Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Action and flowers and pink sugar

She makes an obscene gesture at him; he mistakes the color of her eyes. That's young Marcel's first encounter with Gilberte Swann, a brief scene that nicely encapsulates not only Marcel and Gilberte's entire later relationship, but also the relationship of Gilberte's parents. It is also, I might say, a rendering in miniature of the entire six-volume In Search of Lost Time. One thing I didn't notice upon my first reading of Swann's Way a decade ago is the way Proust keeps working in foreshadowing, the way the layers of early memory are indeed overlapped and in some respects interchangeable with later events, the way certain character types appear and reappear to interact with Marcel in similar ways. It's almost as if the idea of past is meaningless, as if Proust was not only writing In Search of Lost Time but also Finnegans Wake, which circles around and neither begins nor ends, every event becoming every other event in history, if you look at it from the correct angle. Really a remarkable book. Full of action, too. Action and flowers and pink sugar. And Proust's comic characters are excellently drawn (and I pause to realize that all of his characters are comic, even the tragic ones, which is the way I like my clowns to be written).

4 comments:

  1. Circles, yes, but with beginnings and ends. A circle composed of two distinct but attached semi-circles, one the In Search of Lost Time we read, and one the inverted version, each leading to the creation of the other.

    Or else the books circle, but in a spiral, perhaps never coming back to the beginning of our Swann's Way, as an endless series of "Marcel"s are created.

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    1. A spiral is a good image. The endless series of Marcels is what it's all about; he makes everything into an image of himself: the rooms, the family, Albertine, the open fields, the churches, Swann, de Charlus, all of them, adored and mocked.

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  2. And he ends by declaring that his structure supersedes death with conceptual overlappings, which is wonderful. I'm thinking of a sudden comparison with Samuel Richardson now: that way of making a book out of a mass of details that lie together like hairs and don't so much propel themselves forward as vibrate to thicken the mass -- the Luxor obelisk, transforming itself near the beginning of Cities of the Plain, being supported a moment later by the Duc de Ch√Ętellerault, who, over the next few paragraphs, pretends to be English, etc.

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    1. And M Proust was certainly right about superseding death.

      Also, and I assume it's because I'm reading Proust, I have become hypersensitive to any mention of memory in the fiction of other writers, especially the technique of memory overlapping the present moment.

      Also also, the novel I'm writing now sort of works through accumulation rather than plot movement. It's a big heap of ideas and symbols. Likely not publishable, but a good time for the author.

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