Reading Boyishly: Roland Barthes, J. M. Barrie, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Marcel Proust, and D. W. Winnicott

Reading Boyishly: Roland Barthes, J. M. Barrie, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Marcel Proust, and D. W. Winnicott

Carol Mavor

Language: English

Pages: 536

ISBN: 0822339625

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


An intricate text filled to the brim with connotations of desire, home, and childhood—nests, food, beds, birds, fairies, bits of string, ribbon, goodnight kisses, appetites sated and denied—Reading Boyishly is a story of mothers and sons, loss and longing, writing and photography. In this homage to four boyish men and one boy—J. M. Barrie, Roland Barthes, Marcel Proust, D. W. Winnicott, and the young photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue—Carol Mavor embraces what some have anxiously labeled an over-attachment to the mother. Here, the maternal is a cord (unsevered) to the night-light of boyish reading.

To “read boyishly” is to covet the mother’s body as a home both lost and never lost, to desire her as only a son can, as only a body that longs for, but will never become Mother, can. Nostalgia (from the Greek nostos = return to native land, and algos = suffering or grief) is at the heart of the labor of boyish reading, which suffers in its love affair with the mother. The writers and the photographer that Mavor lovingly considers are boyish readers par excellence: Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up; Barthes, the “professor of desire” who lived with or near his mother until her death; Proust, the modernist master of nostalgia; Winnicott, therapist to “good enough” mothers; and Lartigue, the child photographer whose images invoke ghostlike memories of a past that is at once comforting and painful.

Drawing attention to the interplay between writing and vision, Reading Boyishly is stuffed full with more than 200 images. At once delicate and powerful, the book is a meditation on the threads that unite mothers and sons and on the writers and artists who create from those threads art that captures an irretrievable past.

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eternally boyish Macaulay Culkin, mind you), who began his poems at age eight (a precociousness that beats Cowley), but turned away from such boyishness, in favor of the law and his History of England, we reach ultimate clarity: “Boyish vanities, and no part of the real business of life.” In sum: “boyishly” holds shame and vanity with a stroke of the puerile. “Puerile” according to the OED is boyish not girlish: its Latin root puerilis means boyish, childish. In its feminine form puer is also a

reflection on Sud-Ouest. (Barthes never lived in Japan nor visited there until 1966.)50 Nevertheless, the Empire’s tender, puerile indulgent fragments, its strong child-like naïveté, and its almost pious devotion to the maternal turn an imagined Japan into a fictive boyish recollection that is all his own, that is typically Barthesian: “intimate but not personal.”51 Empire of Signs begins with a telling, opening chapter title: “Faraway.” From its initial stamping, Barthes tries to send us like

am writing. My three-year old son, Augustine, is frustrated by my lack of attention. He grabs my chin, pulling my eyes into his gaze and exclaims with clenched, small, first-teeth: “I am going to make my very own house and you cannot come in.” Walled Off and Frozen Childhood as we now understand it, as innocent and pure, walled off from adult life (like a child’s bedroom in the middle-class or bourgeois home, even the home itself ), was perfected side by side with the development of

childhood and adulthood, should show us the city made even more beautiful (as if it were a lady’s cheek) by a powder of snow, her face sheathed by a “crystal veil.”29 My heart races at the sight of the march of horse-drawn carriages and cars turned toy. Lampposts and trees appear like made-to-scale accoutrements for a miniature railroad scene that just might slide out from under the bed of a lucky boy. The Eiffel Tower is amazing for its metaphorically photographic combination of materiality

(Fort/da.) Just as Freud’s young grandson Ernst invented a game in order to cope with his mother’s absence, Barthes invents a game for reading photographs in order to cope with the loss of his mother. Barthes throws 140  chapter four the contradictory there–gone condition of the photograph back and forth. All photographs play there and gone. But when a photograph specifically touches Barthes, moves him, wounds him, his “spool” hits his heart. “The text no longer has the sentence for its model

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