Saturday, July 08, 2006

Lydia Davis's introduction

First of all, if you haven't yet, check out Stefanie's post on two different introductions to Swann's Way. I thought I'd give a few quotations from the Lydia Davis introduction that I liked and didn't like. Writing this post is my way of getting in the mood to take on the novel itself, which I plan to do this evening. I'm psyching myself up.

Here is a description of Proust in conversation, and if the story isn't true, it should be:

One friend, though surely exaggerating, reported that Proust would arrive late in the evening, wake him up, begin talking, and deliver one long sentence that did not come to an end until the middle of the night. The sentence would be full of asides, parentheses, illuminations, reconsiderations, revisions, addenda, corrections, augmentations, digressions, qualifications, erasures, deletions, and marginal notes. It would, in other words, attempt to be exhaustive, to capture every nuance of a piece of reality, to reflect Proust's entire thought.

Isn't that perfect? Also:

Proust felt ... that a long sentence contained a whole, complex thought, a thought that should not be fragmented or broken. The shape of the sentence was the shape of the thought, and every word was necessary to the thought: "I really have to weave these long silks as I spin them," he said. "If I shortened my sentences, it would make little pieces of sentences, not sentences."

Here is Davis on how art shapes reality:

For only in recollection does an experience become fully significant, as we arrange it in a meaningful pattern, and thus the crucial role of our intellect, our imagination, in our perception of the world and our re-creation of it to suit our desire; thus the importance of the role of the artist in transforming reality according to a particularly inner vision: the artist escapes the tyranny of time through art.

I like this up until the last line. Nothing, I think, escapes the tyranny of time and the conclusion seems rather banal. But I like the description of how memory and imagination shape experience, and I like how Davis's "we" includes both Proust and, graciously, us. I'm not so sure about this claim, however:

The power of the intellect, and the imagination, have come to transform the inadequacy or tediousness of the real.

Here Davis describes how Swann's vision of Odette changes when he compares her to a painting. I'm not sure I care for this dismissal of the "real" in favor of the transformations of art. Art can give meaningful shape and form to our lives, but does admiring that process have to involve seeing the "real" as inadequate? However, I will have to withhold judgment until I read the novel.


Blogger Stefanie said...

Glad you like the introduction. Good question about art transforming the "real." Maybe inadequacy means that naked reality doesn't show everything about Odette that Swann knows but the art of the painter can bring about a transformation so that the painting can show more about Odette than reality can? Just thinking out loud, and maybe when we get to that part of the book it will be clearer.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Dorothy W. said...

Hmmm -- yeah, it makes sense that art can show us things about "reality" that aren't immediately apparent. I'm not entirely sure what "reality" is anyway. But does that make reality inadequate? Or is it our perception of reality that is inadequate? Perhaps it's best not to speculate with so little information. I like the idea of art as transformation, but I don't see the need to belittle the artist's materials -- the real world (again, whatever that is).

6:03 PM  

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