a typical pissotiere seen
from a distance (52). Brassai,who was able to penetrateevery other secret site he writes about,could
not photograph a tea party. Is what occurs in the
tearoom unrepresentable?Perhaps the tearoom is
where no heterosexualcan go and still remainheterosexual,the one place homosexualityis safe from
becoming entertainmentfor heterosexual spectators. Or perhaps the pissotiere Brassai chooses to
represent the tearoom, which could be any Parisian's neighborhood pissotiere, reveals that any
pissotiere is a potential tearoom. Brassai's pissotiere thus resembles Edelman's men's room, for
any men's room, not just those that double as tearooms,can provokethe epistemologicalcrisis Edelman describes.The tearoom'scontagion can infect
any public rest room.
As Andre du Dognon's response indicates, the
tearoom'sname belongs to a secret language,a system of coded signifiersthatallow public communication to remainprivateand thus protectthe closet.
On several occasions, Proust compares homosexuality to a secret society, a freemasonry, whose
997
membersuse codes unintelligibleto nonmembersto
communicateand to recognize one another(2: 586,
3: 18-19; 3: 394-95, 4: 23).4Yet for secret codes to
work effectively,only those who areintendedto, no
one else, should be able to understandthem.Otherwise the secret is out. Proustdemonstratesthat secret codes inevitably escape the intentions of their
enunciators,who cannot control who understands
the codes. Those in the know and those in the closet
(that is, those the enunciators want to have in the
know) may be overlapping sets, but they are not
coextensive. Proustexplores this problemthrough
the expression en etre, which occurs in five passages in La recherche.The expressionprovokes an
epistemological crisis that can serve as a model for
the crisis that occurs when readers interpret La
rechercheby decoding the tearoom.
In the firstpassage, when Verdurinsays to Charlus, "Or des les premiers mots que nous avons
echanges, j'ai compris que vous en etiez!" 'Now,
from the first words we exchanged, I realized that
you were one of us!,' Charlus,"qui donn[e] a cette
locutionun sens fort different,[a] un haut-le-corps"
'who attache[s] a very different meaning to this
expression, [gives] a start.' For Verdurin,en etre
means "to belong to an aesthetic elite." But Charlus en est in more ways than one. He has an artistic
sensibility in Verdurin'seyes, and he is also a homosexual. Charlus reads (homo)sexual meaning
into "ces paroles a double sens" 'these equivocal
remarks,'a meaningVerdurindoes not intend, and
experiencesa brief panic. In the expressionen etre,
the adverbialpronounhides its antecedent-homosexuals, usually-in a sort of linguistic closet. Who
can know for sure whetherthe intendedantecedent
is not something else? Charlus is afraid of being
outed by Verdurin,but once he realizes he is out of
danger-out (of danger)being in (the closet)-"il
[a] un petit rire qui lui [est] special" 'he [gives] a
little laugh that [is] all his own' (3: 332; 4: 463),
a queeny laugh, and comes out to readers in the
know, familiar with the equivocal expression. If
readersare not in the know when readingthis passage, they are by the time they finish La recherche,
since the expression is finally defined in the last of
the five passages.
Mme Verdurinuses the expression on two occasions, once to include Charlus among a group of
998
Proustin the Tearoom
friends participating in an excursion and once to
include him in the Jockey Club (3: 432-33; 4: 604).
The first use awakens Charlus's fears of being
outed: "<<Monsieur
de Charlus,est-ce que vous en
etes?> Le baron,qui n'entendaitque cette phraseet
ne savaitpas qu'on parlaitd'une excursiona Arembouville, sursauta: <Etrange
question>, murmurat-il d'un ton narquoispar lequel Mme Verdurinse
sentit piquee" "'Monsieurde Charlus,are you one
of them?"The Baron,who had not heardthe whole
speech and did not know that she was talking of
an excursion to Harambouville, gave a start: "A
strangequestion,"he murmuredin a sardonictone
that nettledMme Verdurin'(3: 359; 4: 501).
In yet anotherpassage, Saint-Loup, addressing
the narrator,uses the expression to refer to closed
groups such as the Verdurins'clique: "La question
n'est pas comme pour Hamlet d'etre ou de ne pas
etre, mais d'en etre ou de ne pas en etre. Tu en es,
mon oncle Charlus en est. Que veux-tu? moi je
n'ai jamais aime ca, ce n'est pas de ma faute" 'The
question is not, as for Hamlet, to be or not to be,
but to belong or not to belong. You belong, my
uncle Charlus belongs. But I can't help it, I've
never gone in for thatsort of thing, it isn't my fault'
(3: 410; 4: 572). In this passage, an ambiguoussignifier of homosexualityprovokes not only an epistemological crisis but an ontological one as well.
A coded signifier of homosexuality encompasses
even the narrator.He is included in the same category of being as Charlusby the same signifier that
elsewhere provokes Charlus'sfear of being outed.
It is not that the narrator'sheterosexual status is
never questionedin La rechercheor in Prouststudies, but as Sedgwick writes,"[t]henovel seems both
to prohibit and to extort from its readers such a
violence of interpretive uncovering against the
narrator[by exposing him as a closeted homosexual], the violence of rendering his closet, in turn,
as spectacle"(Epistemology223).
Many critics, gay and straight, have attempted
such an outing, most by claiming thatLa recherche
is a romana clef, thatthe narrator'sloves, Albertine
and Gilberte, actually represent some Albert and
Gilbertin the author'slife. In more recentattempts,
MarkD. Guenettehas assertedthatthe narratoris in
love with Saint-Loup,and KajaSilvermanhas proposed that the narrator'slove for Albertineis a les-
bian love. The narratorexplicitly allows for reading
women charactersas men in drag,andhe marksthis
approachas a gay reading:"L'ecrivainne doit pas
s'offenser que l'inverti donne a ses heroines un visage masculin.Cette particulariteun peu aberrante
permetseule a l'inverti de donnerensuite a ce qu'il
lit toute sa generalite"'The writermustnot be indignant if the invert who reads his book gives to his
heroines a masculine countenance.For only by the
indulgence of this slightly aberrantpeculiaritycan
the invertgive to what he is readingits full general
import' (4: 489; 6: 321). Guenette and Silverman
carrythe possibility, announcedby the narrator,of
readingpresumablyheterosexualcharactersas homosexuals to its logical extreme and apply this
readingto the narratorhimself. I suggest, however,
that La rechercheyields more productiveinterpretationsfor queertheorywhen the narratoris readas
an embodiment of the instability of heterosexual
identity, as a male subject attempting (with little
success) to asserthis heterosexualmasculinity.Outing the narratorconvenientlybrushesunderthe rug
the panicky version of heterosexualmasculinityhe
embodies and perpetuateswhat Sedgwick calls "the
implausible,necessaryillusion thattherecould be a
secure version of masculinity(known, presumably,
by the coolness of its homophobicenforcement)and
a stable,intelligibleway for men to feel aboutother
men in modernheterosexualcapitalistpatriarchy,"
the illusion thatcovers over the "alreadyoff-center,
always at fault, endlessly blackmailablemale identity readyto be manipulatedinto any laborof channeled violence" (Epistemology 84). Outing the
narratorreduces his masculinity to a bad performance of heterosexuality and implies that "real"
heterosexualityis "natural,"that bad performances
can be staged only by closet queens. But as Butler
suggests, heterosexuality is always such a performance and is often a "bad"one, because it "offers
normativesexual positions thatare intrinsicallyimpossible to embody, and the persistent failure to
identify fully and without incoherence with these
positions reveals heterosexuality itself not only
as a compulsorylaw, but as an inevitable comedy"
(GenderTrouble122). Vulnerabilityto being outed
or blackmailed,such as the narrator'svulnerability
to attacksby Proustiancritics, could be said to be a
definingcharacteristicof male heterosexualidentity.
JarrodHayes
An epistemological instability-like
that surrounding masculinity, which makes it impossible
to know whether the narrator or any other presumably heterosexual man is in the closet-also
characterizes the expression en etre. Though the
expression casts doubt on the narrator's sexuality
in the fourth passage, the object of unknowing
shifts in the fifth from presumably heterosexual
(narrator) to homosexual (Charlus). Thus, coded
expressions can be undecidable even for those who
are in the know. Lea, the lesbian actress the narrator later suspects of having an affair with Albertine,
uses the expression to describe Morel and provokes
the following reaction in Charlus:
Le baron etait surtouttrouble par ces mots <<enetre>.
Apres 1'avoird'abordignore, il avait enfin, depuis un
temps bien long deja, apprisque lui-meme <en 6tait?.
Or voici que cette notion qu'il avait acquise se trouvait remise en question.Quandil avait decouvertqu'il
<<en
etait>, il avait cru par la apprendreque son goit,
comme dit Saint-Simon,n'etait pas celui des femmes.
Or voici que pour Morel cette expression <<enetre>
prenait une extension que M. de Charlus n'avait pas
connue, tant et si bien que Morel prouvait, d'apres
cette lettre, qu'il ?en etait> en ayant le meme gout
que des femmes pour des femmes memes. Des lors la
jalousie de M. de Charlusn'avait plus de raison de se
bomer aux hommes que Morel connaissait,mais allait
s'6tendre aux femmes elles-memes. Ainsi les etres
qui <en etaient? n'etaient pas seulement ceux qu'il
avait crus, mais toute une immense partie de la planete, composee aussi bien de femmes que d'hommes,
d'hommes aimant non seulement les hommes mais
les femmes, et le baron, devant la signification nouvelle d'un mot qui lui etait si familier,se sentaittorture
par une inquietude de l'intelligence autant que du
coeur,devant ce double mystere oi il y avait a la fois
de l'agrandissementde sa jalousie et de l'insuffisance
soudained'une definition.
(3: 720-21)
What most disturbed the Baron was the phrase "one
of us." Ignorantat firstof its application,he had eventually, now many moons ago, learned that he himself
was "one of them."And now this notion that he had
acquiredwas thrownback into question.When he had
discovered that he was "one of them," he had supposed this to mean thathis tastes,as Saint-Simonsays,
did not lie in the direction of women. And here was
this expression taking on, for Morel, an extension of
999
meaning of which M. de Charlus was unaware, so
much so that Morel gave proof, according to this letter, of being "one of them" by having the same taste
as certainwomen for other women. From then on the
Baron'sjealousy could no longer confine itself to the
men of Morel's acquaintance,but would have to extend to the women also. So, to be "one of them"meant
not simply what he had hitherto assumed, but to belong to a whole vast section of the inhabitantsof the
planet,consisting of women as well as of men, of men
loving not merely men but women also, andthe Baron,
in the face of this novel meaning of a phrasethat was
so familiarto him, felt himself tormentedby an anxiety of the mind as well as of the heart, born of this
twofold mystery which combined an enlargementof
the field of his jealousy with the sudden inadequacy
of a definition.
(5: 280-81)
The expression en etre here includes so many categories of being that Charlus loses all epistemological grounding. Charlus's anguish before an
undecidable sign with proliferating significations
mirrors the male heterosexual's fear that the closet
may enclose him, too. For Edelman, this risk of
contagion is inherent in the epistemology of the
tearoom. No man who ventures there can be sure
he is a "real" man, that is, a heterosexual man, and
heterosexual men who wander into the tearoom
risk catching homosexuality. If the narrator is
spared this panic, he is not spared the risk of contagion embodied both in the expression en etre and
in the secret language Odette (Swann's wife and
Gilberte's mother) uses in the salon de the.
Odette uses English in the salon de the so that
no one else can understand what she says to the
narrator about other customers or about the waiters
(1: 535; 2: 161). Her communication strategies fail
her, however; though she believes that only the
narrator understands her when she speaks English,
he is in fact the only one who does not understand.
Odette and the narrator's "private" conversation
becomes a public mise-en-scene of the private. To
use Sedgwick's terminology, Odette's secret is an
open secret to all but the narrator, who n 'en est pas
in this passage. The epistemological crisis Charlus
experiences when he is confronted with the expression en etre occurs here within the salon de the'.
All those taking tea en sont (in the sense "are in the
know") except the narrator. Although Saint-Loup
1000
Proustin the Tearoom
includes the narratoramong those who en sont, the
narratormanages to distance himself from those
includedin Odette'ssecret tearoomcode. Nonetheless, the risk of the tearoom's contagion remains.
After the narratorwanders into the tearoom, he
does not emerge unscathed.
Sodom Surges from a Cup of Tea
The most celebrated passage where the narrator
takes tea is the madeleine episode. If in the rest of
the novel prendre le the can mean "to have homosex," the madeleine cannot be spared this possibility. Thus, any reader can carry out an act of
interpretiveviolence against La rechercheby asking the following questions: What if in eating the
madeleine the narratorwere also taking tea in a
sexual sense? What if the expressionprendrele the
had the same function as en etre and the tearoom
and allowed the narratorto announce his sexual
activity openly while keeping it a secret? Innocent
enough to pass Lagarde et Michard's censors, the
madeleine passage, which has been read by millions of French children, could be interpretedas a
descriptionof a homosexual act:
Maish l'instantmemeoi la gorgeemeleedes miettes
du gateautouchamonpalais,je tressaillis,attentifa
ce qui se passaitd'extraordinaire
en moi.Un plaisir
delicieuxm'avaitenvahi,isole, sansla notionde sa
cause.II m'avaitaussitotrendules vicissitudesde la
vie indiff6rentes,
ses desastresinoffensifs,sa brievete
illusoire,de la memefaconqu'operel'amour,en me
remplissantd'uneessenceprecieuse:ou plut6tcette
essencen'etaitpasen moi,elle etaitmoi.J'avaiscesse
de me sentirmediocre,contingent,mortel.D'oi avait
(1:44)
pume venircettepuissante
joie?
No soonerhadthewarmliquidmixedwiththecrumbs
touchedmy palatethana shiverranthroughme andI
stopped,intentupontheextraordinary
thingthatwas
happeningto me. An exquisitepleasurehadinvaded
my senses,somethingisolated,detached,withno suggestionof its origin.Andat once the vicissitudesof
life hadbecomeindifferentto me, its disastersinnocuous,its brevityillusory-this new sensationhaving
hadthe effect, which love has, of filling me with a
preciousessence; or ratherthis essence was not in
me, it was me. I hadceasedto feel mediocre,contin-
gent,mortal.Whencecouldit havecometo me, this
(1: 60)
joy?
all-powerful
The pleasureof the madeleineis erotic. Like Charlus's habit of taking tea, the madeleine drives the
narratorto understand,to know the source of pleasure. Indeed, some critics have implicated the
madeleinein La recherche'ssexual economy.Comparing the shape of the madeleine to that of the
vulva and linking the ecstasy of the madeleine
with masturbation,Philippe Lejeune associates the
madeleine episode with a masturbationscene from
ContreSainte-Beuve.In La place de la madeleine,
Serge Doubrovsky,inspiredby Lejeune's reading,
begins with a definitionfrom Sandryand Carrere's
Dictionnaire de l'argot moderne-"BIscuIT(Trem(To
per son): Accomplir l'acte charnel" 'COOKIE:
dunkone's):To engage in sexual intercourse'(Doubrovsky 8)-to constructan elaboratesexual reading of the "madeleine's place" in La recherche.
Since the madeleine generates not only the narration of La recherchebut also the narrator'sidentity
as a subject, memory and therefore writing are
linked to masturbation,urination,and defecation,
which are all situated within an ambiguous relationship with the mother. Doubrovsky goes on
to link the madeleine episode with the ChampsElysees rest room: "si la scene de la madeleine
(matricede l'ceuvre)est superposablea deux scenes
complementaires,-de masturbation,dans [Contre
Sainte-Beuve], mais aussi de defecation, dans le
texte des <<Champs-Elysees>-,le fantasmeproustien montre,par la superpositiondes modeles, que,
s'il s'agit d'un coit dans l'ecriture, c'est d'un coit
anal" 'If the madeleine scene (the matrixof the entire work) can be superimposedonto two complementary scenes-one of masturbation,in [Contre
Sainte-Beuve], but also one of defecation, in the
Champs-Elyseestext-the Proustianfantasyshows,
by superimposing models, that if writing is about
coitus, it is about anal intercourse' (161-62). In
comparingthe sensationsevoked by takingtea and
a madeleinewith those the narratorexperiences on
enteringa tearoom,Doubrovskycomes dangerously
close to makingthe madeleinepartof the tearoom's
secret. And if the tearoom infects the madeleine,
the entire system of Proustianmemory, which the
madeleineexemplifies, is also implicated.
JarrodHayes
When the narrator visits the public rest room on
the Champs-Elysees, he experiences the following
sensations:
Les murs humides et anciens de l'entree oi je restai a
attendreFrangoise degageaient une fraiche odeur de
renfermequi, m'allegeant aussit6t des soucis que venaient de faire naitre en moi les paroles de Swann
rapporteespar Gilberte, me penetra d'un plaisir non
pas de la meme espece que les autres, lesquels nous
laissent plus instables,incapablesde les retenir,de les
posseder, mais au contraire d'un plaisir consistant
auquelje pouvais m'etayer, delicieux, paisible, riche
d'une verite durable,inexpliquee et certaine.J'aurais
voulu ... essayer de penetrerle charme de cette impression qui m'avait saisi et rester immobile a interroger cette emanationvieillotte qui me proposaitnon
de jouir du plaisir qu'elle ne me donnait que par surcroit, mais de descendre dans la realite qu'elle ne
m'avait pas devoilee.
(1: 483)
The old, damp walls of the entrance, where I stood
waiting for Fran9oise, emitted a cool, fusty smell
which, relieving me at once of the anxieties that
Swann's words, as reported by Gilberte, had just
awakenedin me, filled me with a pleasureof a different kind from other pleasures, which leave one more
unstable, incapable of grasping them, of possessing
them, a pleasure that was solid and consistent, on
which I could lean for support, delicious, soothing,
rich with a truth that was lasting, unexplained and
sure. I should have liked ... to endeavorto penetrate
the charmof this impressionwhich had seized hold of
me, and, remaining there motionless, to explore this
antiquatedemanation which invited me not to enjoy
the pleasurewhich it was offering me only as a bonus,
but to descend into the underlyingreality which it had
not yet disclosed to me.
(2: 88)
Although the pleasure of the "cool, fusty smell" is
not explicitly sexual, the insistence on penetration
and the presence of the verb jouir sexualize it. The
pleasure is stable and certain but, unlike the unnamed others the narrator mentions, unknowable.
Perhaps the frustration of his desire to understand,
to penetrate-where
knowledge and possession
the
(and therefore power) are inseparable-is
source of his pleasure; perhaps the pleasure results
from an epistemological desire not meant to be satisfied. It is, in fact, the pleasure that penetrates the
1001
narrator (who thus becomes a passive partner in
this encounter) and thereby further problematizes
his masculinity.
The rest room's erotic charge intensifies as the
marquise makes a pass at the narrator,offering him
free access to a private stall-or maybe more than
that-and leading him to speculate on her taste for
boys (1: 484; 2: 88-89). Using the interpretive technique that has become a commonplace in Proustian criticism, one could argue that the marquise is
really a man, that Proust is really describing a
childhood incident in which he was propositioned
when he stumbled on a tearoom instead of an ordinary rest room. The marquise's self-naming with a
feminine aristocratic title (another possible example of a secret code) calls to mind both the English
use of the word queen and Morel's assimilation
of aristocratic women and male homosexuals in
his homophobic article, "Les Mesaventures d'une
douairiere en us, les vieux jours de la barronne"
'TheMisfortunesof a Dowager ending in -us or the
Latter Days of the Baroness,' where he also calls
Charlus "Frau van den Bosch" (4: 346-47; 6: 112).
The pleasure described by the narrator could then
be read as evidence of Proust's sexual titillation on
discovering this homosexual secret.
Just after his visit to the tearoom, the narrator
wrestles with Gilberte and has an orgasm. Jocelyn
Brooke claims that this passage represents homosexual play: "It was surely rather unusual for young
girls so bien elevees as Gilberte to wrestle with
boys in the park; and it seems pretty certain that
Marcel's partner was, in reality, of his own sex"
(15-16). I do not wish to rule out this possibility,
but like Sedgwick, I would argue that this representation of rough play "seems both to prohibit and to
extort" such a homosexual interpretation. Yet the
passage also offers a description of the tearoom's
threat to male heterosexual identity. Reading the
narrator as heterosexual, one could argue that as a
child needing to relieve himself in a public rest
room, the narrator stumbles on a tearoom, the site
of epistemological doubt about differences between
homosexuality and heterosexuality. He experiences
a sexual titillation that he does not understand but
that he contrasts with the danger to his heterosexual love for Gilberte represented by Swann's
disapproval. Propositioned by the marquise, the
1002
Proustin the Tearoom
pas venir une fois prendrea cup of tea, comme disent nos voisins les Anglais; il n'auraitqu'a m'envoyer un 'bleu' le matin"'Couldn'the come to me
some day for "a cup of tea," as our friends across
the Channelsay? He need only send me a "blue"in
the morning?' (1: 77; 1: 107). The readerlater discovers thatAdolphe's mistressis Odette(2: 563; 3:
361). As in the salon de the, Odetteuses English as
her own secret language in Adolphe's Paris apartment, this time to signify taking tea. Adolphe's
apartmentcan now be considered a salon de the.
The incident causes the narrator'sparentsto break
with Adolphe. This response seems exaggerated
unless the narrator'suncle is also a tante5and "la
dame en rose" 'the lady in pink' a man (1: 77; 1:
107). And if what the narratorhappens on is a tea
party in the sexual sense, an invitation to take tea
would indeed be cause for parental concern. The
En entrant,j'apercus,je me rappelaibrusquement public rest room and Adolphe's apartmentsmay
l'image, cach6ejusque-lh,dont m'avait approche, have more in common than an odor; they may all
sansme la laisservoirni reconnaitre,
le frais,sentant be places for takingtea.
la
du
Cette
suie,
The tearoom serves as a locus of remembrance
presque
pavillontreillage.
image6tait
celle de la petitepiecede mononcleAdolphe,a Com- and even provokes remembrancein the same way
bray,laquelleexhalaiten effetle memeparfumd'hu- that taking tea with a madeleinedoes. The lost parmidit6.Maisje ne puscomprendre,
je remisa plustard adise re-created in this act of Proustian memory
de chercherpourquoile rappeld'uneimagesi insigni- has its own
associations with past tea parties confiantem'avaitdonneunetellef6licite.
(1: 485)
cealed by secret language.Revealing the tearoom's
secretthus discloses the possibilitythatthe lost parOnmy wayhomeI perceived,I suddenlyrecalledthe
adise gained throughremembranceinvolves homoimpression,concealedfromme untilthen,of which,
sexual pleasure. In "SodomI ou la naturalisation
withoutlettingme distinguish
orrecognizeit,thecold
de
Charlus,"Marcel Muller compares Sodom and
andalmostsooty smell of the trellisedpavilionhad
with the lost paradiseof Eden:"Sodome
Gomorrah
remindedme. It wasthatof my uncleAdolphe'slittle
et
Gomorrhe
sont ainsi homologues au ParadisTersitting-roomat Combray,whichhadindeedexhaled
et
la
destruction
the sameodourof humidity.But I could not under- restre,
par le feu au banissement
and
I
until
the
later
to
disd'Adam
et
Eve.
un
stand,
postponed
attempt
Apres long divorce, voici que
coverwhytherecollectionof so trivialanimpression sont reunies les deux moities du symbolon;le couhadfilledme withsuchhappiness.
(2: 91)
ple est reconstitue" 'Sodom and Gommorah are
thus homologous to Eden, and the destruction by
The smells of the rest room recall those of Uncle
fire is homologous to the banishmentof Adam and
But
Proustian
Eve.
After a long divorce, the two halves of the
Adolphe's Combray apartment.
connects
not
similar
smells
but
also
memory
only
symbolonare reunited;the couple is reconstituted'
moments-one past, one present-that share a sin(474-75).6 In Proust's version of the destruction
essence.
What
essence
could
of
Sodom and Gomorrah,scattered homosexuals
gle
Adolphe's apartment share with a public rest room? Arriving for
yearn for their lost paradise, and this yearning alan unannounced visit in Paris, the narratorinterlows them to recognize one another.In this Proustan
intimate
moment
between
and
ian equivalentof "gaydar,"when two homosexuals
rupts
Adolphe
who
in
nonetheless
a
mistress,
meet, Sodom or Gomorrahis reconstituted.Thus,
Adolphe's
delights
third person's presence: "Est-ce qu'il ne pourrait
when the narratorwitnesses desirebetweentwo les-
narratorexperiences homosexual panic. He cannot
be sure that this titillation was really heterosexual,
that it was not caused by the tea party going on in
the tearoom.He can, however, attemptto make his
heterosexual masculinity more believable. Thus,
makingout with Gilbertecan be read as a response
to the dangersof the tearoom.If his orgasmoccurs
in a heterosexualencounter,then surely he must be
heterosexual.But this strategyof heterosexualperformanceis not completelyeffective.The narrator's
orgasm occurs quite quickly.What if the titillation
of the tearoom served as foreplay for this heterosexual encounter?
The strategy also fails because the pleasure the
narratorexperiences in the rest room has nothing
to do with Gilberte: it marks the beginning of an
act of involuntarymemory:
JarrodHayes
bians and imagines (or sees) an incandescentlight
shooting from one to the other,he remarksthatthis
light is the fire of the burningGomorrah,rekindled
in the meeting of two Gomorreans (3: 244-46;
4: 338-39). Muller also compares this recovery of
a paradiselost to the operationof Proustianmemory:"Naissance,occultation,devoilementparlequel
s'opere un retoura l'etre originel: le cheminement
de l'homosexualite emprunte donc le meme parcours que le souvenir affectif pur associe a la
saveur de la madeleine" 'Birth, concealment, unveiling, throughwhich a returnto originalbeing occurs: homosexuality thus proceeds along the same
path as the pure affective memory associated with
the taste of the madeleine' (475). Proustianmemory, especially involuntary memory, is prompted
by an encounter with an object or sensation that
contains the essence of a past sensation. That past
sensationis instantly,almost mystically,re-created
in a sort of epiphany.Proustianmemory is the restitution of a lost paradise, and the best paradise is
not the original but the one recovered, "car les
vrais paradissont les paradisqu'on a perdus"'the
true paradises are the paradises that we have lost'
(4: 449; 6: 261).The paradiseregainedby Proustian
memory,could thus be Sodom. Just as "toutCombrayet ses environs,toutcela qui prendformeet solidite, [sort],ville et jardins,de [la] tasse de the [du
'the whole of Combrayandits surroundnarrateur]"
ings, taking shape and solidity, [springs]into being,
town and gardens alike, from [the narrator's]cup
of tea' (1: 47; 1: 64), perhapsSodom as well surges
from taking tea. The reconstitution of the earthly
paradise of Sodom through Proustian memory
would then parallel the workings of Wittig's Trojan horse, whereby a seemingly heterosexual-only
world becomes wholly homosexual by the novel's
end, the same end markedby le temps retrouve.
La recherche implicates the relation of past to
presentin the relationof homosexual to heterosexual. Resurrected,a homosexual past haunts a heterosexual present. And this haunting effectively
questions the narrator'sheterosexual masculinity.
Throughoutthe novel, the narratordemonstratesa
considerablecuriosity towardmattershomosexual,
and this curiosity cannot be separated from the
novel's sexual power relations and hierarchies. In
his attemptsto understandhomosexuality,the nar-
1003
rator spies on this secret world on various occasions. He hides in the bushes at Montjouvain to
watch Mile Vinteuil (the composer Vinteuil's
daughter)and her friend making love (1: 157-63;
1: 224-33), conceals himself to observe the first
encounterof CharlusandJupien(3: 3-33; 4: 1-44),
and througha peephole watches Charlus'sflagellation at Jupien'shotel (4: 388-420; 6: 173-218). In
this last episode of voyeurism, the narrator'spowerful desire to know is naturalized as biological
need through a comparison to thirst: "J'avais
d'autrepartextremementsoif. Il etait probableque
je pourraistrouver a boire ici et j'en profitai pour
tacher d'assouvir, malgre l'inquietude qui s'y melait, ma curiosite" 'I was now, however, extremely
thirsty.I should probablybe able to get something
to drink inside and at the same time I might attempt, although I felt nervous at the prospect, to
assuage my curiosity' (4: 390; 6: 175). Elsewhere,
as the narratorattemptsto uncoverAlbertine'ssexual history, her (possibly) homosexual past comes
back to haunt his heterosexual present. When Albertine reveals that she knows Mile Vinteuil, the
narratorremembers gazing on Mile Vinteuil and
her friend and uses that information for his own
practicalends: "contemplerun spectacle curieux et
divertissant, comme moi, helas! en cette fin de
journmelointaine a Montjouvain,cache derriereun
buisson, ou (comme quand j'avais complaisamment ecoute le recit des amoursde Swann)j'avais
dangereusementlaiss6 s'elargir en moi la voie funeste et destinee a etre douloureuse du Savoir"
'look[ing] on at a curious and entertainingspectacle, as I, alas, had done on that afternoonlong ago
at Montjouvain,concealed behind a bush where (as
when I had complacentlylistened to the accountof
Swann's love affairs) I had perilously allowed to
open up within me the fatal and inevitably painful
road of Knowledge' (3: 500; 4: 702). This Foucauldian will to knowledge on the partof the supposedly heterosexualvoyeur is inseparablefrom a
will to power-here, a desire to maintaina sexual
hierarchywhere the heterosexualstays on top (in a
position of power) at the expense of the homosexual, who remainsin a subservientposition.
In Orientalism, Edward Said describes a Western will to knowledge of the Orient that parallels
colonialism. Such a parallelis at work in Proust et
1004
Proustin the Tearoom
les signes, where Gilles Deleuze describes a will to
knowledge directedtowardthe beloved by the heterosexual lover driven by jealousy in search of
truth:"La Recherche du temps perdu, en fait, est
une recherchede la verite"'The quest for lost time,
in fact, is a quest for truth' (23). This truth turns
out to be a lie spoken by the beloved to conceal a
homosexual past: "L'essence, en amour,s'incarne
d'aborddans les lois du mensonge, mais en second
lieu dans les secrets de l'homosexualite.
. . L'ho-
mosexualite est la verite de l'amour" 'In love,
essence is embodied first in the laws of lying but
second in the secrets of homosexuality.... Homosexuality is the truth of love' (99). The narrator
consolidateshis heterosexuallove for Albertineby
seeking to know her past and, therefore, to gain
power over it. This homosexual past is not defined
in oppositionto a heterosexualpresent,for the two
are inseparable.In this context, heterosexual selfdefinition and identity depend on homosexuality,
which is appropriatedthrough a gesture that resembles colonization. The essence or truthof heterosexual love accordingto Deleuze resides in the
(homo)sexual other. The narrator,gazing at his
other,tries to assert his own identity,but that identity can only be unstable.The relationthatcasts the
voyeur as heterosexual, colonizer, and subject (or
self) and the spectacle as homosexual, colonized,
and object (or other) also includes the binary present/past. This relation between present and past
governs the tearoomas well. When the narratorenters the tearoom and takes tea, the past is resurrected; he regains a lost paradise-Sodom-that
returnsto disturbthe heterosexualityof the present.
The narrator'sact of self-constitutiondependson
asserting the self as heterosexual. But this heterosexual self-definition requiresan opposition of the
self with a homosexual other. Mastery of the self
requiresmastery over the other, which is obtained
throughknowledge. Knowing the other, however,
entails contagion; if the male heterosexual understandshomosexualitytoo well, he may be suspected
of being homosexual.As Sedgwick writes,"Ittakes
one to know one" (Epistemology222). The epistemology of the tearoomapplies to the narratoras he
gazes at Mlle Vinteuil and her friend and at Charlus, Jupien, and Morel and as he seeks to gain
power over Albertineby knowing her past (episte-
mological control that correspondsto her physical
imprisonment).Furthermore,the language that the
self inherits sets its own traps. Everyday expressions like prendre le the and theiere lie in wait for
the unwittingspeaker,who risks disseminatinghomosexual meaning without knowing it. The instability of the self constituted through language
parallelsthe narrativesreconstructedby the subject
on the analyst'scouch.7La rechercheseems to suggest that such narratives of the self are also de
Manianallegories of their own deconstruction.The
instability of male heterosexual subjectivity, like
interpretiveand epistemologicaluncertainty,is thus
revealed as an open secret that shows beneath the
tearoomwalls, much like Charlus'syellow pants.
The Trojan horse releases its forces not only
amongLa recherche'scharactersandtheirsupposed
real-life referentsbut also among the work's critics
and its interpretations.In additionto the characters
and their models, which Wittig describes as being
infected, Proustianthemes such as love, memory,
and even artisticcreationbecome inseparablefrom
homosexuality. In the humanist tradition, these
themes give Proust universal value; in his reflections on these great philosophical issues, he supposedly transcendshis sexual peculiarities.Yet once
these themes enterthe tearoom,they do not emerge
unscathed. After all, the madeleine, a communion
wafer placed on the tongues of the faithfulin Brassai's "little chapels subjected to strange forms of
worship,"is best takenin the tearoom.8
Notes
'Translated literally into English, these dictionary entries
would make little sense. They list the French words tasse 'tea
cup' and theiere 'teapot' as terms for public rest rooms where
men have sex (in English,"tearooms").Prendrele the, the French
equivalentof "to have tea,"also means "to have homosex."
2All translationsof Proustare from D. J. Enright'srevision of
the translationby C. K. Scott Moncrieff and TerenceKilmartin.
All othertranslationsare my own.
3Accordingto EtienneBrunet'sLe vocabulairede Proust, the
word the occurs eighty-seven times in La recherche(1407).
4Such codes exist in the history of homosexuality. I cite as
one example the use of handkerchiefsto indicate homosexual
availability (a practice associated with the 1970s), with various
JarrodHayes
colors signaling availability for specific acts-black for sadomasochism,darkblue for anal sex, light blue for oral sex, yellow
for "water sports"-and position signaling availability for
particularroles-the left rear pocket for "tops,"the right rear
pocket for "bottoms"(Townsend26-27).
5The Frenchword tante, or "aunt,"also means "queen."
6Proustincludes the angel with the flaming sword in his version of the destruction of Sodom (3: 32; 4: 42-43). Antoine
Compagnonpoints out in a note to this passage that "[l]'ange a
l'epee flamboyanten'apparaitpas dans la Genese lors de la destruction de Sodome, mais lorsque Adam et Eve sont chasses
du paradis.... La confusion seraitainsi entreSodome et l'Eden"
'the angel with a flaming sword appears in Genesis not at the
moment of Sodom's destruction but when Adam and Eve are
chased out of paradise ... Sodom is therefore confused with
Eden' (3: 1290; my trans.).
7Doubrovskywrites, "L'op6rationmentale d6critepar Proust
avec une precision clinique est bien l'homologue de l'acte de
rem6morationen analyse" 'The mental operationdescribed by
Proust with clinical precision is the homologue of the act of rememberingin analysis' (26).
8I would like to thank Nancy K. Miller for her characteristically careful readingsof this essay and for her valuable suggestions. I also thankGina Fisch-Freedman,MarkCalkins,Edward
Stein, George McClintock, and Rosette Lamont for their helpful comments.
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