Monday, February 5, 2018

Blogging Proust: Swann's Way, 182-281

These days, I'm reading Proust but also rewatching Twin Peaks: The Return, and a lot of this feels like a distraction from other things: the book reviews I have to write, the stories, the novel I'd promised a friend I'd have a draft of by the end of February. I don't know why I don't just focus on my work rather than consume so much of others' works, TV, film, this classic work of literature, Swann's Way.

In both Swann's Way and Twin Peaks: The Return, their creators savor moments, and this savoring is very demanding of the audience's time. In Twin Peaks: The Return, for example, in the ninth episode, there is a scene where FBI agent Gordon Cole asks a former agent named Diane if he could join her while she smokes a cigarette outside. Cole and another agent stand near Diane awkwardly. Diane has been uncooperative with her former partners throughout her journey on the show (it's later revealed why). She is so uncooperative, she won't make eye contact or small talk with Cole and the other agent as they stand outside a government building. Five minutes of real-time silence and awkward posturing go by onscreen before Cole breaks the ice with Diane. We get it: she's uncooperative.

Sometimes I want to shout something similar at Proust. The young Proust has heard a lot about a Mme de Guermantes is his town of Combray and then finally sees her at church. He explains how seeing Mme de Guermantes in person at first makes her seem vulgar to him and then he forms a new conception of her: she is the woman of great heights who has deigned to grace the commoners with her presence. This is how Proust begins to describe it:
I was endeavoring to apply to this image, which the prominent nose, the piercing eyes pinned down and fixed in my field of vision (perhaps because it was they that had first struck, that had made the first impression on its surface, because I had had time to wonder whether the woman who thus appeared before me might possible be Mme de Guermantes), to this fresh and unchanging image, the idea: "It's Mme de Guermantes"; but I succeeded only in making the idea pass between me and the image, as though they were two discs moving in separate planes with a space between... (247)
I liked the passage, underlined it, and then, with enthusiasm, wrote "etc." to some following paragraphs so as not to have too much underlined, but then the description of Mme de Guermantes wore on me, I stopped making notes, and by then five pages had been devoted to the idea expressed up top, that Proust didn't like that he saw her in person at first and then thought it an honor.

Sometimes artists are effective at executing their crafts, and sometimes they're not. They're artists, not gods. They can and do fail. Here is where Proust doesn't fail (I love this paragraph):
The name Swann had for me become almost mythological, and when I talked with my family I would grow sick with longing to hear them utter it; I dared not pronounce it myself, but I would draw them into the discussion of matters which led naturally to Gilberte [Swann's daughter] and her family, in which she was involved, in speaking of which I would feel myself not too remotely exiled from her; and I would suddenly force my father (by pretending, for instance, to believe that my grandfather's appointment had been in our family before his day, or that the hedge with the pink hawthorn which my aunt Leonie wished to visit was on common land) to correct my assertions, to say, as though in opposition to me and of his own accord: "No, no, that appointment belonged to Swann's father, that hedge is part of Swann's park." And then I would be obliged to catch my breath, so suffocating was the pressure, upon that part of me where it was for ever inscribed, of that name which, at the moment when I heard it, seemed to me fuller, more portentous than any other, because it was heavy with the weight of all the occasions on which I had secretly uttered it in my mind. It caused me a pleasure which I was ashamed to have dared to demand from my parents, for so great was this pleasure that to have procured it for me must have caused them a good deal of effort, and with no recompense, since it was no pleasure for them. And so I would turn the conversation, out of tact, and out of scruple too. All the singular seductions with which I had invested the name Swann came back to me as soon as they uttered it. And then it seemed to me suddenly that my parents could not fail to experience the same emotions, that they must find themselves sharing my point of view, that they perceived in their turn, that they condoned, that they even embraced my visionary longings, and I was as wretched as though I had ravished and corrupted the innocence of their hearts. (202-3)
Words in literature are not only carriers of information, they seek to evoke feelings, surprise in their construction. The above passage surprises at each new clause, makes the reader feel the excitement and magic that Proust feels regarding the name Swann. That's to say, the passage artfully conveys the thought Proust has that Swann's name is special and Proust liked, as a boy, hearing it.

Returning to the idea earlier, the ostensible problem is that some artists via their art demand a lot of time from the audience, but that's not the real problem. The real problem is when the audience is forced to spend a lot of time with a work of art that an artist has not executed successfully.

Blogging the Bible: Genesis 32-44

Wrote about Genesis 19-31, did it via phone, and it got erased. Moving on.

Jacob becomes Israel after wrestling with God. God, or the angel of God, tells him so (32.28, 35.10). Jacob has his twelve sons, but the lot of them have trouble with the son, Joseph. The sons dissimulate to Jacob, making Joseph appear dead. Jacob grieves. He "tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son for many days. All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, 'No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning" (37.34-5).

The son Judah has sexual congress with a woman, thinks it's a prostitute, but turns out it's his daughter-in-law (38.15-6). A footnote in my Bible says this kind of thing was an attempt to continue the bloodline in the absence of a lost brother, in this case the brother Joseph.

Joseph becomes a prisoner in Egypt but has a gift (through God) of prophesying, so the pharaoh, for Joseph's gift, appoints him a governor over Egyptian lands. Joseph's brothers, not recognizing him, come for grain, and Joseph says he's not going to talk to them unless he can see his younger brother Benjamin.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Blogging Proust: Swann's Way, 80-182

Too cold to enjoy reading Proust. I skim some. But peep this. Proust is talking about how the steeple of the church in downtown Combray inspires him: "trying to remember, feeling deep within myself a tract of soil reclaimed from the waters of Lethe slowly drying until the buildings rise on it again; and then no doubt, and then more anxiously than when, just now, I asked him to direct me, I seek my way again, I turn a corner...but...the goal is in my heart..." (91). The river Lethe, which you deep into and makes you forget, is an extended metaphor here for Proust recovering memories.

M. Legrandin appears on the same page as a great conversationalist but turns out to be a liar later (181-2). Here he advises young Proust: "Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life, little boy... You have a soul in you of rare quality, an artist's nature; never let it starve for lack of what it needs" (93). These words would cheapen if we knew now M. Legrandin were a blowhard.

Still not nuts about Proust's (great-)aunt (95, 146).

Ever forget that people's consciousnesses are as rich as yours? "I imagined, like everyone else, that the brains of other people were lifeless and submissive receptacles with no power of specific reaction to anything that might be introduced into them" (109). This is in the context of Proust telling his parents his uncle had a courtesan at his house when Proust visited.

Pretty line: "...being still at the age in which one believes that one gives a thing real existence by giving it a name" (125).

Friday, January 26, 2018

Good Reads: John Edgar Wideman & Sadia Shepard

Couple of good reads in The New Yorker recently. One is "Writing Teacher" by John Edgar Wideman. The other is "Foreign-Returned" by Sadia Shepard. Shepard has a book called The Girl from Foreign: A Memoir, and one of Wideman's many books is titled Writing to Save a Life. Can't wait to read them both.

Blogging Proust: Swann's Way, 42-79

Sometimes don't like reading this. Not that. Don't know what to say about what I read. Boring spending time with the leisurely rich.

Here, I'll note some prurience. The young Proust awaits his mother's bedtime kiss. "I went quietly into the passage; my heart was beating so violently that I could hardly move, but at least it was throbbing no longer with anxiety, but with terror and joy" (46). Words mean what they mean, but also their implications. This is Freudian and blue. And young Proust worries his father will see them (47).

Young Proust has bad things to say about Daddy. He's a man "devoid of principles" (48): this after Dad lets Proust's mom sleep in the same room with him.

The famous madeleine scene occurs on p. 60 and recalled on 63.

Proust's great-aunt is unbearable: bedridden by choice, a gossip, spends all day looking out the window, discovering the secrets of the town of Combray by way of people's street associations (see, e.g., 68, 75, 76-77, 79).