Proust’s idea of love–comment for Les Grands Nerveux blog. January 17, 2011Proust’s experience of sexual or passionate love, as I read him, is very limited, and is mainly what later Abraham Maslow would call "deficiency love." It is all about the person doing the loving, not about the object of the love. The emphasis is on needing, possessing, and there is often obsession. The one loving can’t let go of this pursuit, this desperate need.
In Maslow’s "being love" which mature love comes to (sometimes beginning as deficiency love or a mixture of the two), the beloved is the focus of the lover, both in sexual and other forms of love, paternal, friend, etc. One is awed by how beautiful this person is, how unique. Then, even that person’s flaws are amazing, and one never tires of him/her, because he/she is endlessly fascinating.
In the section George refers to, in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower [Grieve translation], Proust says, in so many words, probably from an analysis of his experience much later, that "My desire for her [Albertine] was desire for her whole life." He keeps stressing that her seeming to be unattainable was the beginning of his feeling of wanting to possess and know her (understand what lay behind her eyes). He goes on to say that "a pleasure divested of imagination is a pleasure reduced to itself, to nothing...imagination replaces sensual pleasure with the idea of penetrating someone’s life, makes sure we neither recognized that pleasure, experience its true flavor, nor restrict it to its dimensions of mere pleasure." (Pp. 367-77)
When he could have met her in company with Elstir on the beach and stopped to look in the antique shop instead, and then misses his chance: "she becomes infinitely precious."
"The woman plays a small part when our love is huge..." What he knows of Albertine is only an outline, but he has had an extended interior conversation about her. (Pp. 436-38). Because his imagination has built up the whole picture, his emotions are all tied to that, not to the actual girl, and her being still inaccessible keeps his imagination and those pleasurable feelings related to it, strong, in fact, missing her, makes them stronger.
It isn’t so much the contrast between his love for the girl and his focus on meeting her, as between the love he feels built up in his imagination and the actual girl. He needs the imagination stimulated in order to keep loving her with this kind of love. Judy Hogan