Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Todd McGowan


Jacques Lacan observes that desire has the inherent flaw of always being disproportionate to the object of desire. Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina reveal the key role that lack, or the negative, plays in the way desire gets out of control. Applying Hegel’s thought on the negative to Swann’s Way and Anna Karenina, I interrogate models of love and relationships to the negative to confront the dilemma perceived by Lacan. I note how the role of the negative in Swann’s Way and Anna Karenina runs parallel to the role of impermanence and emptiness in the Madhyamaka School of Buddhist thought developed at Nalanda University (~AD 400 - 1200). Madhyamaka thinkers Shantideva and Nagarjuna assert that familiarity with impermanence and emptiness eliminates selfish desire and gives rise to a selfless form of love or compassion, and Levin stumbles into a related insight in the final pages of Anna Karenina. I read attitudes toward lack as pivotal to the fates of characters and relationships in Swann’s Way and Anna Karenina, maintaining that turning from the negative allows illusions of desire to play endlessly while a straightforward relationship to the negative undermines the unceasing deferral of desire’s fulfillment.



Number of Pages

47 p.

Available for download on Friday, April 26, 2024

Included in

Religion Commons