Sunday, September 16, 2007

"Proust’s Lesbianism," the movie

The current feature at My Book, The Movie: Elisabeth Ladenson's Proust’s Lesbianism.

Ladenson's entry opens:
I have always been amazed that Hollywood had not until now recognized the tremendous cinematic potential of academic literary criticism.
She then explains how this (hypothetical, for now) film adaptation will happen and who will star in it. One of my favorite screenwriters gets the gig on this project, too. Read on.

Proust’s Lesbianism (Cornell University Press, 1999), has been described by one reviewer as “a breakthrough for gender studies, gay and lesbian studies, queer theory, and Proust studies," and has been published in French translation as Proust lesbian (Epel, 2004) with a preface by Antoine Compagnon.

About the book, from the publisher:
For decades, Elisabeth Ladenson says, critics have misread or ignored a crucial element in Marcel Proust’s fiction -- his representation of lesbians. Her challenging new book definitively establishes the centrality of lesbianism as sexual obsession and aesthetic model in Proust’s vast novel A la recherche du temps perdu.

Traditional readings of the Recherche have dismissed Proust’s “Gomorrah” — his term for women who love other women — as a veiled portrayal of the novelist’s own homosexuality. More recently, “queer-positive” rereadings have viewed the novel’s treatment of female sexuality as ancillary to its accounts of Sodom and its meditations on time and memory. Ladenson instead demonstrates the primacy of lesbianism to the novel, showing that Proust’s lesbians are the only characters to achieve a plenitude of reciprocated desire. The example of Sodom, by contrast, is characterized by frustrated longing and self-loathing. She locates the work’s paradigm of hermetic relations between women in the self-sufficient bond between the narrator’s mother and grandmother. Ladenson traces Proust’s depictions of male and female homosexuality from his early work onward, and contextualizes his account of lesbianism in late-nineteenth-century sexology and early twentieth-century thought.

A vital contribution to the fields of queer theory and of French literature and culture, Ladenson’s book marks a new stage in Proust studies and provides a fascinating chapter in the history of a literary masterpiece’s reception.
Among the praise for Proust’s Lesbianism:
"Carefully orchestrated.... Ladenson scours Proust's early work ... and converts the scattered evidence of lesbianism into a genuinely thought-provoking synthesis."

"A remarkably close reading of Proust's remarkably long novel, Ladenson's persuasive book will change the way we interpret Á la recherche du temps perdu.... Ladenson's prose is also quite gratifying to read — a rare thing in the Academy that makes this erudite book both provocative and immensely entertaining."
Virginia Quarterly Review

"Through a series of finely articulated, close re-readings of Proust's Recherche, this book . . . provides us with what amounts to be no less than a systematic reassessment of the novel's entire sexual economy, the cornerstone of which being precisely what has been so far mostly ignored or dismissed by critics: Proust's representation of female homosexuality. A brilliant contribution to both the field of queer studies and Proustian criticism."
—Eugene Nicole, Modern & Contemporary France

"Elisabeth Ladenson has written the sort of book we all dream of writing -- a book that figures something out no one has understood before but in a manner so utterly persuasive that afterward its point seems to go without saying. After reading Proust's Lesbianism, the reader says, 'but of course,' to what in all the decades of reading Proust no one had been able to see. On top of its completely convincing argument, the book is so gracefully written, so elegant and clear that it makes what Ladenson has achieved seem simple, deceptively simple. Ladenson has managed to produce a book of scholarship that is a pleasure to read, a major contribution to knowledge, and a complete tour de force. I'm green with envy."
—Jane Gallop, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Elisabeth Ladenson is Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

Earlier this year she applied the Page 69 Test to her latest book, Dirt for Art's Sake: Books on Trial from Madame Bovary to Lolita.

The Page 69 Test: Dirt for Art's Sake.

My Book, The Movie: Proust’s Lesbianism.

--Marshal Zeringue