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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Reading Bel Ami Through Symbolic Exchange Not Psychology

Rob Pattinson is on record as denouncing the character of George Duroy. Passing judgement on him. His girlfans say this is not a good character for their Rob to play. He will alienate some of his fan base. Duroy is this terrible person who sleeps his way through women to climb the social ladder. Actually, he is caught in the Foucauldian grid of power/knowledge/capital of his time.

And robfans just denounce him as being an awful person who takes advantage of women. Really? Like these women are not complicit? That they are not seducing him back? Like they are victims of this rake? Is not he as much seduced as they? To regard his women as helpless victims is to hold them in contempt; to think like this is to hold women in contempt.

What was he supposed to do instead in order to be a good person?

What he had was a particular kind of perceptual intelligence. Not the kind that is part of normality, part of educational advancement. He felt what people were feeling and thinking. He was aware that this "friend" Forestier was not a friend, just a simple acquaintance who decided to help him on a whim, thinking Duroy might be of use to him. Duroy felt the affront but did not expect him to be any different from what he was. Duroy constantly is perceiving his environment and trying to be what is expected of him. He is the son of peasants and has no social graces except what he copies. He was entranced by Madame Forestier, seduced by her. Seduction does not necessarily imply sex. And his manner pleased her.

Madame de Marelle came after him, Madeleine and he arranged their marriage and he was charmed by her but wounded. Madame Walter is entranced with him and so is her daughter. Duroy is handsome, charming, and seeks to please all around him. He knows he has certain advantages but also knows what he does not know. Only toward the end does he begin to will, to produce the results that he wants.

This is a man who lives within the Symbolic Order of Seduction. What is the point of analyzing him psychologically. He is a small squirming insect in a thick web of the world with only a limited amount of wiggle room. When Destiny beckons, he follows.

No I cannot see any reason to castigate him. To heap abuse on his character. Within his world I find him admirable. And de Maupassant is amazing, far better than I had previously thought him to be.

Following Baudrillard in the instructions given to him for his journalism:
Things should be hinted at in such a manner as to allow of any construction being placed on them, refuted in a manner that confirms the rumor, or affirmed in such a way that no one believes them. (BA 120 1910 ed)

The above is the perfect description of the use of signs as masks, neither confirming nor denying but ambiguous enough to be seen either way. And this is how Bel Ami's George Duroy conducts himself socially. The social sphere he inhabits conducts itself according to signs that simulate and dissimulate and Duroy has to learn how to read them. He has to stop blushing, stop insisting on outmoded trinkets of behavior, and allow the world to think him. Given his skills, his background, his acquaintances, his allies, he chooses within a labyrinth of deception and blind alleys and learns how to survive and then to prosper.

free download Bel Ami
Is it worse that Susan marries him than a seventy-two year old title? How do we know he won't love her, be affectionate with her, treat her kindly, cheat on her, but is she not better off with him? Why is he so bad for doing this?

Resonates with Updike's Gertrude and Claudius, the backstory of Hamlet.
Gertrude and Claudius