Sunday, August 31, 2008

Proust (ongoing)

I have almost finished the first Volume. Have read a great chunk since last I posted.

Rather on the topic of the last post but one:
Three-quarters of the mental ingenuity and the mendacious boasting squandered ever since the world began by people who are only cheapened thereby, have been aimed at inferiors. And Swann, who behaved simply and casually with a duchess, would tremble for fear of being despised, and would instantly begin to pose, when in the presence of a housemaid.

In his younger days a man dreams of possessing the heart of the woman whom he loves; later, the feeling that he possesses a woman's heart may be enough to make him fall in love with her.

I fear that I do this:
Sometimes, in spite of himself, he would let himself go so far as to express an opinion on a work of art, or on someone's interpretation of life, but then he would cloak his words in a tone of irony, as though he did not altogether associate himself with what he was saying.

And I would like to be someone who does this and am perhaps too proud of it when I think that I have succeeded:
There are certain original and distinguished authors in whom the least outspokenness is thought shocking because they have not begun by flattering the tastes of the public and serving up to it the commonplaces to which it is accustomed;...

We have learned of the monstrous Verdurin's who, like characters in Dickens one flinches to realize one knows--who judge Swan for his honesty while engaging in mock social niceties:
...as one sees in people who are doubtful whether the sight of the sea and the sound of its waves are really enjoyable become convinced that they are--and convinced also of the rare quality and absolute detachment of their own taste--when they have agreed to pay several pounds a day for a room in an hotel from which that sight and that sound may be enjoyed.

And then the exquisite beauty of this--referring again to that musical phrase I mentioned in the last post on Proust:
...that the field open to the musician is not a miserable stave of seven notes, but an immeasurable keyboard (still almost entirely unknown) on which, here and there only, separated by the thick darkness of its unexplored tracts, some few among the millions of keys of tenderness, of passion, of courage, or serenity, which compose it, each one differing from all the rest as one universe differs from another, have been discovered by a few great artists who do us the service, when they awaken in us the emotion corresponding to the theme they have discovered, of showing us what richness, what variety lies hidden, unknown to us, in that vast, unfathomed and forbidding night of our soul which we take to be an impenetrable void.

And plotwise Swann--in love with or at least possessive of the unfaithful Odette:
For what we suppose to be our love or our jealousy is never a single, continuous and indivisible passion. It is composed of an infinity of successive loves, of different jealousies, each of which is ephemeral, although by their uninterrupted multiplicity they give us the impression of continuity, the illusion of unity. Could that not be said of any of our emotions?

Who indeed can say whether, in the event of his having gone elsewhere that evening, other happinesses, other griefs might not have come to him, which later would have appeared to him to have been inevitable?

And with those thoughts we move from Swann in Love to our narrator's love for Swann's daughter. In this book, Proust captures so much of adolescent love--so much that we feel as adolescents that we alone must feel. For instance, when I was a teenager I would imagine certain events--my meeting Nick Rhodes for instance, or being "discovered" or even simply being asked on a date by someone in class and then when I had pictured the event in ever detail I would worry--had I just made it not happen because it could not now happen as I had pictured it?
I had realised that if I was to receive a letter from Gilberte, it would not, in any case, be this letter, since it was I myself who had just composed it. And from then on I would strive to divert my thoughts from the words which I should have liked her to write to me, for fear that, by voicing them I should be excluding just those words,--the dearest, the most desired--from the field if possibilities.

Too, he describes going to see an actress of whom he has read great things, Berma in Phedre and he cannot help but be disappointed because he has built up in his mind this transcendent experience that is supposed to be and so the reality cannot compare. I know that I do that still--in planning an evening at a play or concert I have trouble emptying my mind of expectations so that I may actually enjoy reality and not be disappointed.

And again, referring to Musing's question:
For it is difficult for any of us to calculate exactly the extent to which our words or gestures are apparent to others. Partly from the fear of exaggerating our own importance, and also because we enlarge to enormous proportions the field over which the impressions formed by other people in the course of their lives are obliged to extend...

...she knew a great deal of the pleasure which a woman finds in entering a class of society different from that in which she has previously lived would be lacking if she had no means of keeping her old associates informed of those others, relatively more brilliant, with whom she has replaced them.

On historical significance in the arts:
No doubt it is easy to imagine, by an illusion similar to that which makes everything on the horizon appear equidistant, that all the revolutions which have hitherto occurred in painting or in music did at least respect certain rules, whereas that which immediately confronts us, be it impressionism, the pursuit of dissonance, an exclusive use of the Chinese scale, cubism, futurism or what you will, differs outrageously from all that has occurred before. This is because everything that went before we are apt to regard as a whole, forgetting that a long process of assimilation has converted it into a substance that is varied of course but, taken as a whole, homogeneous, in which Hugo is juxtaposed with Moliere.
This is a remarkable observation and one which deserves a longer post.

It is always thus, impelled by a state of mind which is destined not to last, that we make our irrevocable decisions.

Oh, how tragically true I find his description of beginning his writing--that he can picture so well how it will be in a few days when he has written something that it seems foolish to begin in the evening but rather better to wait until the morning and then the morning finds other distractions:
...in the empty frame of the following day where everything was so well arranged because I myself was not in it, my good intentions would be realized without difficulty, it was better not to start on an evening when I felt ill-prepared.
Unfortunately the next day was not that vast, extraneous expanse of time to which I had feverishly looked forward. When it drew to a close, my laziness and my painful struggle to overcome certain internal obstacles had simply lasted twenty-four hours longer. And at the end of several days, my plans not having matured, I had no longer the same hope that they would be realized at once, and hence no longer the heart to subordinate everything else to their realization:...

In a language that we know, we have substituted for the opacity of sounds the transparency of ideas. But a language which we do not know is a fortress sealed...

We are all of us obliged, if we are to make reality endurable, to nurse a few little follies in ourselves.

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