To commemorate the 100 years since the publication of Swann's Way the first volume of Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu.
...as though men spend their lives perched upon living stilts which never cease to grow until sometimes they become taller than church steeples, making it in the end both difficult and perilous for them to walk and raising them to an eminence from which suddenly they fall. And I was terrified by the thought that the stilts beneath my own feet might already have reached that height...
Marcel Proust, Time Regained, the Modern Library Edition translated by Mayor, Kilmartin and Enright p. 531
What's curious about this passage—the fragments quoted above are from the last sentences of the novel spanning about 4,500 pages—is this is the first time that Proust has engaged in any type of fantasy, here exemplified by living stilts which never cease to grow: a surreal conceit in metaphor (rare in Proust) to end the book going from the old and tottery Duke de Guermantes to a stumbling 83 year old archbishop, to proud men falling from their church-steeple high stilts and to the terrified Narrator who thinks that he may be one of them. (All are shaky on their real or metaphorical feet.)
Yesterday I posted this quote about living stilts from Time Regained the seventh and final volume of Marcel Proust's novel and I thanked my fellow readers for the discipline they provided me to read it and to post at least one comment a day (my personal requirement) to the Goodreads discussion list that followed in tandem the reading.
The year is over; the novel was read in segments of ~90 pages a week. I read it mostly in English but other readers posted quotations of the work in French, the language they read it in.
I wonder what I learned last year, if anything at all. I wonder what I'll read next.
Marcus wrote: Very tender, I agree Eugene. I have LOL'd sometimes as well...
Humor as well as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but what made Botticelli laugh is probably not what would make us laugh today, yet his Zipporah is still as beautiful as the day he painted it. Humor is more temporally affected than beauty as we see. That Botticelli attempted humor, if he did, is also a feather in his cap, and Proust attempting to be funny is not "clumsy", as I had said, but in many ways laudable no matter if he succeeds with you and fails with me, but the attempt at humor is one of valor in the dark days that began in 1914, not that earlier days were not as dark, but we are still in the shadow of those days that began with the Great War, and worse, the children are blind, as always.
I chuckled once, but as I didn't remember where and about what, I said "never". If I'd laughed and said 10 or 20 moments were LOL or "hilarious" it would amount to a similar sum compared to the moments we've read in 3903 pages including this weeks reading. Yes, humor is 'in the eyes of the beholder'.
Where I see Proust's humor is in the preposterousness of the entire novel and its characters. They are sad and all defective in one way or another but a writer who takes aesthetics, learning writing, social relations/personalities, social history, etc. as his subjects and peoples it with the ridiculous and convenient cast he has chosen is not only funny but witty. So, it's not that I'm a humorless person, Marcus, I just laugh at different parts.
Early on when I began reading In Search of Lost Time, I formed a question, one of several, with which I would read the novel. What I wanted to better understand was the relation of art to jealousy (both major themes in the work) and here Proust, in the voice of the reflective Narrator, points to an answer for me or I should say a working answer as that will leave me with "endless suppositions" which is what I want reading a work of art.
It is one of the faculties of jealousy to reveal to us the extent to which the reality of external facts and the sentiments of the heart are an unknown element which lends itself to endless suppositions. ML p. 699
When one encounters a chef-d'oeuvre (I think of the portraits of Mme Cézanne in the Met) one has new-found suppositions that are different from the suppositions we entertained at a previous encounter and will be different from suppositions we are handed at the next visit, thinking of Cézanne at the Met, or the next encounter with Proust's words when we open the pages of ISOLT again.
Art, and I mean good art, is like jealousy—it is living—always changing us in front of it, as Albertine changes for her lover and as does the Narrator after her departure, in those "endless suppositions".
..."Mademoiselle Albertine has gone" was like an allegory of countless other separations. For very often, in order that we may discover that we are in love, perhaps indeed in order that we may fall in love, the day of separation must first have come. ML p. 683
Having given up a year of my time to read Proust's In Search of Lost Time, a year that marks the publication 100 years ago of the first volume, Swann's Way, here is a comment on the reading of The Captive, volume 5, posted to a discussion list provided by Goodreads.
Ah, the music that we hear in the different voices that sing this tale. Here the Narrator--his reflective self comments on his younger active self--explains the duplicity required by being in love.
If the reader has no more than a faint impression of these, that is because, as narrator, I expose my feelings to him at the same time as I repeat my words. But if I concealed the former and he were acquainted only with the latter, my actions, so little in keeping with them, would so often give him the impression of strange reversals that he would think me more or less mad. ML p. 467
On p. 461 we have 1st person direct conversation with Albertine that becomes a more mature reflection (a different voice) about his younger feelings of love and his feigned actions or his 1st person words that we read until we come to p. 471 where again direct 1st person conversation ensues between Albertine and his younger self. We have changes of key or the tonal structures differ in the writing.
The varied stories are simple: the Narrator/Albertine, Charlus/Morel, Swann/Odette; the complexity, for which Proust is heralded no matter the type of narration, is in the drawing of characters, for example:
Besides, for a long time past, my constant anxieties, my fear of telling Albertine that I loved her, all this corresponded to another hypothesis which explained far more things and had also this to be said for it, that if one adopted the first hypothesis the second became more probable, for by allowing myself to give way to effusions of tenderness for Albertine, I obtained from her nothing but irritation (to which moreover she assigned a different cause). ML p. 466
And the complexity, how the character is drawn, is syntactical within the sentence and between them, to the paragraph, to the passage and to the volume even. Wagner is mentioned more in these pages than any other composer and there is a reason for that, not for his leitmotifs and not for any specific musical greatness for which he is celebrated, but for his decision to call, and perform four of his works in sequence, The Ring. That is what I read when I read ISOLT--The Ring--and I not only hear the music of the words but I also hear the music between them, between the passages, between the words and actions of the characters who continue and I hear their voices sing even when they're silent. Proust calls his beginning Overture, we wait for his Götterdämmerung.
The scale and scope of the story is epic. It follows the struggles of gods, heroes, and several mythical creatures over the eponymous magic Ring that grants domination over the entire world. The drama and intrigue continue through three generations of protagonists, until the final cataclysm at the end of Götterdämmerung. More on Der Ring des Nibelungen:
A comment to the Goodreads Proust discussion
K... wrote: I would not describe Proust's style as "conversational" in spite of the fair amount of dialogue...
There are two basic types of language: written and spoken. Both use words, both convey meaning, etc. but the difference between them is in written language, the user has the ability to reflect, to change, to edit, etc. S/he has time to rework the language uttered; however in spoken language, the time element is not there in order to reflect, to edit, etc.; spoken language is impromptu, ad hoc or momentary.
How then does one 'edit' or qualify spoken language at the time of speaking? By using parentheticals or by being digressive, etc. You will find that speakers do this when they speak of everyday or extraordinary matters, even you, even me.
The use of parentheticals and of being digressive is called using a "conversational" style when writing; both of which, Proust takes great advantage in his written prose. A conversational style has nothing to do with the writer's use of dialogue. Proust writes conversationally.
and: For me his writing is very lyrical...
Not for me. Legrandin's style is "lyrical"; listen to him, listen to the Narrator mock him: his language is old fashioned, it has become cliched, it sounds like it was uttered by Chateaubriand, as great as he was, he was. Legrandin's language hasn't read Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarmé et al.
Proust is writing another kind of music, a new and fresh music, a semantic music, a music of rhetoric. What you hear--because it is new--at first, you have difficulty appreciating. He makes use of far-reaching similes, he is rarely metaphorical, he makes a music of the juxtaposition of his parentheticals, of his digressions; he violates the rules of traditional musicology as applied to writing—he is a Debussy of prose. With Proust we have a new lyricism.
A comment to the Goodreads discussion list, 2013: The Year of Reading Proust,
Phillida quotes Proust writing as Norpois: But we must not be afraid to enlighten public opinion; and if a few sheep...should dash headlong into the water, it would be well to point out to them that the water in question is troubled water, that it has been troubled by an agency not within our borders, in order to conceal the dangers lurking in its depths.
Having 850 Saxon Merino sheep I must tell you that sheep are good swimmers, as most animals are, they dog paddle keeping their heads above water moving their legs as if they were running.
I had a group of ewes who had become temporarily blind from Pink Eye (a viral infection), their corneas had clouded over, a tetracycline salve administered to the eye will help them recover faster. Objects were but shadows to them at best. They were quartered next to a pond and spooked into it by my Kelpie, Poem, a herding dog. Four ewes swam to the other side but one continued to swim in circles in the middle of the pond unable to see the bank. The water temperature was about 35F as the ice had just melted from the pond in late February; my lifeguarding abilities were of no use, having been certified at 16 by the American Red Cross, the water was too cold to enter. I felt helpless. I watched her, waiting for her to sink: round and round she swam, 15 minutes or longer, but with each revolution she got closer to dry ground, finally she got close enough for me to lasso her with a halter.
I drug her up through brush—she was exhausted—I dried her off with towels and let her rest then go join her mates. She had a good swim, recovered her sight and had a lamb in the Spring.
Norpois is talking to Bloch about the Dreyfus case in the quote above. From my studies of rhetoric, long before I'd read Proust or about him, I see this is an example of Proust's wit: Bloch almost always speaks in a mock Homeric way; he imitates, or imagines, classical Greek rhetoric using adjectives to modify nouns in the Homeric fashion. To see the wit of this passage you must understand that Norpois speaks to Bloch with real classical Greek rhetoric, as if spoken by Giorgias (485–380 BC), a sophistry as much to explicate as to conceal, that he honed while speaking in his career as an ambassador.
Proust knew the classical rhetoric that was taught in French schools of the 19th century.
A post to the Goodreads discussion list 2013: The Year of Reading Proust.
An instructor at the Arts Students League, begun in New York in 1875, told the painting class I was in that "Picasso proves that you don't have to be a nice guy to be a great artist." and we could say something similar of one of Proust's characters that, 'You don't have to be a nice guy to have an aesthetic experience,' when describing M. Charles Swann.
Aesthetic is defined by Merriam-Webster: "of, relating to, or dealing with aesthetics or the beautiful" as in aesthetic theories or beliefs. Foregoing the Greek root, let's talk of a more homey word, the beautiful. I read Proust is for the beauty of his sentences and Proust uses many of them when he describes the varied inner-workings of Swann as he listens to "the little phrase" of Vinteuil's sonata. A sentence fragment describes Swann and music at Mme. Saint-Euverte's party:
"(Swann)...who experienced something like the refreshing sense of a metamorphosis in the momentary blindness with which he had been struck as he approached it, Swann felt that it was present, like a protective goddess, a confidant of his love, who, so as to be able to come to him through the crowd, and to draw him aside to speak to him, had disguised herself in this sweeping cloak of sound." Moncrieff
This is Proust's version of figuralism http://bit.ly/11IWXjh (eyes wide shut K ;-) that comes from Ruskin's adaption of it; it is about the experience of beauty and it is so beautifully written. On the other hand we have Jim Everett saying, "To write about Proust’s aesthetics is necessarily to contradict Proust’s intentions. For him, art begins where rational explanation ends." in The Proust Reader http://bit.ly/VgIgkU.
The views are opposed and I believe them both as did Proust, I suspect.
February 15, 2013 Marcel Proust and Swann's Way: 100th Anniversary opens at the Morgan; I'm hoping that there will be translations in English or at least printed transcriptions of his hand-written drafts, complete with additions and crossings out, in French to examine his writing/editing process. Nick provided BnF notebook transcripts in another discussion but I found Proust's hand hard to read.
A post to the Goodreads discussion list 2013: The Year of Reading Proust in which over the year we read as a group about 60 pages a week and discuss it or not. There are now over 1000 members worldwide.
Almost three years ago I began reading Proust for his sentences; I still read him for his sentences. Jeremy Eichler, the Boston Globe music critic, writes in The Proust Project edited by André Aciman, "His long spiraling sentences unspool in the mind the way a warm sinuous melody by Brahms might unspool in the air."
Swann on the little phrase from Vinteuil's fictive sonata:
Of those sorrows of which it used to speak to him and which, without being affected by them, he had seen it carry along with it, smiling, in its rapid and sinuous course, of those sorrows which had now become his own, without his having any hope of ever being free of them, it seemed to say to him as it had once said of his happiness: "What does it matter? It means nothing."
Swann's Way, the Lydia Davis translation of Marcel Proust, p. 361