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“this is not a detached dissertation but an exploration of my origins, an indirect attempt at self-definition” —Octavio Paz

Why I’ll Lose Time to Watch Marcel Finding His

When you embark on the quest to read the whole of In Search of Lost Time, people find out.  My friends often ask with hints of mockery and pity how it’s going and react with disbelief when I don’t gush.  Frankly, it is not fun, at times.  I’ll lament that this damn luncheon at Mme. Villeparisis has been trundling along for ninety pages and there is no end in sight, and then they ask— they always ask— “Well, why on earth are you still reading it you don’t enjoy it, then?”  Then, I get to gush.

I have had a difficult time explaining exactly what it is that fascinates, because as much as it is his wrought descriptions or witty never-used-twice similes, it is not those things that I find intoxicating about Proust.  It is the passage of time, the slow-fade of characters’ personae between their own iterations in life and Marcel’s developing understanding of them.  It is this changing, this relation between the various presentations that makes the occasional hundred pages of bore well worth it, but this changing is very hard to say to people.

Proust, thankfully, has said it for me.  I stumbled across this passage today that is, it goes without saying, rather long, so I’ve attempt to edit it down to the pertinent bits:

I remembered Albertine first of all on the beach, almost painted upon a background of sea, having for me no more real an existence than those theatrical tableaux in which one does not know whether one is looking at the actress herself…, at an understudy…, or simply at a projection.  Then the real woman had detached herself from the beam of light and had come towards me, but only for me to perceive that in the real world she had none of the amorous facility with which one had credited her in the magic tableau.  I had learned that it was not possible to touch her, to kiss her, that one might only talk to her, that for me she was no more a woman than jade grapes…are really fruit.  And now she was appearing to me on a third plane, real as in the second experience that I had had of her but available as in the first; available, and all the more deliciously so in that I had long imagined that she was not. …  What can one positively affirm, when the thing that one thought probable at first has then shown itself to be false and in the third instance turns out true?  (And alas, I was not yet at the end of my discoveries with regard to Albertine.)

The entire passage is an exquisite summary of what reading Proust “is like,” and as well written as this summarization is, it is nothing compared to the experience of watching Albertine work her way, in what sometimes admittedly feels like laborious real-time, through these various permutations of Marcel’s composition.  If you want to know how you enjoy even the boring bits of Proust, it is that Marcel is, thankfully, never “at the end of his discoveries” regarding even the bores of whatever society event he is currently dragging you through.

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Filed under: Proust, Quotes,

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