Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Unrequited Love

Now that the RIP Challenge is done and I don't have to worry about finishing The Fourth Bear before it's due back at the library, I've picked up Proust again. The problem with Proust, if one could call it a problem, is that he makes it hard to pay attention to the words on the page. Time and time again I start reading and within five minutes or so he's got me thinking about my own past and experiences. Then I realize my eyes have traveled over two pages but my brain didn't follow, it's still back on page 200. So back I go where I manage to read one paragraph before it happens all over again. I don't mind, I enjoy it even, but I wonder how anyone can read Proust in anything less than a few years. At least at the rate I'm going that's how long it's looking to take.

Last night he got me on fulfillment, or rather the impossibility of. First he warmed up by lightly mentioning how we can never be happy because once the thing we had previously determined would make us happy finally arrives on the doorstep, we've changed and it is no longer what we want. He mentions this in a few almost throw away sentences then we're back to the story and the narrator musing, in a very Swann-like manner, about his love for Gilberte, Swann's daughter, and how he is working to cure himself of it.

Then three pages later we return to the impossibility of fulfillment:
As well, in the time it takes for the other's heart to change, our own heart will be changing too; and when the fulfillment desired comes within our reach, we will desire it no longer.
He goes on for long sentences then explaining and elaborating, drawing it out in a beautifully sad way. And it took me reading it over and over several times to be able to see all he was saying because with each sentence I'd stop and think, "Is that true?" And I can't stop thinking about it.

The happiness and fulfillment Proust is talking about is all centered around love. Gilberte likes the narrator and he likes her but she doesn't like him enough. His love for her grows as her pleasure in him wanes and he dreams of finding ways to make her come to her senses and love him back. But he knows that if she ever did decide to love him he would have spent so much time trying to get over loving her that he would not ever be able to be happily fulfilled by Gilberte's love. It's all very sad and cruel. Proust captures the heartbreak and unfairness of it so perfectly. What an exquisite experience this is turning out to be.

Cross-posted at So Many Books


Blogger Alan said...

Thanks Stef for some sensitive thoughts on what seems to me to be the main preoccupation of Proust: how we waver and alter in our beliefs and loves given enough TIME and THOUGHT. Unlike you though, I find I can just run with Proust for pages.... as long as I don't try to internalise every comment or sentence. He alsways comes back and repeats himself. I think of it as a series of conversations with someone where I am listening to most of what is being said but also relating it too myself in a dreamy sort of way.

3:16 AM  
Blogger Dorothy W. said...

I need to read him slowly, too, and I often find myself stopping and pondering -- you've described the experience very well. And I believe fully what Proust says about happiness -- our desires are always shifting and when we get what we want we are always off in search of something else.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

I envy your ability to run along through Proust Alan. I've gotten better than when I began. Maybe by the time I get to the last book I'll have found a way to become more speedy. I like that you say you relate Proust to yourself in a dreamy sort of way. It is a dreamy sort of feeling isn't it? Nothing in Proust is sharp, it all has soft edges like in a dream.

Do you think Dorothy that Proust's ideas about happiness apply to all kinds of happiness or just love? I've been debating over whether he means it in a limited or more expansive sense.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Dorothy W. said...

I personally think the ideas about happiness apply across the board, but as for what Proust thinks? I'm not so sure.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

I wanted to disagree with you at first on the happiness thing, but the more I've thought about the more I have to admit that it is probably true. That really hurts too since I am a bit of a romantic.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Transient Me said...

In college I tore through all of Proust in one semester, and in one night read all of The Captive while esconced in a forgotten nook in the library. This time, I'm reading him slowly, leisurely, sometimes rereading, savoring his words and imagery and thoughts and metaphors. I'm finding the process to be much richer and rewarding this way. I'm refraining from underlining, but just barely.

I plan to jump back into this project whole-heartedly, so hopefully I'll be posting more relevant posts soon!

5:29 PM  

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