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Constant’s Seductive Education, or Adolphe’s Astonishment (with translations)

[Update: I have taken the liberty of translating, by my own limited and critically biased means, the French citations of Constant in this essay. I hope that this makes for a more enjoyable and comprehensible experience! :)].

Benjamin Constant’s Adolphe presents the reader with the guiding inspiration behind its genesis, which is that what is at stake here is a narrative that would feature only two main characters. In his preface to the third edition of the novel, Constant himself broaches this idea in relation to his attempt to thwart the counterfeit versions of his novel by writing that the work concerns “la possibilité de donner une sorte d’intérêt à un roman dont les personnages se réduisaient à deux, et dont la situation serait toujours la meme” [the possibility of giving a sort of interest to a novel that would be reduced to two characters and whose situation would always be the same] (32). If we take this claim seriously, it is a question of what emphasis is to be given to the notion of “sameness” in the situation of the novel. According to the third preface, what seems to be the “same” in the narrative is also coincidentally indicated by how often Constant himself is approached by his readers with testaments of how they identify with the narrator and titular character Adolphe: “ce qui me ferait croire au moins à un certain mérite de vérité, c’est que presque tous ceux de mes lecteurs que j’ai rencontrés m’ont parlé d’eux-mêmes comme ayant été dans la position de mon héros” [what made me believe at least in a certain merit of truth {for Adolphe} is that almost all of my readers whom I've encountered have spoken about themselves to me as having been in my protagonist's position] (33). Furthermore, at this point one should also ask: which situation is the same, which situation is the model for the sameness of the text, and to which two personages is the narrative reduced? In other words, what is the general situation of the novel that leads to such a universal identification on behalf of its readers? Although in a first reading of the novel the answer appears to be quite obvious that the two characters in question are Adolphe and Ellénore, perhaps “le moule universel” [the universal mold] of these two personages is more abstract and not necessarily easy to identify with proper names.  In order to shed more light on this subject, we will investigate what it means for the reader or anyone to claim to be—or more specifically and crucially “to have been”—in the position of Constant’s “protagonist”.  The guiding thread for this reevaluation of Constant’s famous claims in his third preface will be the extent to which the generalized theory of seduction regarding the “allogenetic” conception of the unconscious put forth by Jean Laplanche in his reading of and with Freud can be put to good use in rereading and resituating the orientation of Adolphe’s narrative thrust.

Before turning to Laplanche and Freud, it is important to approach the question of seduction immanent to the text of Adolphe itself. While the word ‘seduction’ does not appear in the text itself, its other etymological forms deserve specific attention. Throughout the body of the narrative, these instances seem generally figured in their most basic and common denotation. However, these progressive references to ‘seducer’ and ‘seduce’ take on divergent meanings that from the start problematize their retrained uses. The first reference in chapter two appears before Adolphe has effectively approached Ellénore with his feelings for her. Adolphe, after having been inspired by one of his acquaintances to pursue an amorous relationship, first encounters her when he attends a small gathering that she has convened at her home. As he points out, his first encounter is full of confusion. He is moved by her “charm” and yet is completely inexperienced in the arts of love, which is why he conceives of his position as the negotiation between conquest and honor, timidity and bravado: “Elle m’occupait sans cesse : je formais mille projets ; j’inventais mille moyens de conquête, avec cette fatuité sans expérience qui se croit sûre du succès parce qu’elle n’a rien essayé” [She incessantly preoccupied me: I formed a thousand projects; I invented a thousand means of conquest, with this inexperienced complacency that is confident of success because it has never tried anything] (50). This ambiguity of timidity and vanity is relayed through the opposition between presence and absence (and speech and writing), something that he admits he inherits from his father. The combination of inexperience and ambiguity makes the first reference to seduction quite humorous, insofar as Adolphe is at this point in the novel apparently sexually innocent. Thus it is ironic that he sets up a preemptive discussion of seduction in order to exclude himself from the judgmental gazes of those who might be peering into his interiority, i.e. his readers. His paranoia will lead him to qualify and immediately disqualify himself as a potential seducer of Ellénore:

            Quiconque aurait lu dans mon cœur, en son absence, m’aurait pris pour un séducteur froid et peu sensible ; quiconque m’eût aperçu à ses côtés eût cru reconnaître en moi un amant novice, interdit et passionné. L’on se serait également trompé dans ces deux jugements : il n’y à point d’unité complète dans l’homme, et presque jamais personne n’est tout à fait sincère ni tout à fait de mauvaise foi (51). [Whoever would have read in my heart, in her absence, would have taken me for a cold and obdurate seducer; whoever would have witnessed me by her side would have believed to recognize in me an amateur, interdicted {cf. his speaking problem} and passionate lover. One would be equally wrong in both of these judgments: there is no complete unity in man, and there is almost never anyone who is fully sincere or fully in bad faith].

Neither amateur lover nor cold seducer, Adolphe vacillates between the two and can identify with neither position. Instead, his position is that of a confused mixture—a key word in the text—of the two. In fact, Adolphe can do nothing but simulate these two positions that will be taken up in his first ‘love’ letter to Ellénore. Here it is the unstable mixture that takes priority, where seducer and seduced cannot so readily be distinguished.

The next instance of Adolphe addressing the placed or misplaced epithet of being a “seducer” occurs in chapter five. After having successfully and sexually involved himself with Ellénore, Adolphe begins to try to find a way to break the bond that merely arose as an infatuation with an idea. This idea was animated by the thrill of the chase or the idea of Ellénore as object and goal. Since her status as beloved shifts from a goal to be conquered to that of a bond to be broken or suffered through, Adolphe is at a loss to extricate himself from the situation. He has been so successful with his ‘seduction’ that in fact he has perhaps gotten more than he bargained for or exactly what he wished for. Ellénore has chosen to leave her children and her “protector” M. de P*** to be with Adolphe alone. This gives Adolphe the chance to take the time to reveal that he in fact has begun to be in a position where he can more correctly be identified with the position of seducer: “On vit dans ma conduite celle d’un séducteur, d’un ingrat qui avait violé l’hospitalité, et sacrifié, pour contenter une fantaisie momentanée, le repos de deux personnes, dont il aurait dû respecter l’une et ménager l’autre” [One sees in my conduct that of a seducer, of an ingrate who had violated hospitality, and sacrificed, just to commit a momentary fantasy, the tranquility of two people, of whom he should have respected the one, and been prudent with the other (74). At this point, Adolphe is less concerned about how others may be reading his intentions and is now dealing with the opinions of his friends and those among him in his society. His conduct has violated the hospitality and repose of the home of M. de P*** and Ellénore because of a fleeting “fantasy”. Now that this fantasy has been acted upon, it is less a question, whether in bad faith or not, of him identifying with the role of seducer and more a question of how his actions are beginning to be received by the wider public. His inner heart has been revealed in the externality of his actions and inactions.

The last usage of the word appears in chapter eight, and its context has dramatically shifted in relation to the first two instances. Rather than continuing to confront or evade the charges of being a cold seducer, the condemnation is placed elsewhere. In fact, the displacement will be to indicate how Ellénore herself participates in the coldness and cruelty of seduction. However, her seduction has nothing to do with their relationship directly but involves the so-called courting of her hand by other men. Having been “unbound” from her family and M. de P*** for three chapters of an amorous rollercoaster and having put up with Adolphe’s oscillation for so long, Ellénore is openly criticized by Adolphe for resorting to the means of jealousy to “réchauffe” [reignite] his cold heart. Seeming to change her “character” for the first time and out of the blue, what Adolphe actually witnesses is that she has begun to learn from him the balancing act of dissimulation that involves falling in and out of amorous sentiments:

            Elle encourageait les sentiments et même les espérances d’une foule de jeunes gens, dont les uns étaient séduits par sa figure, et dont quelques autres, malgré ses erreurs passées, aspiraient sérieusement à sa main ; elle leur accordait de longs tête-à-tête ; elle avait avec eux ces formes douteuses, mais attrayantes, qui ne repoussent mollement que pour retenir, parce qu’elles annoncent plutôt l’indécision que l’indifférence, et des retards que des refus (109). [She encouraged the sentiments and the very hopes of a crowd of young men, some of whom were seduced by her figure, and several others of whom, despite her past errors {wanderings from Poland to France--cf. being left desolate by her husband}, seriously aspired to marry her; she granted them long tête-à-têtes {interviews--literally face-to-face encounters}; she had with them these doubtful forms, but attractive, which only pushed back softly so as to retain, for they expressed indecision rather than indifference, and delays rather than refusals].

In Adolphe’s eyes, the seduced has now become the seductress taking a page from his own amorous playbook. Here the tables have turned as she taps into her own charm, but her efforts of seduction are merely a pretext to seduce Adolphe through his own jealousy. Not yet willing to give up the vicissitudes of his love, Adolphe can only indicate that this change in affairs complicates the situation. Furthermore, the narrator displaces the activity of seduction with the usage of a passive grammatical construction. Her figure is not what seduces but that by which the crowd of youths are seduced. Thus it is a question of what is taking place when Ellénore encourages their feelings and hopes. With this type of displacement of activity, Constant seems to leave open the question of what exactly lies at the basis of seduction or its simulation and dissimulation.

At this point it would be fruitful to turn to Jean Laplanche’s generalized theory of seduction concerning the genesis of the unconscious. In his return to and revision of Freud’s early seduction theory, Laplance extends and generalizes what Freud came to see as hopeless and necessary to abandon. In his Essays on Otherness collected for English translation, Laplanche approaches this return through the figure of the Copernican revolution. His essay “The Unfinished Copernican Revolution” opens this volume by reevaluating the centrality of the individual’s own memories or psychic processes in relation to the genesis of the unconscious. Arguing that Freud’s theory of repression began to question the centrality of the unconscious, Laplanche takes his seduction theory back up in order to trek a path that would definitively theorize how the center lies elsewhere: “We have reached the point which I consider is the essence of the Copernican revolution begun by Freud; the decentering, in reality, is double: the other thing (das Andere) that is the unconscious is only maintained in its radical alterity by the other person (der Andere): in brief, by seduction” (71). As he makes clear, Laplanche emphasizes that it is the child in relation to the adult other—usually a caretaker—who is “seduced” insofar as it is the adult who implants the child with “enigmatic messages” that will become the basis of the latter’s unconscious. This approach avoids two quandaries: these messages can be verbal and non-verbal, and the ambiguous status of language as the so-called structure of the unconscious is supplanted by an outlook that does not “efface the alterity of the other in favour of trans-individual structures” (73). This vantage point of enigmatic messages posits a renewed conceptualization of what Freud called the “primal data offered to the infant”, that is, “that part of its experience which it has to master straight away, to order, to ‘translate’, so as to assimilate it to its own system”. This ability or inability of the child to assimilate or translate the enigmatic messages of adult sexuality will be crucial for highlighting the latent theorization of seduction in Adolphe and for showing how Constant’s novel undertakes the effort to dramatize the sexual education, so to speak, that every generation must encounter.

It is not surprising to note that the examples of “seduction” that we have examined above do not yet constitute the basis upon which Adolphe can be said to engage seduction theory proper in its generalized form. On the other hand, the first and most theoretically charged reference to suggestion in fact occurs in the preface to the second edition in what could be called a meta-textual reflection on the broader themes of the narrative. Although this preface could perhaps be considered extraneous to the novel itself, the concerns addressed there are the most resonant with Laplanche’s general theory and should be emphasized as pertaining to the text’s main narrative. Bemoaning the situation that each generation must confront by engaging the principals of its forerunners, Constant writes:

            Une doctrine de fatuité, tradition funeste, que lègue à la vanité de la génération qui s’élève la corruption de la génération qui a vieilli, une ironie devenue triviale, mais qui séduit l’esprit par des rédactions piquantes, comme si les rédactions changeaient le fond des choses, tout ce qu’ils entendent, en un mot ; et tout ce qu’ils disent, semble les armer contre les larmes qui ne coulent pas encore. Mais lorsque ces larmes coulent, la nature revient en eux, malgré l’atmosphère factice dont ils s’étaient environnés (30). [A doctrine of complacency, deathly tradition, which bequeaths to the vanity of the generation coming-of-age the corruption of the generation that has grown older, an irony become trivial, but which seduces the mind by acrid redactions, as if the redactions changed the bottom of things, everything that they understand/hear, in a word; and everything that they say seems to arm them against the tears which do not yet flow. But when these tears flow, nature comes back to them, despite the factitious atmosphere by which they were surrounded].

Here the word seduction appears in the form of a verb and takes on its emphasis in relation to words that are etymologically related to it. Seduction in this context is closely tied to the notion of “education” and “traduction”—a leading away and through. Consequently, that from which and through which one is lead is the state of infancy, childhood or youth towards adulthood or “la génération qui a vieilli” [the generation that has grown older]. Nevertheless, this transition is marked by a vanity that inherits the “corruption” of the preceding generation that can only be worked on by a “trivial irony” which pretends its redactions or translations can change the foundation/depth of everything that is “heard” or “understood”. And yet the irony towards this inheritance is both a mechanism through which the new generation attempts to work through this corruption and a mechanism of defense against the threat of transmitting this corruption in the economy of pain and “tears”. This irony, this attempt to translate that ultimately results in misfiring, is the principle of seduction that will be the guiding thread of Constant’s narrative insofar as it points to a leading astray, veering or breakaway that presents the conditions of possibility for the unconscious in its attempt to work through whatever contamination is issued through this corruption. The figure for this breakdown will be none other than the coup de foudre of astonishment itself, the tonnerre of a thunderstruck childhood.

Of course, it must be quickly pointed out that Adolphe’s childhood is not directly represented in the narrative. In the novel, we do not encounter the primal scene of the genesis of Adolphe’s unconscious, but we are given some indications about a potential return of the repressed. In the first chapter, after Adolphe has detailed his emotionally confused relationship with his father, we are almost immediately presented with the aftermath or afterwardsness of the psychic event that will shock his libidinal economy and render him indifferent:

            Je portais au fond de mon cœur un besoin de sensibilité dont je ne m’apercevais pas, mais qui, ne trouvant point à se satisfaire, me détachait successivement de tous les objets qui tour à tour attiraient ma curiosité. Cette indifférence sur tout s’était encore fortifiée par l’idée de la mort, idée qui m’avait frappé très-jeune, et sur laquelle je n’ai jamais conçu que les hommes s’étourdissent si facilement. J’avais, à l’âge de dix-sept ans, vu mourir une femme âgée, dont l’esprit, d’une tournure remarquable et bizarre, avait commencé à développer le mien (40, emphasis added). [I bore at the bottom of my heart a need for sensibility which I did not see in myself, but which, since it found that it was not being satisfied, successively detached me from all the objects that attracted my curiosity one after the other. This indifference about everything was still being strengthened by the idea of death, an idea that struck me at a very young age, and about which I have never conceived that men are so easily stupified. I had at the age of six seen an old woman die, whose mind {esprit: read 'unconscious' if you will}, due to a remarkable and bizarre turn of events, had begun to develop mine own].

Here Adolphe reveals, somewhat before the action of the narrative, that he has been shocked by the idea of death at an early age. As he shows, he is only somewhat casting light on his early youth by pointing to an isolated instance of encountering the death of an older woman at the age of seventeen. More importantly, Adolphe presages generalized seduction theory by pointing out that this woman—unnamed within the novel—had already begun to developing his own mind. This is therefore not the primal scene but its return. This thread of seduced youth will be continued throughout the novel and will constitute one of the knots that are constantly bound and unbound.

The work of translating these enigmatic messages of seduction already by the end of chapter one will constitute a difficulty for Adolphe. Yet the way in which he engages this question is displaced from a personal narrative onto an impersonal subject. Influenced by “la femme” who first developed his mind, Adolphe is averse to maxims and dogmatic formula by a sort of “instinct” (42). This will make it difficult for him to “accustom himself to the human species” and keep himself out of the bad graces of his society. The enigma for Adolphe is the apparent hypocrisy and affectedness that seems to surround him: “L’étonnement de la première jeunesse, à l’aspect d’une société si factice et si travaillée, annonce plutôt un cœur naturel qu’un esprit méchant” [The astonishment of earliest childhood, to the aspect of a society so belabored and factitious, announces a natural heart rather than a bad mind] (43). The temporality of adjusting to society is proportional to the work of translating the codes and messages that each generation has to encounter. As we shall see, the astonishment will be repeated and refigured throughout the text and will continue to haunt the youth and childhood of Adolphe’s world.

In chapter two, Adolphe returns to consider what he has inherited from his father’s influence. He describes that through the inculcation of a certain maxim he has “adopté sur les femmes un système assez immoral” [adopted concerning women quite an immoral system] (45). Outside of considering marriage, women are to be enjoyed only temporarily and then left behind. This maxim, which is actually a parody of a “mot connu” [well known phrase], is at first shocking for Adolphe. He recounts this shock in relation to the astonishment that all youth must pass through:

            L’on ne sait pas assez combien, dans la première jeunesse, les mots de cette espèce font une impression profonde, et combien à un âge où toutes les opinions sont encore douteuses et vacillantes, les enfants s’étonnent de voir contredire, par des plaisanteries   que tout le monde applaudit, les règles directes qu’on leur a données. Ces règles ne sont plus à leurs yeux que des formules banales que leurs parents sont convenus de leur répéter pour l’acquit de leur conscience, et les plaisanteries leur semblent renfermer le        véritable secret de la vie (45, emphasis added). [One does not know just how much, in earliest youth, the words of this type make a deep impression, and just how much, at an age where all opinions are still doubtful and vacillating, everybody follows the direct rules that have been given to them. These rules are no more to their eyes than quotidian formulas that their parents are accustomed to repeat to them to clear their conscience, and the pleasantries seem to hold the veritable secret of life].

Here Adolphe strictly formalizes and generalizes what is at stake in the interpretation and translation of the enigmatic messages of adulthood. It should also be noted that this confusion bears directly on Adolphe’s own unconscious formation, because the passage above is a reflection on the immoral status of his father’s maxim of enjoyment or his ‘pleasure principle’. It is the repetition of these “pleasantries” that will provide the foundation of what must be worked through and yet also what can never be left behind, forming a bond that will foreshadow the amorous drama with Ellénore.

It is important to note that Adolphe chooses to relay his thoughts through the impersonal subject of “youth”, “childhood” or “infancy” because this is the position in which he finds himself early in the novel in relation to Ellénore. After working himself up to write his love letter to her, Adolphe finds out that he has been rejected and that she has left the area suddenly. After being told by her partner M. de P*** that she will return soon, Adolphe regains his composure by admitting that he is “embarrassé, humilié, de rencontrer une femme qui m’avait traité comme un enfant” [embarrassed, humiliated, to encounter a woman who had treated me as a child] (53). Although this could be simply explained away by their difference in age, what is more surprising is that M. de P*** seems to participate in this with an ironic turn of phrase. When Ellénore finally returns from her trip, Adolphe is brought to her by M. de P*** and presented in such a way that seems to infantilize him by emphasizing his astonishment. He says to her: “Je vous présente, lui dit-il en riant, l’un des hommes que votre départ inattendu a le plus étonnés” (54)[I present to you, he said to her while laughing, one of the men whom your unexpected departure has astonished the most]. Just like the astonishment that strikes youth with a certain silence, Adolphe is reduced to a position that leaves him speechless. Yet immediately this status can be applied to Ellénore herself: “Lorsqu’elle me vit, ses paroles s’arrêtèrent sur ses lèvres ; elle demeura tout interdite : je l’étais beaucoup moi-même” [When she sees me, her words halted on her lips; she remained completely interdicted: I was much more myself]. Brought back to infans or speechlessness, he and she both are at a loss for words, indicating that what takes place in adult sexuality is the functionality of the kernel of sexuality of the child in both of them. However, the climax of seduction  in the form of genital sexuality does not occur until the end of chapter three between these two, so at this point not everything has been ruined and completely derailed yet even if the train wreck is already imminent

. Although they are never named, Ellénore’s children play a key role by giving a concrete form to the younger generation that Adolphe himself will influence later on. Adolphe first informs the reader of her children before they have effectively met. She is more or less depicted as an austere mother who transfers her anxiety to her children through the medium of an over-excited attachment:

.           On eût dit quelquefois qu’une révolte secrète se mêlait à l’attachement plutôt passionné que tendre qu’elle leur montrait, et les lui rendait en quelque sorte importuns. Lorsqu’on lui faisait à bonne intention quelque remarque sur ce que ses enfants grandissaient, sur les talents qu’ils promettaient d’avoir, sur la carrière qu’ils auraient à suivre, on la voyait pâlir de l’idée qu’il faudrait qu’un jour elle leur avouât leur naissance. Mais le moindre danger, une heure d’absence, la ramenait à eux avec une anxiété où l’on démêlait une espèce de remords, et le désir de leur donner par ses caresses le bonheur qu’elle n’y trouvait pas elle-même (46). [Occasionally people had talked about a secret revolt mixed with passionate, rather than tender, attachment that she showed the children and made them sort of troublesome to her. When, with good intentions, some remark was made to her about her children growing up, on the talents that they promised to have, on the career that they would have to follow, one saw her pale at the idea that one day she would have to confess their birth{right} to them. But the least danger, an hour of absence, returned her to them with an anxiety in which a type of remorse could be revealed, and the desire to give them by her caresses the happiness that she did not herself find in them.]

While Adolphe’s description is meant to paint a picture of Ellénore herself in her awkward position in society, it should be pointed out that her caresses are sexual charged enigmatic messages that carry the first seeds that will take root in her children’s unconscious. In other words, even though we do not get a glimpse at Adolphe’s primal scene, here we are shown the residues of that of Ellénore’s children.

The aftermath of this setup will take place in chapter four. After successfully “being given” Ellénore fully, Adolphe will take advantage of a situation in which M. de P*** has to leave to take care of certain “affairs” that are pressing. This leaves him six weeks to spend with Ellénore without an adult third party to intervene in their romance. And yet her children are still there when he visits her every night. As he points out, he is fearful of unduly influencing her children or leading them astray: “Ma présence continuelle devait étonner ses gens, ses enfants, qui pouvaient m’observer” (66) [My continual presence had to astonish these people, these children, who could observe me]. This does not stop him from continuing their rendezvous, however. Everything seems to be idyllic until one night Adolphe returns to the house to find that M. de P*** has come home. If this scene is not a primal scene for the children, then it is a scene nonetheless:

“Elle était assise sur un sofa ; le comte de P*** était près de la cheminée, et assez loin d’elle ; les deux enfants étaient au fond de la chambre, ne jouant pas, et portant sur leurs visages cet étonnement de l’enfance lorsqu’elle remarque une agitation dont elle ne soupçonne pas la cause” (69). [She was sitting on a sofa; the count of P was near the chimney, and quite far away from her; the two children were at the end of the room, not playing, and bearing on their faces this astonishment of childhood when it notes an agitation whose cause it does not suspect].

Ellénore’s children are stunned because they have become confused by adult sexuality. Having become familiar with Adolphe for the past six weeks, M. de P*** returns and throws the amorous affair into a silent chaos. Moreover, this scene is not something that can be so easily understood from the vantage point of childhood sexuality, and the enigma to be translated for her children can already be read from their faces. Although they cannot divine the cause behind this scenario, they are definitely struck by a scene and moved by an excitability or affect that will for the moment leave them speechless and suspend their “play”.

There is another instance in which Adolphe’s seductive relationship with Ellénore makes an impression on the younger generation. In chapter five, after M. de P*** has fully learned the extent of their affair, public opinion shifts strongly against Adolphe. He notes how his friends either express their disapproval of his cuckolding seduction or make nothing but crude jokes at his expense. On the other hand, another portion of society finds his actions to be applauded:

Les jeunes gens, au contraire, se montrèrent enchantés de l’adresse avec laquelle j’avais supplanté le comte ; et, par mille plaisanteries que je voulais en vain réprimer, ils me félicitèrent de ma conquête et me promirent de m’imiter (74). [The young fellows, on the contrary, were shown to be enchanted by the skill with which I had supplanted the count; and, by a thousand pleasantries that I wanted to stifle in vain, they celebrated my conquest and promised to imitate me.]

There is an irony that Adolphe becomes a model for a future generation, because his relationship with Ellénore was in effect “inspired” by a friend’s own attempts at love. Thus the young men are imitating Adolphe in his own imitation and dissimulation. On the other hand, what is also perhaps troubling for Adolphe is that his narrative does not astonish these young men but seduces them—literally “enchants” them. The astonishment that he has inherited and attempted to translate has been unconsciously transferred and transmitted to a wide variety of youths, from Ellénore’s children to the young men that now want to emulate him.

We are now in a position to reappraise the dramatic center of the text and to put pressure on the status of the two principle “personages”. Instead of the concrete persons of Adolphe and Ellénore, we have the abstract molar personages of youth and adulthood. The situation that is always the same is the general seduction of the youth by the older generation. Adolphe begins the narrative by depicting his own ambivalent and confused relation with the enigma of adult messages, and he is forced in this farcical rendition to do nothing but repeat the history of his youth. Thus the question of inheritance is dramatized through the libidinal economy of seduction in the allogenetic formation of the unconscious. What remains to be explored is the role of masochism, sadism, narcissism and autoerotism in relation to presence and absence, speech and writing, and the Ahnlenung, étayage or leaning-on of the sexual drive on the drive of self-preservation. This sort of research would provide further evidence in Adolphe for the capacities of generalized seduction theory to shed new light on the narrative of Adolphe that goes beyond the foreground of the supposed two main characters.

Works Cited

Constant, Benjamin. Adolphe. Paris: Gallimard, 2005.

Laplanche, Jean. Essays on Otherness. London: Routledge, 1999.

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One thought on “Constant’s Seductive Education, or Adolphe’s Astonishment (with translations)

  1. I read *Adolphe* some 25 years ago now. Reading about it now feels very much like a blast from the past… Interesting how certain themes remain constant (pun intended) over time!

    I love the title of the Laplanche book: *Essays” on Otherness*.

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