Attraverso la fotografia – Ian mcewan Il Comfort degli Estranei

The conspiracy in The Comfort of Strangers- Ian McEwan

References to photography are infrequent in McEwan’s work, and therefore it becomes all the more interesting to study the distinction that can be made among the photos, from one work to another. To approach The Comfort of Strangers, it should be noted that a curious first parallel occures between a passage of this novel and another one, from The Cement Garden. Toward the middle of this last story, Jack and his sister Julie go to the room where the dead mother lies, as they planned to take the body to the cellar to bury in a trunk filled with concrete. The day has just come up and the light that shines upon the room transfigures the scene:

[Julie] was about to turn on the light, and then changed her mind. The greyish-blue light gave everything in the room a fiat, two-dimensional appearance. We seemed to be stepping into an old photograph of Mother’s bedroom.

 

In The Comfort of Strangers, Mary, who was drugged, discovers numerous photos of her friend Colin on the walls of Caroline’s and Robert’s apartment, the Italian-Canadian couple they met during their stay in a town with no name which looks very much like Venice though. Caroline explains, Mary finally realizes the danger for her friend, the impression that has produced on their arrival: ‘Then Robert brought you home. It was as if God was in on our plan. I came into the bedroom. I never concealed that from you. I knew then that fantasy was passing into reality. Have you ever experienced that? It’s like stepping into a mirror.’

Every time photography is associated with the idea of ​​crossing a threshold identified in the second quote to a mirror. In fact, if we consider this crossing in relation to the plot of each novel, it is more logical to speak of transgression – or more precisely of perversion. In the Cernent Garden, once the teenagers have been stepping into the picture, it looks like the last taboos remaining will not hold after the father’s death – that is his murder according to Jack, the narrator: “I did not kill my father, but I sometimes feel like I had helped him on his way’. After analysis, the sexual act between the brother and the sister being the concluding point of the story will thus prove to be the only logical outcome to entering the universe of perversion. A universe where the reality bears a representation status as demonstrated in particular by incest and transvestism, which make sexual identity or family links pure rolepalying game. The perverse dimension of the stepping into the mirror is even more obvious in the case of The Comfort of Strangers, as we take into account the role played by photography in the intrigue woven around Colin and Mary, as much as in the plot of the novel. The photographs on the wall taken covertly  provide a support to Robert’s and Caroline’s fantasy when in search of new sensations in their sadomasochistic relationship – to put it bluntly: they need a murder to boost their pleasure. It appears to be that even before Colin finally fell into their clutches, the photographs had the effect of awakening their sexual desire: ‘Robert came home so excited. Then we have brought more pictures home […] we become doser and doser again. It is also clear that the photos are closely linked to the manipulation of the evil couple, the strategy they need to develop: « It was my idea to put [the pictures] up here, where we could see them all at once. We would lie here in the early morning making plans. You’d never believe how much planning there was to do.’

The reference to the need for planning does not intervene innocently immediately after Caroline’s history of photographs. In fact, each is in itself a manipulation of reality in order to bring it within the framework of a desire more or less explicit. It is therefore part of the plot -planning, plotting, framing- and its representation. A first example allows to judge. Colin is alone on the photographs, Mary being always off camera, even cut by the framing:

[Caroline] pointed at a picture of Colin standing by a suitcase, a Street map in his hand. He was talking over his shoulder to someone, perhaps Mary, just out of frame. In some photographs Colin was quite alone, in many the composition of the enlargement cut Mary off at the hand or elbow, or left a meaningless portion of face.

The exclusion of Mary from the photographic staging is a rehearsal  her exclusion through the conspiracy against her friend, apparently at least. Having the hand off camera is one with the ceaseless manipulations of Robert who does everything to prevent, often literally manu militari,  that the hands of the two lovers ever meet – the rest, the relentless ballet of hands seeking each other, losing and avoiding each other, contribute singularly to the feeling of oppression that abounds in this novel. Therefore, it is felt that the perverse objective does not aim at a documentary reproduction of reality, an appropriation by the victim in a mimetic reproduction, rather that it puts into play the framework of the representation by inaugurating a course for its thresholds. The mirror would be nothing if it only rendered, through fading away, what one already tends to take for granted. His fascination begins with the tremor that moves him on the threshold between the thing and its reflection, the recto and the verso, the same and the other. In this case, one could not be further removed from the ordinary use of photography by tourists, for whom it has become a substitute for the experience of the unknown, of which one protects oneself by domesticating it, more precisely, not in making it knowable, but recognizable.

This gives a perculiar idea about the blindness of the characters, because if the blurred photo is a reflection of the fomented plot, while being an element of the perverse strategy, it seems that his role had been to seduce the victims, not so much to deceive them but to hypnotize them, by making them briefly glimpse their future fate : to keep them intrigued is already part of the plot, the plot itself is a triggering factor and a powerful engine of the consiracy.

 

1. Ian McEwan The Comfort of Strangers 5

 

 

De l’autre côté de la photographie : The Comfort of Strangers (Ian McEwan)

 

Les allusions à la photographie sont peu fréquentes dans l’œuvre de McEwan, ce qui n’en rend que plus intéressants les rapprochements que l’on peut opérer entre elles, d’une œuvre à l’autre. Pour aborder The Comfort of Strangers, on notera en particulier un premier parallèle curieux entre un passage de ce roman et un autre, extrait de The Cement Garden. Vers le milieu de ce dernier récit, Jack et sa sœur Julie se rendent dans la chambre où gît la mère morte qu’ils ont prévu d’emporter dans la cave, pour l’ensevelir dans une malle emplie de béton. Le jour est tout prêt de se lever et la lumière qui baigne la pièce transfigure la scène :

[Julie] was about to turn on the light, and then changed her mind. The greyish-blue light gave everything in the room a fiat, two-dimensional appearance. We seemed to be stepping into an old photograph of Mother’s bedroom.

Dans The Comfort of Strangers, Mary, qui a été droguée, découvre de nombreuses photos représentant son ami Colin sur les murs de l’appartement de Caroline et Robert, le couple italo-canadien qu’ils ont rencontré pendant leur séjour dans une ville non nommée mais qui ressemble fort à Venise. Caroline explique alors à Mary, qui se rend enfin compte du danger que court son ami, l’impression qu’a produit sur elle leur arrivée : « Then Robert brought you home. It was as if God was in on our plan. I came into the bedroom. I never concealed that from you. I knew then that fantasy was passing into reality. Have you ever experienced that? It’s like stepping into a mirror. » Chaque fois, la photographie est associée à l’idée de traverser un seuil, identifié dans la seconde citation à un miroir. En fait, pour peu que l’on envisage cette traversée en relation avec l’intrigue de chaque roman, il est plus logique de parler de transgression —ou plus précisément de perversion. Une fois les adolescents de The Cernent Garden passés de l’autre côté de la photographie, il semble bien que ne seront plus longs à tomber les derniers tabous subsistant après la mort du père —c’est-à-dire son meurtre, si l’on en croit Jack, le narrateur : « I didn’t kill my father, but I sometimes feel I had helped him on his way. » (CG 9) À l’analyse, l’acte sexuel entre le frère et la sœur qui clôt le récit se révélera donc n’être que l’aboutissement logique de l’entrée dans l’univers de la perversion, un univers où la réalité accuse son statut de représentation, ainsi que le démontrent en particulier inceste et transvestisme, qui font de l’identité sexuelle ou des liens familiaux de purs jeux de rôle. La dimension perverse de la traversée du miroir est plus évidente encore dans le cas de The Comfort of Strangers, si l’on tient compte du rôle tenu par la photographie dans l’intrigue tissée autour de Colin et Mary, autant dire dans l’intrigue du roman. Les clichés qui tapissent le mur ont été pris à la dérobée pour servir d’appui aux fantasmes de Robert et Caroline, à la recherche de nouvelles sensations dans leur relation sadomasochiste — très sèchement dit : il leur faut un meurtre pour stimuler leur plaisir. Il semble d’ailleurs qu’avant même que Colin tombe définitivement dans leurs filets, les photographies ont eu pour effet de réveiller leur désir sexuel : « Robert came home so excited. Then as he brought more pictures home […] we became doser and doser again. » Il est évident en outre qu’elles sont étroitement liées à la manipulation à laquelle le couple pervers se livre, la stratégie qu’il leur faut élaborer : « It was my idea to put [the pictures] up here, where we could see them all at once. We would lie here in the early morning making plans. You’d never believe how much planning there was to do. »

L’allusion à la nécessité de tout planifier n’intervient pas innocemment immédiatement après l’historique des photographies dressé par Caroline. En fait, chacune est en soi une manipulation du réel pour le faire entrer dans le cadre d’un désir plus ou moins explicite. Elle est en conséquence partie de l’intrigue —planning, plotting, framing— et sa représentation. Un premier exemple permet d’en juger. Colin est seul présent sur les clichés, Mary étant toujours hors champ, voire même amputée par le cadrage :

[Caroline] pointed at a picture of Colin standing by a suitcase, a Street map in his hand. He was talking over his shoulder to someone, perhaps Mary, just out of frame. In some photographs Colin was quite alone, in many the composition of the enlargement cut Mary off at the hand or elbow, or left a meaningless portion of face.

 

L’exclusion de Mary dans la mise en scène photographique constitue une répétition —au sens théâtral de répéter par avance— de son exclusion par le complot visant avant tout son ami, en apparence du moins. Le découpage du champ qui ampute la main ne fait qu’un avec lesmanipulations incessantes de Robert qui fait tout pour empêcher, souvent littéralement, manu militari pourrait-on dire, que les mains des deux amants se rejoignent jamais — du reste, le ballet incessant des mains qui se cherchent, se perdent, s’évitent ou s’interposent, contribue singulièrement au sentiment d’oppression qui baigne le roman. Dès lors, on pressent que l’objectif pervers ne vise pas une reproduction documentaire de la réalité, une capture-appropriation de la victime dans une reproduction mimétique, mais qu’il met en jeu le cadre de la représentation en inaugurant un parcours de ses seuils. Le miroir ne serait rien s’il ne faisait que redonner, en s’effaçant, ce que l’on tient déjà pour acquis. Sa fascination commence dans le tremblement qui l’agite sur le seuil entre la chose et son reflet, l’endroit et l’envers, le même et l’autre. On ne saurait être en ce cas plus éloigné de l’usage ordinaire de la photographie que font les touristes, pour qui elle est devenue un substitut de l’expérience de l’inconnu, dont on se protège en l’apprivoisant, plus précisément en le rendant non pas connaissable, mais reconnaissable.

 

Cela jette un jour singulier sur l’aveuglement des personnages, car si la photo floue est un reflet du complot fomenté, tout en étant un élément de la stratégie perverse, il semble que son rôle ait été de séduire les victimes, non pas tant en les trompant qu’en les hypnotisant, en leur faisant brièvement miroiter le destin qu’on leur réserve : les intriguer fait déjà partie de l’intrigue, l’intrigue elle-même est un facteur déclenchant et un moteur puissant de l’intrigue.

 

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