Friday, March 09, 2012


In Arthur Phillips's smart, funny, touching The Tragedy of Arthur, a book that cleverly delights in ambiguity, playing with the distinctions between fiction and memoir, real and fake, the protagonist--successful novelist Arthur Phillips--writes,
[T]he evaporation of jealousy is as pleasurable an emotion as any I know; it is a release as profound and shuddering as any physical sensation. It is the erasure of fear, the removal of worry, the shimmering tingle once danger--for which your body has tensed--is past. It is not the arrival of permanent courage or trust; jealousy is tidal, and it flows and ebbs forever; and acceptance that it will return is part of the pleasure while it recedes. There is no happy ending, but nor is there eternal pain. Something is still going to happen, so the timing of the dropping of a curtain is largely arbitrary.
Even though my nature tends not to jealousy--I'm much more made of blood and phlegm than black or yellow bile--I recognize what Phillips describes: the rinse of relief that accompanies a certainty, however temporary that you were worrying over nothing.

The arch-anatomist of jealousy, of course, is Proust, but I don't immediately call to mind any passages where he describes the pleasure of its assuaging so clearly. I haven't had much time to investigate today, so I certainly would welcome additional citations, but this passage from Swann's Way, describing one of the many tidal movements of Swann's jealousy over Odette, does at least edge up to the same territory:
And if--instead of letting her go off on bad terms with him, without having seen him again--he were to send her this money, if he were to encourage her to undertake this journey and go out of his way to make it agreeable for her, she would come running to him, happy and grateful, he would have the joy of seeing her which he had not known for a week and which nothing else could replace. For once Swann could picture her to himself without revulsion, could see once again the friendliness in her smile, once the desire to tear her away from every rival was no longer imposed by his jealousy upon his love, that love became, once again, more than anything a taste for the sensations which Odette's person gave him, for the pleasure he took in admiring as a spectacle, or examining as a phenomenon, the dawn of one of her glances, the formation of one of her smiles, the emission of a particular vocal cadence.
With jealousy out of the way for the moment, Swann can see Odette again, remember why he cares in the first place--and start the cycle over again.

I suspect that Phillips--or at least the "Phillips" within the book--would probably also agree with this thought of Marcel (or "Marcel"), from elsewhere in Swann's Way:
For what we suppose to be our love or our jealousy is never a single, continuous and indivisible passion.It is composed of an infinity of successive loves, of different jealousies, each one of which is ephemeral, though by their uninterrupted multiplicity they give us the impression of continuity, the illusion of unity.
Our self is but a unity achieved by main force applied to successive states of perpetual change, our passions the same, and both are deployed without quarter--self on the passions, passions on the self--as needed to keep the whole in line.

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