Proust in Time: Sodom and Gomorrah
68 Jay Street, #308
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Sodom and Gomorrah, the fourth volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, pivots on the question of desire: what is it to want a form of life, another person, adulation, social success, the destruction of a rival, a glimpse of a painting, the sound of a song? And what happens when these desires are either futile, morally ambiguous, or considered to be evidence of inherent vice? In Sodom and Gomorrah, the question of homosexual desire is, for example, a secret so open it’s barely a secret. Proust’s novel takes its title from the Biblical cities destroyed for their sexual deviance: for Proust, “Sodom” comes to stand for love between men and “Gomorrah” for love between women. Throughout the novel, the strange politics of desire play out against the momentous turning of the “social kaleidoscope” as the decadent society of belle époque France at the turn of the twentieth century starts to confront its imminent extinction.
As we read Sodom and Gomorrah, we’ll consider the following questions: How should we understand Proust as queer literature? What does his exploration of “deviant” desire have to tell us about the history and theory of sexuality? How and why does Sodom and Gomorrah treat desire between men and desire between women differently? And what do we make of the currents of erotic attraction—often fluid—that charge encounters across genders? What are Proust’s debts to Darwin and evolutionary theory? Why does Proust’s narrator recur to the disturbing ambition for jealous, total possession of another person? What does it mean to consider these questions in context with the novel’s continued explorations of class, Jewishness, the Dreyfus Affair, modern technology, time and memory, art, aesthetics, and literary form? In what ways does Sodom and Gomorrah, looking back on a lost world after the shocks of the first World War, show the marks of modernity? What does it mean to read Proust now? And, as ever, what does it mean to read Proust in time?
The translation of record will be the Modern Library edition (Moncrieff, Kilmartin, and Enright). Supplementary materials will emphasize selections from Proust’s critical tradition as well as entries in the history and theory of sexuality. These are likely to include: Adorno, Beckett, Benjamin, Bersani, Bowie, Darwin, Foucault, Kristeva, Jameson, Said, Sedgwick, et. al..
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm
January 30 — February 21, 2020