MARGUERITE DURAS' NOVEL "THE LOVER."
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Examines psychoanalytic concepts applied to novel's narrator.... More...
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Examines psychoanalytic concepts applied to novel's narrator. Plot of novel & relationships in the story. Mother-daughter relationship. Bipolar mother. Daughter's defense mechanisims; self-awareness of her sexual power. Narrative perspective. Psychological diagosis. Internal psychology and external sociology. Freudian elements. Theories of Anna Freud, romm-Reichmann. Gestalt therapy.
This research examines psychoanalytic concepts that are relevant to Marguerite Duras's novel The Lover. The research will explore the character of the narrator from the standpoint of a psychological diagnosis, first setting forth the narrative context in which the character's psychological attributes emerge and then discussing the narrative function of the character as well as her behavior in relationships that are explored in the novel. Set in colonial Indochina in the 1920s and 1930s, The Lover is structured as a memoir of a French girl's adolescence marked chiefly by family pathology and a sexual initiation that has various attributes of socially forbidden love. The focus of the relationships in the story is on the declining mental condition of the narrator's mother and the 15-year-old narrator's relat
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Barbara Bray (Trans.). The novel as artifact can becharacterized as a proxy for psychoanalytical transference. This is, however, consistent with referencesto the mother's daily "deep, despondency about living" (Duras, 1986, p.14), partly but not solely on account of her father's death, contrast withthe mother's somewhat energetic approbation of the girl's flamboyant dress(Duras, 1986, p. More will be said about sublimation, but thegirl's determination to be a writer is alluded to throughout the text ofthe novel. The focus of the relationships in the story is onthe declining mental condition of the narrator's mother and the 15-year-oldnarrator's relationship with a Chinese businessman who is 12 years hersenior. The StandardEdition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. New York: Bantam. Freudspeaks to this specifically, citing the "tendency [of melancholia] tochange round into mania" (1958a, p. As Freudexplains: The transference thus creates an intermediate region between illness and real life through which the transition from the one to the other is made. Vol. 21). In a broad sense, thevery fact of the novel's existence can be interpreted as a project ofrecovering and working through memory. neither her laughter nor her cries. Accordingly, the defence-mechanisms of repression and sublimation could not be employed until relatively late in the process of development (Freud, 1946, p. As Anna Freud puts it: Sublimation, i.e.[,] the displacement of the instinctual aim in conformity with higher social values, presupposes the acceptance or at least the knowledge of such values, that is to say, presupposes the existence of the super-ego. The novel functionsin precisely this way. (1958). To the degree this narrative is a proxy for the whole of the author'scareer choice, it can also be said to symbolize the narrator's ability todistinguish, in the Freudian sense of such matters, between the realitiesof the superego and the demands of the ego. Perversity is further implied by a relationship structured asprostitution, and that is complicated even more by the helplessly self-defeating emotional attachment that the Chinese lover forms for the girl. I say that's how I desire him, with his money, that when I first saw him he was already in his car, in his money, so I can't say what I'd have done if he'd been different. 7). 23-4), in a way that suggests a bipolar disorder. London:Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis. . This isreinforced in the novel: "As soon as she got into the black car she knew:she's excluded from the family for the first time and forever" (Duras,1986, p. . Gestalt therapy verbatim. Perls, F. 1 1). 24). Whatcomplicates the situation is that she is immature in other ways. 155) cites the utility oftransference in rendering a pathological compulsion (in this casehomosexual longing) "harmless, and indeed useful, by giving it the right toassert itself in a definite field." Where the Chinese lover is concerned, the girl is quite willful inobjectively enacting sexual impulse, engaging in a deliberate project ofmaking sexual initiation coeval with rather cold-blooded whoredom, aproject complicated by a childish attachment to the mother she despises andfears in various ways but cannot leave. . It's over, I don't remember. New York: Internationl Universities. TheStandard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Even though the mother expectsher daughter to get a math degree, she also tells her that she need notachieve anything (socially) there (the same would not be true in bourgeoisFrance). She's become just something you write without difficulty, cursive writing (Duras, 1986, pp. Manifestly the girl knows she is not "supposed to" behave asshe plans to do, but concealing the affair (at least temporarily) byisolating knowledge of it from the family protects the girl's ego from thepain of confrontation with the mother. But the familial and social signals are confusing. Attributing thegirl's own feelings to the lover's behavior also suggests an element oftransference. That alerts the reader that the narrative is to be a maturerecollection, evaluation, and confessional. 47). 196-2 3. . The girl's insistence on thatpoint can be interpreted as an exercise in sublimation of murderousimpulses toward "the beast, my mother, my love" (Duras, 1986, p. . . The mother, at once educatedand socially artless, is oddly proud of her daughter's appearance,anticipating that "perhaps one day she'll find out how to bring in somemoney. James Strachey, Anna Freud, Alix Strachey, & Alan Tyson (Trans.).London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis. Gestalt therapyguru Perls speaks to the individual's ability to alter perception of selfor environment in a realistic way as one of the central aims of therapy:"[We] simply consider the organism as a system that is in balance and thathas to function properly . Butduring childhood, virtually until the moment she initiates the relationshipwith the Chinese lover, she carried the weight of hearing her motheralternately falling into melancholia or weeping with the moneylenders orscrimping and saving to support her eldest son's bad habits, at the sametime withholding affection from the daughter. This research examines psychoanalytic concepts that are relevant toMarguerite Duras's novel The Lover. Thepsychological import of the absent father is suggested by the fact thatafter she speaks of the death of her father (Duras, 1986, p. . 154). Thus the children"learned . He says, I wish I could take you away, go away with you. Chicago: U of Chicago Press. 35). 46). the mother lets thegirl go out dressed like a child prostitute" (Duras, 1986, p. Andshe is not, perhaps despite her intent, immune from emotion, as her mothersuspects when she hesitates answering whether she is seeing the man onlyfor the money (p. But that does not sufficiently account for thepsychology of maternal behavior in the matter of the affair. She is precocious enough at 12 years of ageto infer the power of sexual attraction and notice that her "mother's menfriends have been kindly asking me to have tea with them while their wivesare out playing tennis at the Sporting Club" (17). The periodic failure of memory, perhaps the putting-off of writing this memoir, actually results in the positive effect ofsublimation in the healthy activity of finally writing it all down. Freud, A. Remembering, repeating, and working-through. First there isa manifest defense, in the shape of her desire to write novels, despite hermother's declaration that it is "a childish idea" compared to the all-important math degree (Duras, 1986, p. (1986). APhoenix Book. Freud, S. Principles of intensive psychotherapy. 244) description of mourning as a natural response to the loss of aloved one, and melancholia as "loss of the capacity to love, inhibition ofall activity, and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings." At minimum,mourning has elided into melancholia for the mother, who may become manicwithout notice. CollectedPapers: Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis. Only as an adolescent does the objectivereality of her mother's madness dawn on the girl, but in any case familylife is objectively unstable. She hasadolescent self-absorption consistent with naïve sexual curiosity, and sheis so naïve about her sexual attraction to her schoolmate Helene that itdoes not occur to her that girls could have willful carnal knowledgewithout the agency of a man. Freud, S. Inthat regard, Anna Freud establishes sublimation, or displacement ofinstinctual aims, as an ego defense of the normal, i.e., not neurotic,psychology (1946, p. New York: Basic Books. 2 2) likens theanalyst to a mother, who is most remarkable for "her ability to be hurt somuch by her baby and to hate so much without paying the child out." Thebipolar mother in The Lover behaves against type, paying out her childplenty, and at the extreme co-opting the benefits of the affair in order toremain solvent in Indochina while also funding her adored elder son'sspendthrift ways and expressing resentment at her daughter's prostitutionof herself. It's via Helene Lagonelle's body, through it, that the ultimate pleasure would pass from him to me (Duras, 1986, p. That makes her mother smile" (Duras, 1986, p.24). He says he certainly hasn't been lucky with me, but he'll give me some money anyway, don't worry (Duras, 1986, p. In my experience the wish for closeness and tenderness with the beloved parent and the envious resentment about the authoritative power of the hated one, both without recognizable sexual roots, constitute a more frequent finding in childhood histories of healthy, neurotic, and psychotic people than do their sexual Oedipal entanglements with the parents of their childhood (Fromm-Reichmann, 195 , p. 93). The point is that the girl is tied to a mother she cannot decode as achild, which explains why her preoccupation with her mother's unhappiness"took the place of dreams" (46). To the degree thatthrough the interpretation or discussion of experience the individual canbe made to hear or see motivations more or less objectively, then aninsightful self-awareness may be more or less beneficial. If the tropical heat and the family's poverty create a feeling ofhopelessness, the environment of Indochina is, for colonials in general, byturns socially liberating and socially demanding. The girl is isolated in another way, which is connected to her self-awareness of her sexual power. The lover can be said tofunction as a proxy for the father upon whom the girl enacts Oedipallibidinous urges, rather than following the more usual course ofsuppressing them. Themother's psychology can also be explained with reference to Freud's (1958a,p. What ensues on this point is an exercise inprojection, whereby she attributes her own sexual impulses to the lover: I'd like to give Helene Lagonelle to the man who does that to me, so he may do it in turn to her. 32), the nextparagraph deals with the man in the limousine. 253). . (1958b). Small wonder the narrator cites her mother's "access ofmadness" (57). 7). The novel describes this in termsof the mother's changeable moods: "Sometimes she'd give anything she wasasked for . On the History of thePsycho-Analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. Further, her psychology seems to be shaped inthe context of prevailing cultural constructions of what women in generaleither are or should be. . References Duras, M. I want it to happen in my presence, I want her to do it as I wish, I want her to give herself where I give myself. Despite the Oedipal implications of the relationship, however, anddespite the girl's declaration that she is in it only for the money, thenovel suggests that the relationship entails a search for love andaffection that has been closed off to her. 99).The girl is so desperate for maternal love that she scarcely repressesfierce sibling rivalry, envisioning murdering her elder brother, themother's primary love-object (Duras, 1986, p. She waits until she is15 to act on this awareness, but the decision to do so is deliberate, andof course it is impossible for her to discuss it with her mother. A second, more complex defense mechanism is connected to the girl'sseizing control of her sex life decisively, in a way that constitutesisolation within the meaning of Anna Freud's description (p. Direct reference to this acting-out comes when the girlsays the lover "takes her as he would his own child," both of them at oncerepelled by and drawn to each other, "succumb[ing] to it again, amid tears,despair, and happiness" (Duras, 1986, p. Narrative strategy cannot be overlooked in any attempt to "diagnose"or "psychoanalyze" the central figure of The Lover. and shouts, for the whole town to hear, that her daughter's a prostitute, she's going to throw her out, she wishes she'd die, no one will have anything to do with her, she's disgraced, worse than a bitch (Duras, 1986, p. . That's why, though she doesn't know it . S. 58).Taking money to be a motivating factor in the love affair helps explain whythe mother not only overlooks her daughter's sexual adventurism but ratherencourages it, and then, embarrassed by dependence on the money, attacksher daughter's behavior. The narrative unfolds from the perspective of the narrator's statusas an old woman; indeed, it begins with a reflection on her aged facialfeatures. TheCase of Schreber, Papers on Technique, and Other Works. 22). 74).The girl's sadistic erotic projection fantasy might be said to function asthe ego's defense against an impulse toward homosexuality. Cecil Baines(Trans.). The fact that the lover is Chinese makes himforbidden fruit and the girl fodder for colony gossip from a sociallyobjective standpoint, just as the incest taboo makes one's father forbiddensexual fruit. The girl's embarrassment at her mother's dowdyappearance coincides with her own daring comportment--dark red lipstick,pleated skirt, man's fedora, gold lamé shoes. [o]r else nothing, or just sleep, die" (p. New York: Harper &Row/Perennial. Winnicott, D.W. 6 ). The new condition has taken over all the features of the illness; but it represents an artificial illness which is at every point accessible to our intervention (Freud, 1958b, p. The peculiar combination of the girl's motives may owe something tothe fact that she suffered the loss of her father at a young age, thus theabsence of a stable paternal role model at a critical stage of adolescencethat is further complicated by the emotional instability of her mother. to keep quiet about the ruling principle of our life,poverty" (Duras, 1986, p. says she can smell the Chinese's scent . (1969). . 42; emphasis in original). Very quickly, too, it becomesclear that the story is not told in a linear fashion but rather as adiscontinuous series of major and minor memories, sometimes in presenttense, sometimes in simple past tense, and sometimes in future perfecttense, expressed as a fait accompli but formulated as if the factcontemplated is yet to come. The internal psychology of the narrator cannot be considered apartfrom her external sociology. Such behavior flies in the face of expected patterns of manifestmother-daughter relationships. (1946). (1958a). The motherquite pragmatically instructs the boarding school not to interfere with herdaughter's comings and goings, and the Chinese takes the entire family outfor dinner from time to time, which suggests that--however disastrous thesocial dynamics of these occasions--the mother and brothers are functioningmore or less as pimps. In that regard, Freud (1958b, p. Hate in the countertransference. For his part, though he falls intoan emotional obsession with her, going so far as to plead with his fatherto allow him to marry her, the lover gives the girl money, which ipso factomakes her a prostitute. On that view, The Lover is acoming-of-age story that is nevertheless (or for that very reason) a maturework. Thus the fact that the narrator's family areFrench colonials who are part of the ruling class of Indochina yet are alsofinancially distressed, undoubtedly informs the shaping of the narrator'spersonality and behavior. And I believe that this is the great thingto understand: that awareness per se--by and of itself--can be curative"(Perls, 1969, p. That's why I can write about her so easily now, so long, so fully. The girl has two main mechanisms of defense against the objectivereality of psychological confusion that dominates home life. Thecompletion of the writing process--which is repeatedly stated as thenarrator's fundamental and abiding interest, irrespective of the emotionalcontent of her life--constitutes a working-through that shatters sexual andfamilial ambivalence by exposing it on one hand but on the other enablingthe narrator to view both self and others, not with hatred (not sentimentallove, either), but with something approaching compassion. The fact that she seekslove from some quarter is from that point of view more important to herpsychology than the shape of the extreme actions she takes to mimic it. I say I couldn't leave my mother yet without dying of grief. 4 ). 12.James Strachey, Anna Freud, Alix Strachey, & Alan Tyson (Trans.). Indeed, the mother smiles at the prospect that the girl may be able tobring money into the household. . The narrator's active engagement with the story creates a transferenceto all of the characters in it, and writing it completely and in whole hasthe effect of functioning as a working-through of the full range ofambivalences that the writer has toward the various characters in the book,including the self that is recalled, episode by episode. But the social stigma of a prostitute inthe family also occasions dramatic confrontation: My mother has attacks during which she falls on me, locks me up in my room, punches me, undresses me . (195 ). In that regard, Fromm-Reichmanncautions against making too much of an Oedipal trope and too little of themore fundamental human need for love. The process ofaccounting for all (i.e., the narrator's life, the other characters),functions as the author/narrator's cathexis and object of sublimation. 56).This analysis of sublimation lends significance to the fact that The Lover,which focuses on an adolescent girl's experience, is the work of a then-7 -year-old writer seeing life clearly and seeing it whole. Vol.14. The lover. 14). The research will explore the characterof the narrator from the standpoint of a psychological diagnosis, firstsetting forth the narrative context in which the character's psychologicalattributes emerge and then discussing the narrative function of thecharacter as well as her behavior in relationships that are explored in thenovel. Fromm-Reichmann, F. In his discussion of countertransference, orthe attitude of analyst toward patient, Winnicott (1958, p. Set in colonial Indochina in the 192 s and 193 s, The Lover isstructured as a memoir of a French girl's adolescence marked chiefly byfamily pathology and a sexual initiation that has various attributes ofsocially forbidden love. This is how the novel deals with these issues: He says, You only came because I'm rich. Mourning and melancholia. 155; emphasis in original). The fact that thepaperback edition of the book features a photograph of the adolescent andEuropean Duras posing with a non-European older man shows that Duras's ownhistory closely parallels the content of the text. . The condition of resistance in the narrator of the story persists aslong as she resists writing down the memoir, once it has occurred to her.Indeed, even within the narrative, she often resorts to suppression andisolation of affect, not least in respect of her relationship with hermother: I can't remember her voice . The 15-year-old,for her part, is already artful and already so interested in making moneythat she "knows how to divert the interest people take in her to theinterest she takes in money. 28-9).According to Freud, the analyst must "allow the patient time to become moreconversant with this resistance with which he has now become acquainted, towork through it" (1958b, p. . Even if the family must eat garbage, it is"cooked and served by a houseboy" (p. Ego and the mechanisms of defence.
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