Monday, January 2, 2012

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 44.5 (Marcel Proust)

Finding Time Again
Proust, Marcel
Finding Time Again

Purchased at I have to say I agree with the reviewer from the NY Review of Books who criticized the translation of the title. It makes it sound like someone is clearing their schedule or some other trivial act, whereas "Time Regained," though it alters the tense of the verb, sounds truer to the content of the book, and contains a Miltonic echo that rings through in the text itself. That said, it's a great translation and one of the most important reads of my life.

I think only one scene in another book that I have read achieves something similar to the effect of the ball scene in this one, and that is the appearance of the white whale in Moby-Dick. In the latter, one is forced to slog through chapter after chapter detailing the processing and storage of whale by-products. At various points these chapters threaten to derail the entire reading experience. But the reader who stays the course and pays attention is rewarded late in the book when the whale finally makes its appearance.

I remember feeling as if I had known everything there were to know about whales and then having everything I thought I had known exploded by the appearance of the beast itself.


I experienced something similar, yet more emotionally profound, when reading the final volume of In Search of Lost Time. Having slogged, page after torturous page, through one tedious salon after another, I had been many times ready to give up on Proust. Unlike Moby-Dick, I felt as if all I were learning were how to experience monotony and misery in real-time. In fact, many of the salons unfold at a much slower pace than real time, so that a single evening of petty sniping among the elite is stretched into several weeks of actual bed-time reading reading experience.

And then we arrive at the final scene, in which Marcel sits in a study or library, awaiting entry into a ball. Again, he seems to wait forever, but then the doors open and we discover that while he waited, something like twenty years had passed, and that he and everyone else in attendance has grown old. Time, as we had experienced it throughout the novel, as slow, languorous tedium, has now concentrated itself to such an extent that we haven't realized how much of it has passed.

This is what I meant the other day when I talked about having experienced time in much the same way the protagonist does, as real, palpable duration, which expands and contracts in ways highly specific to age, habit, repetition and variation. I felt almost as if I, too, had suddenly grown old.

This is making me want to read it again! I wish I read French. I would love to read this in the original before I die.

from Finding Time Again

And it was not just these colours which filled me with joy, but a whole moment of my life which aroused them, which had probably been an aspiration towards them, which some sense of fatigue or of sadness had perhaps prevented me from enjoying at Balbec, and which now, freed of whatever was imperfect in the external perception, pure and disembodied, filled me with delight.

...for the only true paradise is the paradise that we have lost.

So many times in the course of my life reality has disappointed me because at the moment when I perceived it, my imagination, which was my only organ for the enjoyment of beauty, could not be applied to it, by virtue of the inevitable law which means that one can imagine only what is absent.

1 comment:

mr. spagets said...

him and his damn madeline...

you've probably seen this but it's worth viewing again - the python prowst competition