Thursday, September 21, 2006


Cross-posted at So Many Books

My mind feels rather dull today. I don't know if it is due to the weather--cold and rainy--or the stressful week at work I've been having (I'm beginning to think it might be time to look for a new job), or maybe my brain really is dull and I'm just now coming to the realization. Whatever the case, I have been meaning to write about Proust all week but have been putting it off hoping that tomorrow I will figure out what to say. Since I finished Swann's Way and am into In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, I am inclined to sum up my reading experience thus far.

But how does one sum up Proust? Maybe the Pythons can do it, or maybe not since I have not had the pleasure of seeing that particular episode, but I cannot seem to grab onto any words that are adequate.

This was my second time through Swann's Way. I first read it a couple of years ago. I was determined to get through the entirety of In Search for Lost Time but, alas, after four months of struggling with Swann, I couldn't do it. This time it only took me two months. I enjoyed the book much more too. It certainly helps having others reading Proust at the same time.

Maybe instead of trying to sum up, I will just mention a theme that moved through Swann's Way and is now appearing in In the Shadow of Young Girls. Desire. It's everywhere from the young narrator desiring his mother's kiss before bed, to Swann desiring Odette, to the narrator desiring to see the great actress La Berma. What I have noticed is that for Proust, desire is often at its height when the thing desired is unavailable. The more obstacles there are to possession, the more intense the desire grows. Swann is frantic when he can't find Odette; the narrator is unconsoled when he is unable to see Gilberte in the park; and again, the narrator is whipped into a frenzy over the actress La Berma who he has never seen her except in a photo on a playbill. When the obstacles are taken away and the desire is finally fulfilled, there seems always to be a disappointment.

At this point in the game I don't know what Proust is getting at. Is he saying that desire is always better than the fulfillment? That fulfillment is never completely satisfying? Are our desires for a person, event or thing always unrealistic in some way? Is what we desire most to possess simply unpossessable? Did I just make up a word? And if our desires can never truly be met, should we stop? Or at least desire lesser things so we won't be disappointed? Or is disappointment an inherent part of desire?

Perhaps Proust answers some of these questions later. Or maybe my desire for answers will be only be partially fulfilled and I will be able to share some disappointment with the characters in the book.


Blogger Alan said...

I think we must not forget that Proust spent a lot of his time unable to fulfil his desires. The marvelous sections describing hawthorn flowers (which Proust really did love)are so poignant when we realise that the author suffered so badly from asthma (and the associated cures of the day) that he could never come in contact with them in reality.

I also think that desire and imagination are also closely linked in the books. And often our imaginations do run away with us.

5:26 AM  
Anonymous yair said...

I think that you could replace the word Desire with Phantasy and it will be more appropriate for proust's wrtining. The writer knows nothing about the real La Berma or about her acting. He is prone to be dissapointed. Threwout the books people neglect reality for and choose focusing on their phantasies (like Saint Loup later on) - they don't really see their object of desire - they just build a phantasy that more often then not will break up when it meets reality.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous neutron copernicus said...

alan and yair made fine observations. it is often said that a person atempting something important will say that the quest, the labour or effort, the dream is far more satisfying than the attainment of the quest. why? we don't know. it just is. i guess it is like the TAO.

alan;"our imaginations runs away with us' yes, we build in our minds an unrealistic picture of, say, a women and once we have landed her affections we find something lacking. the imagination is more powerful than reality. yair; fantasy- the same principle. thank you for your words- i need their comfort on this, an unholy night. neutron

11:46 PM  

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