Marcel Proust, No. 4: Waking up to the Reality of Abuse, or: The Incredible Reach of the Stockholm Hostage Syndrome

A two-in-one speculation on the weird love/hate-hex POTUS 45 is casting about himself in light of Marcel Proust’s “Sodom and Gomorrah”

It’s just disappointing to me that there isn’t somebody of some stature who’s willing to just say “this man is unfit,” because they all know it. They just all know it. You know they know it, and I don’t know what’s so hard about saying it. It’s obvious.I think if you want to go down in history as having served your country well, you should say that, so I just don’t get it. I don’t understand it. They just hope he just comes to pass. I mean, I understand early on you could say, “Well, let’s hope he gets better. Let’s see if we can work with him,” but we’ve seen so much now. It’s just …..
George Conway (husband of Kelly-Ann Conway): Diagnosing Trump on the Café/ Stay Tuned Podcast with Preet Bharara

Noah denkt™ would not do justice to its analytical calling if it weren’t to contemplate the psychological backdrop which could possibly explain the protracted and steadfast support that large parts of the GOP had been (and to some extent still are) providing to POTUS 45. And that despite the ample evidence available to them of the ethically dented, unhinged and unsavory nature of POTUS’ character. Clearly, it is an issue of major importance for the future survival of democracy to get to grips with the emotional complexity of this kowtowing enigma. After all, we are faced here with a surprisingly resilient pocket of irrationality which doesn’t just threaten the levelheadedness of individuals whose courage and democratic credentials used to be beyond all doubt but also menaces to do lasting damage to the faith in the feasibility of intellectual virtue and reason as such.

The Empathy/Fear – Paralysis

Now, just like most other observes, Noah denkt™ believed that the stubborn GOP resistance to obvious facts could be best explained as a variation of the Stockholm Hostage Syndrome. We presumed that Mr. Trump’s aggressive narcissism kept his staunchest supporters in a compassion-angst-paralysis which had them, on one hand, sympathize with the painful ailments of an already much loathed human being, and, on the other, fear the havoc which that individual’s narcissistic distortions could unleash if they were aggravated even more.

Of course, there are solid arguments to support this particular assessment:

Mr. Trump, has never made a name for himself as being a dispassionate, non-emotional student of the facts; reading analytical briefs is not his fortitude; long back-and-forth debates tend to bore him; instead he prefers to base his opinions on rapid-fire anecdotal takes; in his press statements he keeps harping about the need for signs of respect from others to him and the US (which in his mind is probably pretty much the same thing); he
resorts to aggressive name-calling of opponents; his touting of presumed personal policy successes is never complete without labeling them as “best ever” achievements in US history; his compromise with the truth and with honesty is sketchy at best; his business career has in large part been built on disproportionate legal threats to dissenters; mistakes can never be acknowledged, and his self-centered hurting in the face of criticism provides ample argument to fear the worst in case of a further falling out with him.

In other words, it isn’t far-fetched to assume that Mr. Trump keeps the people in his orbit in a double-bind-intimidation- (“If-you-don’t- love-me-I-have-to-assume-you hate-me”) – and – supplication- (“Please-love-me-so-that-I don’t-have-to-hate you”) – spell which is hard to break for everybody, – especially in the absence of an overwhelming public support to do so.

Unfortunately, it is also true that hardly anybody is altogether immune to be caught up in the hex and witchcraft of such an abusive and aggressive narcissism. Don’t forget that reason obliges especially those with the most encompassing devotion to it to grant a benefit of doubt to newcomers, pioneers and outsiders before reaching a final judgment on them. And it is in this open-minded and open-ended, initial interregnum that reasonable minds who by their very nature tend to push for the reconciliation of opposites and the harmonization of dissonances are in most danger to fall into the aforementioned emotional blackmail trap. This blackmail usually operates along the lines of emotional outrage (“I thought we were friends and now you are abandoning me, – after all what I have done for you?  That’s very unjust, very inhuman and very unfair”. –  Remember also Shakespeare’s “Et tu, Brute?” in Julius Caesar)

The open question however is, why is it that even combat-experienced Navy Seals and highly decorated military heroes who, perhaps due to a sense of patriotic duty, may have fallen into the aforementioned spell have such a hard time to freely de-construct its abusive nature and then denounce it for what it is publicly? After all, the nebulous “fearing-of-the-worst”-argument can only go so far with people who have most likely already seen and experienced the worst. And the rather human desire to empathize with the brutal suffering of an unhinged freak naturally finds its limits when subject empathy for the freak is co-responsible for triggering more harm for other troops and collaborators elsewhere in the national ranks.

Marcel Proust comes into the Picture

Well, while we were contemplating these questions, it also so happened that we were finishing the read of the 4th volume (“Sodome et Gomorrhe” (Gallimard folio classique, 1988/99) of Marcel Proust’s 7-part series “In Search of Lost Time”. And strangely enough, it seemed to us as if there were a couple of clues hidden in Mr. Proust’s work that might help us to answer the Trump-triggered supporter conundrum we have touched upon
above. So let’s look then at Mr. Proust’s pertaining ideas in more detail. (And please bear with us if we will not elaborate our argument in a Trumpian, rapid-fire style. The matters at hand here, are too important and too intricate to simply splash their resolution out as if it were a self-evident pearl of wisdom and truth.)

Question: Does an already haunted really long for more and new bewitchment?

The storytelling in “Sodome et Gomorrhe” slowly finds its way to explaining why the narrator ultimately decides to seek and push for an emotional hook-up and cohabitant liaison with a woman (Albertine) he neither trusts nor particularly loves.

In his own words, the narrator describes his abandonment to Albertine as follows (We have re-arranged the sequencing of his statements a little bit to clarify them even more):

« … j’étais trop porté à croire que du moment que j’aimais, je ne pouvais pas être aimé et que l’intérêt seul pouvait attacher à moi une femme. Sans doute c’était une folie de juger Albertine d’après Odette et Rachel. Mais ce n’était pas elle, c’était moi ; … » (Sodome et Gomorrhe, p 508)

… Elle m’offrait justement  – et elle seule pouvait me l’offrir – l’unique remède contre le poison qui me brûlait, homogène à lui d’ailleurs ; l’un doux, l’autre cruel, tous deux étaient également dérivés d’Albertine. (Sodome…, p. 503) …
Mais les mots [d’Albertine]: “Cette amie, c’est Mlle Vinteuil” [with which Albertine confirmed that she was in deed « liée avec l’amie de Mlle Vinteuil »*] avaient été le Sésame, que j’eusse été incapable de trouver moi-même, qui avait fait entrer Albertine dans la profondeur de mon cœur déchiré. Et la porte qui s’était refermée sur elle, j’aurais pu chercher pendant cent ans sans savoir comment on pourrait la rouvrir.  (…) Son vice maintenant ne faisait pas de doute pour moi.
… Je n’avais jamais vu commencer une matinée si belle ni si douloureuse.  … Je m’entendis moi-même pleurer. Mais à ce moment, contre toute attente la porte s’ouvrit, et le cœur battant, il me sembla voir ma grand-mère devant moi,comme en une de ces apparitions que j’avais déjà eues, mais seulement en dormant….  (Sodome …., p 512f)

 —- (*Context : The narrator had earlier on in Vol. 1 by chance witnessed Mlle Vinteuil and her girl-friend committing « avec une brutalité voulue » « des profanations rituelles » over a photo of Ms. Vinteuil’s recently deceased father. This observation had profoundly shocked the narrator (Du Côté de chez Swann, p. 207f) and Albertine’s acknowledgment of an existing or earlier relationship with Ms. Vinteuil’s lesbian friend had then triggered an irresistible love/hate spell which
fatefully had the narrator be bound to Albertine) ——

In the humble opinion of Noah denkt™, these excerpts make it painfully clear that the narrator’s fatal attraction towards Albertine has more to do with a psychological need on his part to address and perhaps alleviate a personal, unresolved tension or trauma experience than it has to with the personality of AlbertIne herself. She may be a uniquely qualified conduit for the narrator to help him get in touch with these otherwise stacked away,personal black holes but she is in no way an end in herself in that relationship.

In other words, the narrator himself is to some extent abusing Albertine to reach out to a subconscious desire and/or memory of an earlier abuse that he or someone in his family may have been exposed to either as a victim or as perpetrator. And he is doing so by consciously subjecting himself to a new abuse which will come to him by way of the repeated carefree and oftentimes reckless scheming and betrayal of Albertine.

In fact, it is the narrator himself who supports this interpretation when he later points out:

« Comme par un courant électrique qui vous meut, j’ai été sécoué par mes amours. Je les ai vécus, je les ai sentis : jamais je n’ai pu arriver à les voir ou à les penser. J’incline même à croire que dans ces amours (..) sous l’apparence de la femme, c’est à des forces invisibles dont elle est accessoirement accompagnée que nous nous adressons comme à d’obscures divinités.  C’est elles dont la bienveillance nous est nécessaire, dont nous recherchons le contact sans y trouver de plaisir positif. Avec ces déesses, la femme durant le rendez-vous nous met en rapport et ne fait guère plus. »
(Sodome … , p. 511)

In other words, what the narrator really needs is not the love of Albertine but “the benevolence of these obscure and mysterious forces and goddesses” that so far keep haunting him. After all, one might add, it is them and only them that can set him free.

Now, of course, it is for us, the reader (and perhaps your Captain who, by the way, no longer wants to be a captain) to speculate what these traumas/dark forces/inclinations are which the narrator needs to come to terms with. Could it be that these desires/traumas are in some way related or akin to the Vinteuil profanation experience? Could it be that his much beloved grandmother and/or his mother are in some way involved in or
connected to the abuse conundrum? After all, it is a mesh-up of his grandmother and his mother (one real, one figuratively appearing in a vision) that presents itself to him in the very moment he, the narrator, is most shaken by the realization that there might be indeed an opportunity for existential clarification opening up for him by way of an Albertine hook-up.

Obviously, the 4th volume doesn’t give us a definite resolution in this respect. What we know though for the time being is, that the specter of abnormal, aberrant and perhaps abusive behavior is very much a relevant factor inside the perimeter of the narrator’s family and ancestry. Let’s not forget that

a) the narrator’s grand-father probably had an alcohol addiction problem (“Bathilde!  viens donc empêcher ton mari de boire du cognac!” Du Côté de chez Swann, p. 54)

b) the grand-father’s brother Adolphe, an ex-military commander, seems at one point to have suffered from a “grand chagrin” (Du Côté …. P. 121);  

c) the cousin of the narrator’s grand-father is a foul-mouthed sociopath to whose debasing rants Bathilde’s sisters Celine and Flora have to turn a deaf ear in order not to lose their mind altogether over them;

d) Leonie, the widow of M Octave, and the daughter of that grand-father’s foul-mouthing cousin eventually ends up bed-ridden with depression and a panicking anxiety of strangers and the unknown,

e) the narrator’s mother is seriously afraid of crossing her husband,

f) the narrator’s much beloved grand-mother, Bathilde, couldn’t wait to leave the house and go for long walks in all sorts of weather only to be finally able to breathe freely again.  

Hard to imagine what other evidence could still be needed in order to justify the conclusion that something pretty nasty must have gone on in the narrator’s family, – perhaps on the great-grand-parents level but more likely in the general male-female gender relationship -, which continues to fuel the narrator’s “étouffements” and “chagrins” even beyond “Sodome et Gomorrhe”.

Naturally, it is particularly the latter hypothesis of endemic and widespread abuse in gender-relationship which supports our elsewhere expressed view that the trauma processing element in “La Recherche” is not just personal, i.e. author-related but pertains to historically accrued psychological devastations in the social, national and international arena as well.  After all, it cannot be denied that manifestations of human insensitivity, hurtfulness and malice are by no means scarce in “La Recherche” and that they clearly transcend the sphere of the narrator’s immediate family. For your reference, here are some examples of such pervasive anti-social behavior:

  • Morel’s treacherous, “let’s see what I can get out of him”- nature,
  • the cold-heartiness of the Verdurins,
  • the career opportunism of Cottard,
  • the Cocotte-element in Albertine’s, Odette’s, Rachel’s and Bloch’s character,
  • Gilberte’s reckless discarding of a friend,
  • Charlus’ erratic, narcissistic, love-sickness,
  • the hotel owners dictatorial streak,
  • Françoise’s loyal but loveless service and attachment to the narrator’s  family,  
  • M de Norpois’ ridiculous society posing
  • and perhaps even (but we are not entirely convinced about) Swann’s infatuation with Odette.

In fact, some of the rampant malice listed above even leads to very conscious efforts either to subjugate and oppress (Charlus vis-à-vis Morel, the Verdurins and their Wednesday Group (Cult)) or to surrender and capitulate (Saniette, Cotttard, Brichot).

So why do free people accept to be bullied by highly irascible bosses with short fuses?

All of this, clearly, takes us back to the strange enigma of the earlier invoked squeamishness that even battle-hardened military leaders tend to show when being asked to publicly denounce the unhinged nature of their former boss. Could it be that it is an unresolved tension of previously suffered abuse which fuels the present fumbling? Could it be that it is the experience of previous malice which predisposes the victim to, when in doubt, prefer new, additional abuse rather than to go for an intellectually clean break?  Could it be that we all carry in ourselves some memory of by now well stacked-away experiences of maltreatment which not just resonate with POTUS 45’s  own ailments but which has us equally harbor some secret hope that by acquiescing to Trump’s intimidation/supplication-spell we could somehow set ourselves free from the dark forces and goddesses that keep ruminating in our soul? –  Or, is it that the psychological desolation in post-Gallia Belgica, post-Gallia Celtica and post-Germania Inferior is so much different from that of post-Irak-/post-Afghanistan-/post-Wikileaks-/post-9/11-US?

Obviously we cannot make this determination on our own. What is clear though is that the respect for the people’s vote-argument which some ex-administration officials tend to infer in order to justify their half-baked silence over the Trump abuse is not covered by the Federalist Papers’ tyranny-of-the-masses concern. So, additional soul-searching is clearly needed here to safeguard the Land of the Free from future self-centered rulers who, like Erdogan, Putin, Trump and other nation-state promoters and champions take pride in their notoriously short fuse.

Perhaps we can help you in this investigation by reminding you that Mr. Proust was not the only one to diagnose a serious and widespread moral vulnerability in the post-Napoleon era. Here is how Alfred de Musset puts it in Chapter 2 of his 1836 Confessions of a Child of the Century. We’ll leave you with this and hope that
you can find some support and comfort in this.

During the wars of the Empire, while husbands and brothers were in Germany, anxious mothers gave birth to an ardent,
pale, and neurotic generation. Conceived between battles, reared amid the noises of war, thousands of children looked about them with dull eyes while testing their limp muscles. From time to time their blood-stained fathers would appear, raise them to their gold-laced bosoms, then place them on the ground and remount their horses.
Never had there been so many sleepless nights as in the time of that man; never had there been seen, hanging over the ramparts of the cities, such a nation of desolate mothers; never was there such a silence about those who spoke of death.


This entry was posted in Democracy, International Relations, Poetry, Politics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.