09 September 2011

From Sartre's 'Kean': Epigraph 1.3 - Seeing Someone, or Not

As a follow-up to yesterday's post about The Collector, let's talk some more about the amorous observer's inability to see.

Jean-Paul Sartre's Kean (a very free adaptation, first staged in 1953, of an 1836 play by Dumas père) is best known as a bravura star vehicle for actors as different as Anthony Hopkins and Jean-Paul Belmondo. It turns the great Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean (1789-1833) into a specimen of existentialist bad faith: even 'actor', 'man', 'lover' are for Sartre's Kean just so many roles in his repertoire. As the play continues, he will be called upon to step aside and yield Elena, the woman he loves (or 'loves'), to the advances of the Prince of Wales--in exchange for money to pay off his creditors. In an earlier scene (II, 2, 1), however, he explains why he must use his time before she joins him in his dressing room, to think about Elena:
'It's only when I'm alone that I can meditate on the charm of the woman I love.... When she's with me, I won't have a moment to see her: I'll be too busy watching her.'
Watching her, noting her responses, trying to catch her out, stealing glances at her, spying on her--but not for a moment seeing her....

The first section of my novel A Kiss Before You Leave Me (the section introduced by the epigraph from Kean) is entitled 'Seeing Someone'. It extends from the first gleam in a matchmaker's eye (roughly speaking) to the culmination of the first date of the pair she's brought together. The reader's attention by this time is not on the matchmaker at all, and not primarily on the new pair (Miranda and Jack), but on an observer who's secretly followed them back to Miranda's place, lingered outside in the dark--watching, spying and all the rest--and who sees, or believes he can see, even in the darkness, through walls, then from blocks away. The section ends:
A part of [him] recoils, but he cannot look away, he stares, through the blackness, the streets, the walls that separate them, that close him in and out but cannot save the three of them from this: he sees.
Or not. The watcher in the shadows can imagine well enough what the other two are doing--can't 'avert his gaze', can't stop imagining, can't not 'know', can't escape that knowledge--but these are all negations relating to a figure who is herself absent. His view of the 'real' Miranda may be even more compromised than Kean's of the 'present' Elena....

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