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

“Seek? More than that: create.”

Daily, I attach less value to the intellect. Daily, I realize more clearly that only away from it can the writer repossess something of our past impressions, that is attain to something of himself and to the one subject-matter of art. … Compared with the past, the intimate essence of ourselves, the truths of the intellect seem quite unreal. … But it is to the intellect we must look all the same to establish the inferiority of the intellect. The intellect may not deserve the supreme accolade, but it alone is capable of bestowing it. It may hold only second place in the hierarchy of virtues but only it is capable of proclaiming that instinct has to occupy the first.
-Preface to Contre Sainte-Beuve (pp. 1, 7, 8), Marcel Proust

But in art there are no initiators or precursors (at least in the scientific sense). Everything is in the individual, each individual starts the artistic or literary endeavour over again, on his own account; the works of his predecessors do not constitute, unlike in science, an acquired truth from which he who follows after may profit. A writer of genius today has everything to do. He is not much further advanced than Homer.
-‘The Method of Saint-Beuve’ (p. 11)

If we want to try and understand this self, it is deep inside us, by trying to recreate it within us, that we may succeed. … It is a truth every bit of which we have to create
– (p. 12)

… what one gives to the public is what one has written when alone, for oneself, it is very much the work of one’s self… And not having seen the gulf which separates the writer from the society man, not having understood that the writer’s self shows itself only in his books, that he only shows society men… a society man like themselves, [Sainte-Beuve] was to launch that famous method which… consists, in order to understand a poet or writer, in questioning avidly those who knew him,… who may be able to tell us how he behaved in the matter of women, etc., that is, on all those very points where the poet’s true self is not involved.
– (pp. 15, 16)

If we follow the guidelines given in this preliminary work, a puzzling combination of fiction and criticism, the first fitful attempts at a style which would eventually come to be the style of Proust’s epic, we are directed in how to approach the narrator(s), both the embryonic form it takes in Contre Sainte-Beuve and its full-fledged form in A la recherche... Even here, in a piece which is almost automatically assumed autobiographical, we cannot call our narrator Marcel Proust. Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Beckett, Proust, Ranciére, Writing

Synecdoche, NY

From the paw, the lion. Which isn’t accurate (also, it sounds better in Latin, but I can’t remember the Latin), but is the phrase that I heard when trying to remember who had said “Do you understand?” before… Adele, the absconding wife, right? At the beginning? Well, earlier in the movie, at least. But trying to figure that referral properly, you realize you’re all thumbs, it’s all left feet. And the next phrase sounds familiar too, the way he keeps inflecting the expletive, but he’s a new actor, and his character hasn’t had a part before, at least no a speaking part, and certainly not a monologue of this length. Was it Caden? But we’re back at Adele’s, now, the tape of her talking rolling inside while the old woman playing the old woman by the door accidentally gives the wrong key to— … the woman playing Caden. No, she’s not playing Caden yet, she’s the cleaning-woman, the one Caden filled in for when Sammy sent him there. Was that in the set? Or was that back in New York, the New York outside the set? This part is in the set, of course. But did Sammy build the first Adele’s-place in the set just to humiliate Caden into cleaning it like he had before, to ‘watch him lose another part of himself’ (Is that what he said? I’ve forgotten. Or was it merely for the character study, not sinister?)? Somebody was reading the Overture to Swann’s Way [Ought that be in quotes? The rule is parts of a large work and short works, right?], earlier, but it was between scenes, a close up of the first page— I saw “Overture” in big capitals and then “For a long time I used to go to bed—” and got a little giddy at the recognition— but ‘somebody’ is all you can say, because nobody was reading in the scenes preceding or following the short shot of the first page of the novel (It used to confuse me, before I started reading it and when I was very early into it, that people referred to the whole thing as “the novel,” and not the individual volumes as each a novel)— maybe it was Hazel, since we know she’s the literary one (She’s reading The Trial, or was, earlier) and whatever is before her on the desk in the next scene is hidden from the camera— but it doesn’t matter. It’s there; that does. It’s a foothold, because something tells me I’m going to need a foothold for this one, a place to work from if I’m going to get a handle on the story. (It also bothered me that one of the Loyal Band died of a stroke as he walked out the front door and then suddenly reappeared a few dozen pages later, like it used to bother me that Charles died in a parenthetical.) There’s no reason for it. I will berate the first person I hear theorize this is his death-dream. It is a movie, not a death-dream. That is all there is to it. That’s it. He’s done it, this is his masterpiece, Charlie’s. Will it be downhill from here? I ought to go read for class. I need to read some more Celan if I’m going to be reading about him for class… “all things are less than/ they are,/ all are more.” That’s the epigram for one of the essays on Celan I have to read, which sounds a little vapid out of context like that, and maybe in English, maybe the German has more elegance. The quote doesn’t say where it’s from. I ought to go read the rest of that now. I would rather go find someone to make watch Synecdoche right now, though; I almost want to watch it again now.

Filed under: Film, Kaufman, Proust, Synecdoche

Me, Marcel, and I*: Proust’s Narrator

Even if you haven’t read a lick of Proust, and have only read about his novel, the next thing you hear, after the madeleine scene, is the line which comes early in the The Captive: “…which, if we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book…” H. Porter Abbott calls this Proust’s ‘autobiographical dare,’ and while it’s interesting to think of it as such, in context, it strikes me more as a fictive dare. I find it difficult to grandly theorize on Proust, simply because it has taken me so long to read— about a year and a half, now, only about two-thirds of which were spent actively reading— that I would not even be afloat now were it not for the handy reference guide at the back of the final volume— “Who was the Comtesse Molé again?” But this is projecting forward to what I think Proust is going to do. The Captive seems as if it is beginning to loosen its strict control over the ‘reality’ of the novel, not by pointing back to the real life on which it may be loosely based, however much it appears to be doing so in proposing the reader call the narrator ‘Marcel,’ but by pointing to the fictionality of itself.

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Filed under: Proust

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.

Filed under: Proust, Quotes,

The Gay Way: Inversion and Religion in Proust

A friend gave me, as a graduation present, the box set of A la recherche du temps perdu.  I began the first volume on the long drive from Texas to California, but was distracted by other books for a while and only over the past month dove fully into and finished Swann’s Way.  The word I find I want to use, and I’m sure has been used before, is virtuosic.  There is such a fine balance of construction within each section, and within the sections as they compound into the whole work, with which I am enamored; an underlying structure of thematics which, just as Swann & Odette’s love-theme appears throughout their relationship, seems to play out at various magnifications and degrees of unity across the whole work.  I am anxious to see how the themes are parlayed into the other books.

For now, though, having finished the first volume, I am particularly interested in the way Proust treats homosexuality, as I was a bit surprised to find lesbianism portrayed so blatantly in the first volume.  I was under the impression that Proust waited until the fourth volume to depict the lascivious underworld of homosexuality, having read some while ago a review that decried so few people reading past the pleasantries of Swann’s Way and never getting to the grittier reality of the later volumes, including the scenes of gay cruising in Sodom and Gomorroh.  What is interesting about these early depictions of homosexuality is their carefully layered inversions, which confuse the possibility of making the “correct” moral judgements, and indeed make “correct” a rather ambiguous term whose initial social grounding gives way to a paradoxical construction.

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Filed under: Analysis, Books, Proust, Sexuality, , , , ,

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