Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 44.1 (Marcel Proust)

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower
Proust, Marcel
In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

It's difficult to describe how the experience of reading Proust altered my psyche. It might be useful to say that I experienced the book much as I feel like I experience life. As I moved from volume one to volume two, then onward through the rest, I began to feel that my memories of scenes in the book were actually memories of my own experience. That's not quite the way to say it. I did not simply identify with young Marcel and take his experiences as my own. It had more to do with the experience of time.

If you have ever read Proust, you know well that in order to get from the first book to the last, you have to slog through one long salon after another. And by long, I mean two, three, even four hundred pages of listening to vain, arrogant, petty, bitter aristocrats saying vain, arrogant, petty, bitter things to and about one another. The book is comprise of long periods of monotony and ennui punctuated by fleeting moments of passionate intensity and concentration. The payoff of reading comes through getting beyond the monotony and ennui to the moments of passionate intensity an concentration. Neither makes sense without the other to compare it to.

But there's something else about the long periods of monotony and ennui that begin to effect your brain. When I say that "I began to feel that my memories of scenes in the bok were actually memories of my own experience," I mean that my experience of time in the book is much like my experience of time in life. I began to feel a sense of duration. Not only did I identify with young Marcel's memories, but when he looked back on moments of his life, I could feel the same distance from his past experience as I might from my own.

In other words, I shared his experience of the passage of time in a way that felt very much as it does in "real" life.

from In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower

When it was first suggested we invite M. de Norpois to dinner, my mother commented that it was a pity Professor Cottard was absent from Paris and that she herself had quite lost touch with Swann, either of whom the former ambassador would have been pleased to meet; to which my father replied that, although a guest as eminent as Cottard, a scientific man of some renown, would always be an asset at one's dinner table, the Marquis de Norpois would be bound to see Swann, with his showing off and his name-dropping, as nothing but a vulgar swank, "a rank outsider," as he would put it. This statement of my father's may require a few words of explanation, as there may be some who remember Cottard as a mediocrity and Swann as the soul of discretion and modesty in all things social. As regards Swann, it turns out that our old family friend was now no longer only "young Swann" and "Swann of the Jockey Club"; to these personalities he had added a new one, which was not to be his last, that of Odette's husband. Adapting to her humble ambitions all the flair, desires, and industry that he had always possessed, Swann had contrived to construct a new position for himself, albeit far below the one he had formerly occupied, but suited to the wife with whom he must now share it. And in this position he had turned into a new man.

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