Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Blogging Proust: Swann's Way, pp. 21-42

Learned some new words: (1) gewgaw: a showy, useless thing; (2) alienist: a psychiatrist--antiquated usage, and now there's a new TV show called The Alienist, no doubt about a psychiatrist; (3) cozenage: the act of fraud; (4) viaticum: the Eucharist (Lord's Supper) given in deathbed-like circumstances.

Most of these passages are reflections on what kind of man M. Swann is. Think the narrator's great aunt (is it?) likes to imagine Swann only attending their family get-togethers, hates to read about Swann in the papers or elsewhere hobnobbing with others. Other family members like it. Grandfather doesn't care anything about this. He's only interested in how Swann's daughter is doing.

Swann's Way is the narrator looking back in time so he knows what transpires with Swann, though he doesn't tell us much. We do get this: "this early Swann [was someone] in whom I can distinguish the charming mistakes of my youth, and who in fact is less like his successor than he is like the other people I knew at the time" (24). The narrator sees now that old Swann is less like young Swann than young Swann was like all the other young people when Swann was young.

Swann's wife was demeaned in the last set of pages I read, but here it's harsher. The narrator says that Swann has a "marriage with a woman of the worst type, almost a prostitute, whom, to do him justice, he never attempted to introduce to us--for he continued to come to our house alone, though more and more seldom" (27). Swann apparently had a wife before this one (I guess), else how to explain this? Swann had a "daughter, whom he worshipped, and for whose sake it was understood that he ultimately made his unfortunate marriage" (29). Swann had a wife before with whom he had the daughter, so he marries to give his daughter a mother, or Swann had his daughter out of wedlock so he decided to marry Swann's mother.

I think eight pages in this chunk I read are taken up with Swann and then like a boomerang we're back to the unnamed narrator waiting for his mother's kiss (29).

Swann's observation: "The fault I find with our journalism is that it forces us to take an interest in some fresh triviality or other every day, whereas only three or four books in a lifetime give us anything that is of real importance" (33). Swann's examples of journalism are what the royals are doing.

The narrator's thoughts: "I knew that when they were at table I should not be permitted to stay there for the whole of dinner-time, and that Mamma, for fear of annoying my father, would not allow me to kiss her several times in public, as I would have done in my room" (35). The curious phrase is for fear of annoying my father. If the mother kissed the narrator, the little boy, in public, it would have annoyed the father. What in the world? A psychosexual jealousy?

Blogging the Bible: Genesis 8-11

Notes: Humankind, so the claim goes, used to be vegetarian. "God said [to Adam and Eve], 'See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every plant for food'" (1.29-30). God says the plants are for us and the animals to eat, not the animals themselves. But after the Flood, it's different: no more vegetarianism. God said, "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything" (9.3).

Babel originally meant gate of god, just as the ziggurats in Mesopotamia were believed to be gates to the gods. In Genesis 11, humankind, of one common language and civilization, build the tower of Babel to reach Heaven, and God punishes them by introducing new languages. This could be the early Hebrew peoples' attempt to cast the Mesopotamian civilization in a negative light as well as explain the diffusion of languages. Worth noting that the diffusion of languages in Genesis is what causes humanity to spread out, a necessary final in creating civilizations.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Opioid Crisis in the United States

Cited in Mother Jones (January/February 2018), p. 23

The charts: the State of American Health Care

Cited in Mother Jones (January/February 2018), p. 9

Blogging Proust: Swann's Way, pp. 1-21

Reading In Search of Lost Time is at once like eating chocolates in the morning, this unusual indulgence, and at the same time like reading a student's story or essay where the student doesn't realize that over-description can kill the scene. Does Proust over-describe? People who love Proust love his descriptions. Fine. My complaint is not with compound and complex sentences, mind, but with the descriptions themselves. The more fine-grained a description is, sometimes, ironically, the less likely we are able to visualize it.

What makes Proust worthwhile for me so far are the moments when he captures in thought or image a rich feature of human nature. He can make familiar phenomena seem new, his own. Listen to the unnamed narrator from Swann's Way: "Sometimes, too, as Eve was created from a rib of Adam, a woman would be born during my sleep from some misplacing of my thigh" (3). We've never heard this turn of phrase before, but we get it immediately. It's erotic without being prurient and, just as importantly, familiar.

More reasons to like Proust. Here he is on sleep: "in a flash I would traverse centuries of civilization, and out of a blurred glimpse of oil-lamps, then of shirts with turned-down collars, would gradually piece together the original components of my ego" (5). This passage perfectly captures the return to self, after going deep into a dreamscape and then waking up.

Word of the day, from the text (16): ferruginous. It means rust-colored, reddish brown.