August 9 misattribution of arousal

Proust writes a lot about what psychologists have termed the ‘misattribution of arousal’. The way in which you think you are aroused or excited by someone when, in fact, it is the context or a peripheral detail in the meeting that excites you but you pin the arousal onto the person. Note: if you are stuck in a lift with a glamorous stranger for three hours it might be the lift you are falling in love with and not the stranger. So in Proust’s novel Marcel the narrator is often fascinated by material marginalia that surround Albertine (her hat or her golf club or the mystery that is where she keeps popping up from). Marcel is like an anthropologist analysing the cultural material around her. He is particularly struck by her obsessive use of the word ‘parfaitement’. I myself remember thrilling to a prospective mate’s use of the word ‘absolument’. There must be an erotic perfume that comes off a French adverb somehow.

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