Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Unseen Kiss

I must say, the scene where Swann and Odette are in the carriage together after Swann has searched everywhere for her is such a beautiful moment. He "adjusts" her cattleyas and then:
she seemed to require all her strength to hold her face back, as though an invisible force were drawing it toward Swann. And it was Swann who, before she let her face fall, as though despite herself, onto his lips, held it back for an instant, at a certain distance, between his two hands. He wanted to give his mind time to catch up, to recognize the dream it had caressed for so long and to be present at its realization, like a relative summoned to witness the success of a child she has loved very much. Perhaps Swann was also fastening upon this face of an Odette he had not yet possessed, an Odette he had not yet even kissed, this face he was seeing for the last time, the gaze with which, on the day of our departure, we hope to carry away with us a landscape we are about to leave forever.
Wow, is that ever a charged scene! It reminds me of a Humphrey Bogart movie. But at least there we get to see the kiss, get to cheer as lips finally meet. Why, I wonder, does Proust not allow us the pleasure of Swann and Odette kissing? Is he saying the kiss itself does not matter, only what comes before and after it? Or is it because, in spite of Proust's powers of detailed description, even he could not describe the consummating kiss? Is it better left to our imaginations, allowing us to insert kisses we have had?

The next thing we know we find out that Swann and Odette had sex. I found the transition to be jarring, from the luminous passage to narrative of how they come to call having sex "make cattleya." Maybe the sudden change is the brilliance of Proust, from sublime anticipation to the cutesy and mundane and Swann anxious that their flush of joy can't last forever. An illustration of how quickly things change? Even when we try to delay the moment, change is inevitable.

3 Comments:

Blogger Dorothy W. said...

Interesting observations! I think this sort of abrupt transition, and the juxtaposition of sublime and silly, come to characterize much about their relationship -- so Proust gives us a clue as to its nature from the beginning.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently there is more in it, than this last face of a woman before the actual kissing. Giving up a dream for reality? Giving up a self that had not mattered a lot? And who is that (female) realtive watching the success of a beloved child? The text is much tirckier than the gravitational forces that seem to suspend attraction and repulsion. Desire that lives on, even though the face of the goddess is reveiled.

5:31 AM  
Blogger Quillhill said...

The impossibility of making a moment last forever comes to us in Faust as well. Proust seems to be exploring the moment between anticipation and consumation.

11:44 PM  

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