One measures oncoming old age by its deepening of Proust, and its deepening by Proust. How to read a novel? Lovingly, if it shows itself capable of accomodating one's love; and jealously, because it can become the image of one's limitations in time and space, and yet can give the Proustian blessing of more life.
Proust is interested in minutiae because life, as he sees it, is seldom ever about things but about our impression of things, not about facts but about the interpretation of facts, not about one particular feeling but about a confluence of conflicting feelings. Everything is elusive in Proust because nothing is ever certain.
Kilmartin wrote a highly amusing and illuminating account of his experience as a Proust revisionist, which appeared in the first issue of Ben Sonnenberg's quarterly Grand Street in the autumn of 1981. The essay opened with a kind of encouragement: 'There used to be a story that discerning Frenchmen preferred to read Marcel Proust in English on the grounds that the prose of A la recherche du temps perdu was deeply un-French and heavily influenced by English writers such as Ruskin.' I cling to this even though Kilmartin thought it to be ridiculous Parisian snobbery; I shall never be able to read Proust in French, and one's opportunities for outfacing Gallic self-regard are relatively scarce.
It is one of the many merits of this admirable biography of Proust's mother that it invites one to return to the novel with perhaps a fuller understanding of Proust's heredity, hinterland, and upbringing. . . . This fascinating book is full of interesting social and cultural observation, of information about French Jewish life, the position of Jews in society and, of course, the Dreyfus case. But it is essentially a study of one of the most remarkable and fruitful of mother-son relationships. As such it is a book that every Proustian will want to read.
Within five minutes of leaving the reunion, I'd undone the double wrapping and eaten all six rugelach, each a snail of sugar-dusted pastry dough, the cinnamon-lined chambers microscopically studded with midget raisins and chopped walnuts. By rapidly devouring mouthful after mouthful of these crumbs whose floury richness - blended of butter and sour cream and vanilla and cream cheese and egg yolk and sugar - I'd loved since childhood, perhaps I'd find vanishing from Nathan what, according to Proust, vanished from Marcel the instant he recognized "the savour of the little madeleine": the apprehensiveness of death. "A mere taste, " Proust writes, and "the word 'death'... [has]... no meaning for him." So, greedily I ate, gluttonously, refusing to curtail for a moment this wolfish intake of saturated fat, but, in the end, having nothing like Marcel's luck.
Werewolves were far more terrifying than vampires. It is probably the idea of seeing the human within the beast and knowing you can't reach it. It might as well be a great white shark. There is no sitting down and discussing Proust with it, which the traditional vampire model seems to leave room for. You can have a conversation.
M. Proust was more severe than M. de Caillavet on Anatole France: "He was selfish and supercilious. He had read so much that he had left his heart in other people's books, and all that remained was dryness. One day I asked him how he came to know so much. He said, 'Not by being such a handsome young man as you. I wasn't in demand, and instead of going out I studied and learned'.
After college, I went on a real big classics kick. Read everything by Faulkner, Hemingway, Woolf, Proust, Dostoevsky. And that classics train dropped me off at 'Dracula.' Halfway through it, I understood I'd never be going back, never 'leaving' the genre again. Since then, I've been on a fairly strict horror diet.
James Cain - faugh! Everything he touches smells like a billygoat. He is every kind of writer I detest, a faux naix, a Proust in greasy overalls, a dirty little boy with a piece of chalk and a board fence and nobody looking. Such people are the offal of literature, not because they write about dirty things, but because they do it in a dirty way.
The same tantalizing guile and sublime skill....[The series is] reinforced in its claim to be one of the major literary works of this century....Only two other writers that this reviewer can think of have each created an entire, discrete and compelling world, a totally believable entity which one might wish to inhabit, and they are Joyce and Proust. It is not pretentious to place Patrick O'Brian in the first canon of literature....
That's the difference between the serious artist and the craftsman--the craftsman can take material and because of his abilities do a professional job of it. The serious artist, like Proust, is like an object caught by a wave and swept to shore. He's obsessed by his material; it's like a venom working in his blood and the art is the antidote.
Proust, my big inspiration for 'Goon Squad,' uses music a lot in his novel, both in terms of plot and structure. I liked the idea of doing the same thing, which is one reason I structured 'Goon Squad' as a record album, with an A side and a B side, that's built around the contrasting sounds of the individual numbers in it.
I once read somewhere that Sean Connery left school at the age of 13 and later went on to read Proust and Finnegans Wake and I keep expecting to meet an enthusiastic school leaver on the train, the type of person who only ever reads something because it is marvellous (and so hated school). Unfortunately the enthusiastic school leavers are all minding their own business.
While reading writers of great formulatory power "" Henry James, Santayana, Proust "" I find I can scarcely get through a page without having to stop to record some lapidary sentence. Reading Henry James, for example, I have muttered to myself, "C'mon, Henry, turn down the brilliance a notch, so I can get some reading done." I may be one of a very small number of people who have developed writer's cramp while reading.
In the light of what Proust wrote with so mild a stimulus, it is the world's loss that he did not have a heartier appetite. On a dozen Gardiner's Island oysters, a bowl of clam chowder, a peck of steamers, some bay scallops, three sauteed soft-shelled crabs, a few ears of fresh picked corn, a thin swordfish steak of generous area, a pair of lobsters, and a Long Island Duck, he might have written a masterpiece.
A. J. Liebling
The idea of some kind of objectively constant, universal literary value is seductive. It feels real. It feels like a stone cold fact that In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust, is better than A Shore Thing, by Snooki. And it may be; Snooki definitely has more one-star reviews on Amazon. But if literary value is real, no one seems to be able to locate it or define it very well. We're increasingly adrift in a grey void of aesthetic relativism.
If you've ever read one of those articles that asks notable people to list their favorite books, you may have been impressed or daunted to see them pick Proust or Thomas Mann or James Joyce. You might even feel sheepish about the fact that you reread Pride and Prejudice or The Lord of the Rings, or The Catcher in the Rye or Gone With the Wind every couple of years with some much pleasure. Perhaps, like me, you're even a little suspicious of their claims, because we all know that the books we've loved best are seldom the ones we esteem the most highly - or the ones we'd most like other people to think we read over and over again.
Civilization is an active deposit which is formed by the combustion of the present with the past. Neither in countries without a Present nor in those without a Past is it to be encountered. Proust in Venice, Matisse's birdcages overlooking the flower market at Nice, Gide on the seventeenth-century quais of Toulon, Lorca in Granada, Picasso by Saint-Germain-des-Pr?s: there lies civilization and for me it can exist only under those liberal regimes in which the Present is alive and therefore capable of assimilating the Past.
A page of a book is like a human face. Look at a page by Hemingway and compare it with Sterne and Marcel Proust. They are different typographical beings. But force upon them those ragged edges, and the influence of the author's style on the physical aspect of the page, their typographical physiognomy will disappear. No, unjustified setting is a sort of gleichschaltung [enforced conformity] through diversity, a very phoney diversity. Produced methodically by chance. For the comfort of the keyboard, and not for the comfort of the eye.
Translation error is compounded by bias error. We distort others by forcing into them our preferred ideas and gestalts, a process Proust beautifully describes: We pack the physical outline of the creature we see with all the ideas we already formed about him, and in the complete picture of him which we compose in our minds, these ideas have certainly the principal place. In the end they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice that these seem to be no more than a transparent envelope, so that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is our own ideas of him which we recognize and to which we listen.
Irvin D. Yalom
Ogni mediazione proietta un suo miraggio; i miraggi si susseguono come altrettante "verite " che subentrino alle verite anteriori come una vera e propria uccisione del ricordo vivente e si proteggano dalle verite future con una censura implacabile dell'esperienza quotidiana. Marcel Proust chiama "Io" i "mondi" proiettati dalle successive mediazioni. Gli Io sono perfettamente isolati gli uni dagli altri, incapaci di rammentarsi degli Io passati o di presagire gli Io futuri.
I agree with Proust in this, he says, that books create their own silences in ways that friends rarely do. And the silence that grows palpable when one has finished a canto of Dante, he says, is quite different from the silence that grows palpable when one has reached the end of Oedipus at Colonus. The most terrible thing that has happened to people today, he says, is that they have grown frightened of silence. Instead of seeking it as a friend and as a source of renewal they now try in every way they can to shut it out... the fear of silence is the fear of loneliness, he says, and the fear of loneliness is the fear of silence. People fear silence, he says, because they have lost the ability to trust the world to bring about renewal. Silence for them means only the recognition that they have been abandoned... How can people find the strength to be happy if they are so terrified of silence?
Who can think of Larkin now without considering his fondness for the buttocks of schoolgirls and paranoid hatred of blacks ... Or Eric Gill's copulations with more or less every member of his family, including the dog? Proust had rats tortured, and donated his family furniture to brothels; Dickens walled up his wife and kept her from her children; Lillian Hellman lied. While Sartre lived with his mother, Simone de Beauvoir pimped babes for him; he envied Camus, before trashing him. John Cheever loitered in toilets, nostrils aflare, before returning to his wife. P.G. Wodehouse made broadcasts for the Nazis; Mailer stabbed his second wife. Two of Ted Hughes's lovers had killed themselves. And as for Styron, Salinger, Saroyan ... Literature was a killing field; no decent person had ever picked up a pen.
All European writers are 'slaves of their baptism, ' if I may paraphrase Rimbaud; like it or not, their writing carries baggage from an immense and almost frightening tradition; they accept that tradition or they fight against it, it inhabits them, it is their familiar and their succubus. Why write, if everything has, in a way, already been said? Gide observed sardonically that since nobody listened, everything has to be said again, yet a suspicion of guilt and superfluity leads the European intellectual to the most extreme refinements of his trade and tools, the only way to avoid paths too much traveled. Thus the enthusiasm that greets novelties, the uproar when a writer has succeeded in giving substance to a new slice of the invisible; merely recall symbolism, surrealism, the 'nouveau roman': finally something truly new that neither Ronsard, nor Stendahl , nor Proust imagined. For a moment we can put aside our guilt; even the epigones begin too believe they are doing something new. Afterwards, slowly, they begin to feel European again and each writer still has his albatross around his neck.
My dis-interest in what people speak of as "women's problems, " "women's literature." Have women a special sensibility? No. There are individuals uniquely talented & uniquely equipped to interpret the complex symbolism of the world but they are certainly not determined by gender. The very idea is astonishing. [... ] Energy, talent, vision, insight, compassion, the ability to stay with a single work for long periods of time, the ability to be faithful (to both one's writing and one's beloved)-these have nothing to do with gender. [... ] The sensibility of a Virginia Woolf, for instance. It's her own, it's uniquely hers. Not because she is a "female" but because she is, or was, Virginia Woolf. Not more sensitive than Henry James or Proust or James Joyce, consequently not more "feminine" in the narrow & misleading sense people use that term today... But then I suppose critics must have something to write about. [... ]
Joyce Carol Oates
Charaktere sind vielleicht schon bezeichnet und beschrieben worden, seit es Lebewesen gibt, die sprechen ke¶nnen. Dichter haben das sehr differenziert getan; man denke an Proust, Tolstoi oder Dostojewski. Diese Autoren haben die innere Dynamik eines Charakters und seine Vere¤nderungen unter aktuellen Einfle¼ssen der Umwelt dargestellt. Wer ihre Be¼cher liest, kann verstehen, warum die beschriebenen Personen so und nicht anders gehandelt haben. Dichter haben auch beschrieben, wie Menschen zu dem werden, was sie sind. Dichter wissen vieles, was Psychoanalytiker sich me¼hsam erarbeiten.
If one were to list all the cruelties and maltreatments, both physical and emotional, that parents and adults inflict on children under the guise of love, the list would be a long one. But, going beyond such sinister examples, even kissing and hugging may or may not convey to a child that he is loved. Love is a feeling, an emotional state. Artists, writers, philosophers, poets have tried to define it. Marcel Proust says, "Love is space and time measured by the heart." What is space and time? It is the here and now. It is you. As unfortunately I am no poet, I will try to recall from my own experience how it feels to be truly loved by someone. It makes me feel good, it opens me up, it gives me strength, I feel less vulnerable, less lonely, less helpless, less confused, more honest, more rich; it fills me with hope, trust, creative energy and it refuels me. How do I perceive the other person who gives me these feelings? As honest, as one who sees and accepts me for what I really am, who objectively responds without being critical, whose authenticity and values I respect and who respects mine, who is available when needed, who listens and hears, who looks and sees me, who shares herself - who cares. Cares. To care is to put love in action. The way we care for our babies is then how they experience our love.
Literary Fiction and Reality Towards the beginning of his novel The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil announces that 'no serious attempt will be made to... enter into competition with reality.' And yet it is an element in the situation he cannot ignore. How good it would be, he suggests, if one could find in life ' the simplicity inherent in narrative order. 'This is the simple order that consists in being able to say: "When that had happened, then this happened." What puts our mind at rest is the simple sequence, the overwhelming variegation of life now represented in, as a mathematician would say, a unidimensional order.' We like the illusions of this sequence, its acceptable appearance of causality: 'it has the look of necessity.' But the look is illusory; Musil's hero Ulrich has 'lost this elementary narrative element' and so has Musil. The Man Without Qualities is multidimensional, fragmentary, without the possibility of a narrative end. Why could he not have his narrative order? Because 'everything has now become nonnarrative.' The illusion would be too gross and absurd. Musil belonged to the great epoch of experiment; after Joyce and Proust, though perhaps a long way after, he is the novelist of early modernism. And as you see he was prepared to spend most of his life struggling with the problems created by the divergence of comfortable story and the non-narrative contingencies of modern reality. Even in the earlier stories he concerned himself with this disagreeable but necessary dissociation; in his big novel he tries to create a new genre in which, by all manner of dazzling devices and metaphors and stratagems, fiction and reality can be brought together again. He fails; but the point is that he had to try, a sceptic to the point of mysticism and caught in a world in which, as one of his early characters notices, no curtain descends to conceal 'the bleak matter-of-factness of things.
The formerly absolute distinction between time and eternity in Christian thought-between nunc movens with its beginning and end, and nunc stans, the perfect possession of endless life-acquired a third intermediate order based on this peculiar betwixt-and-between position of angels. But like the Principle of Complementarity, this concord-fiction soon proved that it had uses outside its immediate context, angelology. Because it served as a means of talking about certain aspects of human experience, it was humanized. It helped one to think about the sense, men sometimes have of participating in some order of duration other than that of the nunc movens-of being able, as it were, to do all that angels can. Such are those moments which Augustine calls the moments of the soul's attentiveness; less grandly, they are moments of what psychologists call 'temporal integration.' When Augustine recited his psalm he found in it a figure for the integration of past, present, and future which defies successive time. He discovered what is now erroneously referred to as 'spatial form.' He was anticipating what we know of the relation between books and St. Thomas's third order of duration-for in the kind of time known by books a moment has endless perspectives of reality. We feel, in Thomas Mann's words, that 'in their beginning exists their middle and their end, their past invades the present, and even the most extreme attention to the present is invaded by concern for the future.' The concept of aevum provides a way of talking about this unusual variety of duration-neither temporal nor eternal, but, as Aquinas said, participating in both the temporal and the eternal. It does not abolish time or spatialize it; it co-exists with time, and is a mode in which things can be perpetual without being eternal. We've seen that the concept of aevum grew out of a need to answer certain specific Averroistic doctrines concerning origins. But it appeared quite soon that this medium inter aeternitatem et tempus had human uses. It contains beings (angels) with freedom of choice and immutable substance, in a creation which is in other respects determined. Although these beings are out of time, their acts have a before and an after. Aevum, you might say, is the time-order of novels. Characters in novels are independent of time and succession, but may and usually do seem to operate in time and succession; the aevum co-exists with temporal events at the moment of occurrence, being, it was said, like a stick in a river. Brabant believed that Bergson inherited the notion through Spinoza's duratio, and if this is so there is an historical link between the aevum and Proust; furthermore this duree reelle is, I think, the real sense of modern 'spatial form, ' which is a figure for the aevum.
It might be useful here to say a word about Beckett, as a link between the two stages, and as illustrating the shift towards schism. He wrote for transition, an apocalyptic magazine (renovation out of decadence, a Joachite indication in the title), and has often shown a flair for apocalyptic variations, the funniest of which is the frustrated millennialism of the Lynch family in Watt, and the most telling, perhaps, the conclusion of Comment c'est. He is the perverse theologian of a world which has suffered a Fall, experienced an Incarnation which changes all relations of past, present, and future, but which will not be redeemed. Time is an endless transition from one condition of misery to another, 'a passion without form or stations, ' to be ended by no parousia. It is a world crying out for forms and stations, and for apocalypse; all it gets is vain temporality, mad, multiform antithetical influx. It would be wrong to think that the negatives of Beckett are a denial of the paradigm in favour of reality in all its poverty. In Proust, whom Beckett so admires, the order, the forms of the passion, all derive from the last book; they are positive. In Beckett, the signs of order and form are more or less continuously presented, but always with a sign of cancellation; they are resources not to be believed in, cheques which will bounce. Order, the Christian paradigm, he suggests, is no longer usable except as an irony; that is why the Rooneys collapse in laughter when they read on the Wayside Pulpit that the Lord will uphold all that fall. But of course it is this order, however ironized, this continuously transmitted idea of order, that makes Beckett's point, and provides his books with the structural and linguistic features which enable us to make sense of them. In his progress he has presumed upon our familiarity with his habits of language and structure to make the relation between the occulted forms and the narrative surface more and more tenuous; in Comment c'est he mimes a virtually schismatic breakdown of this relation, and of his language. This is perfectly possible to reach a point along this line where nothing whatever is communicated, but of course Beckett has not reached it by a long way; and whatever preserves intelligibility is what prevents schism. This is, I think, a point to be remembered whenever one considers extremely novel, avant-garde writing. Schism is meaningless without reference to some prior condition; the absolutely New is simply unintelligible, even as novelty. It may, of course, be asked: unintelligible to whom? -the inference being that a minority public, perhaps very small-members of a circle in a square world-do understand the terms in which the new thing speaks. And certainly the minority public is a recognized feature of modern literature, and certainly conditions are such that there may be many small minorities instead of one large one; and certainly this is in itself schismatic. The history of European literature, from the time the imagination's Latin first made an accommodation with the lingua franca, is in part the history of the education of a public-cultivated but not necessarily learned, as Auerbach says, made up of what he calls la cour et la ville. That this public should break up into specialized schools, and their language grow scholastic, would only be surprising if one thought that the existence of excellent mechanical means of communication implied excellent communications, and we know it does not, McLuhan's 'the medium is the message' notwithstanding. But it is still true that novelty of itself implies the existence of what is not novel, a past. The smaller the circle, and the more ambitious its schemes of renovation, the less useful, on the whole, its past will be. And the shorter. I will return to these points in a moment.