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.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I finished Swann's Way and began Within a Budding Grove. In case you have not read this far yet, I will say only that I was surprised how things turned out for M. Swann.

Building on the binocular theory as I am trying to understand it, we read at the end of "Swann in Love" the theme in miniature that Shattuck suggests Proust presents full-blown in the entire novel. One day a letter arrives for Swann that begins for him a reassessment of all his friends. We are told that Swann
knew quite well as a general truth, that human life is full of contrasts, but in the case of any one human being he imagined all that part of his or her life with which he was not familiar as being identical with the part which he was.
Isn't this common among many people? We are always shocked when the politician we respect and vote for is revealed to enjoy cross-dressing and cock-fighting. We always think the neighbor next door is quiet and friendly until the police arrest him on child pornography charges. Faced with this commonality, the narrator wonders
What criterion ought one to adopt, in order to judge one's fellows?
I wondered how Swann would escape his dilema of love. His discovery of an
undercurrent of falsehood which debased for him all that had remained most precious, his happiest evenings
seems to do the trick, and this section ends well for him.

What seems to be happening is Proust sets out beautiful phrases that encapsulate all the details of his specific examples. Later (if we remember them) these same phrases turn out to be foreshadowings. A first reading gives us a sense of wonder; a second reading would likely gives us a sense of appreciation. So is the way "Swann in Love" closes.

Stefanie recently wondered about autobiographical details inserted by an author into his writing. I have also wondered how much of Proust is in the characters other than the narrator--for instance, do any of the details of Swann's love come from Proust's own experience? Though it seems unlikely he personally experienced everything he writes so insightfully about, how did he come to know such things so well and so precisely? A quote from the end of the section gives us only a hint:
like certain novelists, he had distributed his own personality between two characters....
In the last section of the book, the narrator rhapsodizes about names. He notes that
names themselves are not very comprehensive;
suggesting that a name alone does not conjure memories like a madeleine soaked in tea. Names seem to lead inevitably to disenchantments--experienced as the death of gods--as they can only ever be the smallest abstraction of something real. Like Swann, always eager to talk about Odette, to speak of anything that had to do with her, such as the street she lives on, the narrator now falls for Gilberte. Having been so long dazzled by the people who seemed of high society by their association with Swann and the Verdurins and the Guermantes, by his love he gains new powers of perceptions, and for the first time he sees such people as
containing in themselves no beauty that my eyes might have endeavoured, as in the old days, to extract from them.... They were just women, in whose elegance I had no belief, and whose clothes seemed to me unimportant.
The close of the book comes with the revelation that
The reality that I had known no longer existed.
The final three sentences once again wrap everything together in a tight, melifluous package that leaves us completely under Proust's influence. We don't want to spoil the effect by including it here, for those who haven't reached it yet, but instead allow the experience to come in its proper place. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Reading Through Proust's Binoculars

Roger Shattuck, in his book Proust's Binoculars: A Study of Memory, Time, and Recognition in "A la recherche du temps perdu", posits that this novel is a book of disenchantments.

The privileged moments experienced by the narrator define his "profoundest sense of reality--a fleeting recreation of the past in the present, conferring a rare and pleasurable sensation of timelessness."

The narrator speaks of looking at his experiences at the Guermantes' dinner party through an "interior stereoscope." He speaks of seeing things double in time as one might see something double in space. This is the basis for Shattuck's theory, that Proust's idea of memory is a "stereoscopic or stereologic consciousness which sees the world simultaneously (and thus out if time) in relief." He makes the meaning of this idea clear, and reveals the form and reason of the novel's structure of interval and forgetting: "Merely to remember something is meaningless unless the remembered image is combined with a moment in the present affording a view of the same object or objects. Like our eyes, our memories must see double;..." The novel is structured, and the narrator's experiences revealed, in the binocular nature of human vision: "the disagreement between the two different versions of space which reach our consciousness from two separated eyes." It is the combination of slightly dissimilar images in memory that provides the most accurate perceptions.

Part of the feeling of intimacy so many have noted may be a result of what Shattuck calls "a series of inconglomerate thought processes" by which we identify and follow the narrator. It is an unusual mixture of personal memories described with the thoughts as they happened, and past events reconstructed with thoughts in hindsight.

Proust's first uncompleted novel, Jean Santeuil, was discovered about twenty years after his death. Justin O'Brien found in it the germ of In Search of Lost Time, although Proust "has not yet learned to orchestrate his themes. The greatest value of this volume ... is to make the world appreciate at last the ingenious composition of his more familiar definitive work--the very quality upon which, as it was least apparent at first, he himself most insisted." In a letter to Paul Souday, Proust wrote, "My composition is veiled and its outline only gradually perceptible because it unfolds on so vast a scale."

Shattuck believes that forgetting in the novel is just as important as remembering, that having forgotten provides the temporal distance between memories that gives relief similar to that rendered by the spacial distance between our eyes. As a working formula for the novel, we can see the reason behind its length, and are provided with a clue in the brilliant final paragraph of the overture, which closes the opening so satisfactorily that it could stand alone, while at the same time acts as the most beautiful opening sequence to the grand drama which follows, most specifically:
I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy....
My reading of "Swann in Love" is about three-quarters complete, and it is proving to be a joyful, painful, detailed section. The binocular vision in the macrocosm of the novel is here presented in microcosm, as Swann goes through every possible nuance of love. As we make the following points about Swann in love, we might put aside the image of a cup of tea for the more telling image of a cattleya, the flower which, for Swann and Odette, becomes a verb.

Swann's appreciation for a phrase of music launches his love for Odette. His comparison of Odette to works of art begs the question, does he love her solely for her resemblance to a painting he admires; or does his admiration of a painting predispose him to love her?

Swann's love takes on for him the elements of religion in a certain class of men:
the perpetual sacrifice which they are making of their comfort and of their practical interests has engendered a spiritual charm.
Later, when, engulfed in jealousy, Swann begins to long for death, it is
in order to escape not so much from the keenness of his sufferings as from the monotony of his struggle.
Odette takes on supreme importance in Swann's life. The narrator observes
Other people are, as a rule, so immaterial to us that, when we have entrusted to any one of them the power to cause so much suffering or happiness to ourselves, that person seems at once to belong to a different universe, is surrounded with poetry, makes of our lives a vast expanse, quick with sensation, on which that person and ourselves are ever more or less in contact.
We wonder how, for it seems inevitable, Swann will ever free himself from Odette.

One evening like any other, sure of meeting Odette at the Verdurins', Swann arrives to find she has already gone, and he goes in desperate search of her through the city. He is so affected by her absence that, from then on, he does anything to avoid the
possibility of a fresh outbreak of the heart-sickness which had manifested itself in him that evening, when he had failed to find her at the Verdurins'.
Proust continues to beautifully dissect love, showing Swann engaged in copying Odette's habits, adopting her opinions, and
being initiated into every one of the ideas in Odette's mind, of feeling that he had an equal share in all her tastes.
Swann recognises that other men found Odette a fascinating and desirable woman, which further arouses Swann's own desire
to secure the absolute mastery of even the tiniest particles of her heart.
After an offer of "cattleya" is rejected by Odette, Swann's suspicions take hold of him, and he subsequently makes a fool of himself by spying at the window, which he mistook for Odette's, of two old gentlemen. This experience becomes for Swann an occasional involuntary memory. From this comes the answer to one of my first questions: is there such a thing as voluntary forgetting?
To determine not to think of it was but to think of it still, to suffer from it still.
And when Swann forgets his sufferings, a word casually uttered, like a madeleine soaked in tea, had the power to resurrect in him the same bodily pain of the actual experience of his act of jealousy.

One of the first examples of disenchantment revealed by the binocular perception described by Shattuck comes when Odette manipulates and lies to Swann about seeing him. He suspects nothing in her words to him, but vaguely recalls in her expression a sorrow that he had seen once before, and then, he remembers:
it was when Odette had lied, in apologising to Mme. Verdurin on the evening after the dinner from which she had stayed away on a pretext of illness, but really so that she might be alone with Swann.
It is at this time Swann examines Odette's letters, and finds one she has written to M. de Forcheville which sets in motion the full expression of Swann's jealousy, extending, so far, for twenty-five thousand words.

Another minor example of the binocular perception comes when Mme. Verdurin uses the same words to express her rage at Swann as Francoise used at Combray when the chicken refused to die.

Swann's recognition of his sufferings provides strong reasoning behind the need for binocular perception in time in order to fully understand our experiences:
since it had been with a regular progression, day after day, that Odette had chilled towards him, it was only by directly contrasting what she was today with what she had been at first that he could have measured the extent of the change that had taken place.
Dr. Cottard, one of the guests at the Verdurins', murmurs a witty euphemism:
"I must just go and see the Duc d'Aumale for a minute."
However, the good doctor has not heard Forcheville's pun about the serpent-a-sonates, and it must be explained to him. Unfortunately, the edition we have does note offer any footnotes that might explain these plays on words to English readers. Perhaps those with the Davis translation can shed some light?

One final observation: reading Proust, at least in the Moncrieff translation, makes one, unconsciously perhaps, tend to think and write, if not in wholly digressive phrases, or subordinating clauses, at least with an abundance of commas.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Swann In Love, first part

Having completed the first part of "Swann in Love" I feel that I am woefully behind in my reading. There are many thoughts running through my head, but they have not yet come together. (Perhaps this is the precise effect on the mind that the novel is meant to create, to replicate the experience of the narrator.) So I will offer a few scattered observations.

Proust pops up everywhere. Is this not because his novel encompasses all of our experience of life? It certainly seems to be the one book to take to the desert island, and more so the required reading of every human being than Oprah's claim for Uncle Tom's Cabin, or whatever it was she choose.

The love of Swann and Odette is a clinical case. The ways by which one falls in love and pursues that love are so carefully dissected, and for those who think it shallow and unlike their own truer love, it must be as a revelation.

Is Swann's love for Odette just as much an aspect of Swann's Way as the physical path? Is this to set up a contrast to the narrator's love affairs later in the novel? Is Swann's relationship with the Verdurins also an aspect of his Way? He seems to think awfully highly of them as the first part of this section ends.

In this section, the narrative has turned almost imperceptively omniscient. How does the narrator know what has happened between Swann and Odette when they are alone together? Even allowing Swann has reported all the details to the narrator, how does the narrator know what Odette is thinking, or feeling, her motivation behind certain actions? I don't think we are to believe he has collected all this information from the principal characters, but simply accept the switch in point of view. Yet it leads me to wonder, are these pure childhood memories or are they adult reconstructions? Are these episodes that the adult writer is now using to tell his story to the reader, but which he did not really know as a child, as he does other parts of the story? As most of Proust's characters are said to be variations on actual people, was Proust privy to both sides in another pair of the sort of love he describes between Swann and Odette, was he privy to one side and extrapolated the other, was he writing about one love that he had experienced himself, or was he creating all of it from scratch?

What is the significance of the essay on Vermeer that Swann once started writing, gave up for a time, used as an excuse, and has now taken up again?

Monday, August 14, 2006

On beginning to write

I recently wrote about the fabulous scene in Swann’s Way where the narrator sees Mme. de Guermantes for the first time and is enraptured with her; what I just realized is that immediately after that scene comes the story of how the narrator becomes a writer. In a way, it makes sense that these two scenes are right next to each other – they are about artistic discovery, about beauty, about the excitement of seeing something newly. After he has seen Mme. de Guermantes, the narrator despairs at his inability, up until that point, to write. But it is as though the beauty he sees in her inspires him to produce beauty himself:

Then, quite apart from all these literary preoccupations and not connected to them in any way, suddenly a roof, a glimmer of sun on a stone, the smell of the road would stop me because of a particular pleasure they gave me, and also because they seemed to be concealing, beyond what I could see, something which they were inviting me to come take and which despite my efforts I could not manage to discover.

I love the way the narrator feels that the objects he sees around him are calling out to him to discover them. In response, he observes these objects, trying to figure out what it is they are saying:

I would stay there, motionless, looking, breathing, trying to go with my thoughts beyond the image or the smell. And if I had to catch up with my grandfather, continue on my way, I would try to find them again by closing my eyes; I would concentrate on recalling precisely the line of the roof, the shade of the stone which, without my being able to understand why, had seemed to me so full, so ready to open, to yield me the thing for which they themselves were merely a cover.

Earlier he had expected that philosophical ideas were going to inspire him to write, and his despair at his inability to write came because these ideas were getting him nowhere. But he learns here that it’s the material world and its beauty that will be his source of inspiration. When he sees the Martinville church and its steeples, he feels so compelled to figure out their source of fascination that he gets paper and pencil and begins to write while on a bumpy carriage ride. And this is how he responds to having written, finally:

When in the corner of the seat where the doctor’s coachman usually placed in a basket the poultry he had bought at the market in Martinville, I had finished writing it, I was so happy, I felt it had so perfectly relieved me of those steeples and what they had been hiding behind them, that, as if I myself were a hen and had just laid an egg, I began to sing at the top of my voice.

Beautiful, yes?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

More posts on Proust

Sometimes I'm not sure if I should put a post here or over in my main blog or in both places, since sometimes I write about Proust and other people, and you might not be interested in the other people. But just in case you are, I've got two posts on Proust and Elaine Scarry's book On Beauty and Being Just. You can find them here and here.

Friday, August 11, 2006

I Laughed Out Loud

So I'm reading along in Swann'a Way this afternoon and the narrator is going on and on about how he loves hawthorns and I don't recall ever seeing a hawthorn. Wikipedia helped and it turns out to be a pretty shrub in the rose family and suddenly I want a hawthorn of my own, but the pink ones are not hardy in my plant zone. The white ones are just as nice though and now I am on the lookout for a variety that will fit my yard. nevermind for now where it will go. If you would like a hawthorn but don't have a yard to plant it in, there is always the bonsai option.

But I am digressing. Proust has an interesting narrative style that has probably been going on the whole time but that I just really noticed. As the young boy narrator rhapsodizes about his love of hawthorns, an older, adult narrative voice intervenes with observations, but yet it is all from the boy as if it were happening here and now. Since we are reliving the boy's experiences I expect boyish observations. But the grown up narrator's observations are inserted as the boy's observations. But as the reader I know I am in the memory of the grown up narrator so the adult observations make sense. But for me as a reader, it is easy for me to forget that all this is memory. All of it produced a pleasantly odd sensation that I can't describe and so am babbling in circles trying to explain. Anybody know what I am trying to get at?

This is not what made me laugh though. Right after I'm shaken by the conjunction of the adult's and the boy's point of view, the narrator turns all boy in his longing for Gilberte:
I loved her, I was sorry I had not had the time or the inspiration to insult her, hurt her, and force her to remember me. I thought her so beautiful that I wished I could retrace my steps and shout at her with a shrug of my shoulders: "I think you're ugly, I think you're grotesque, I loathe you!"
Ah yes, I am sure if he had said any of that to Gilberte she would have fallen madly in love with him too because how could she resist such wooing words of love?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I started reading The Proust Project last night. The book consists of short essays by various writers writing about their favorite passage from In Search of Lost Time. I pretty much just read the introduction by André Aciman. He writes about encountering Proust for the first time which isn't necessarily the reading, but the first time a person has even heard the name. He said the memories are probably fuzzy or inaccessible for most, but trying to remember is an important part of the "Proust experience." I started thinking back and gave up because it seems that Proust has always been there and it would be impossible to separate him out.

That's just an interesting aside, what really caught my attention was this:
The novel is about intimacy, the miracle of intimacy--intimacy with others, intimacy with oneself, intimacy when we'd all but given up believing it existed--because there is also this about Proust that strikes an unmistakable chord: if intimacy is difficult to come by, it is because honesty is just as scarce, honesty with others and, above all, with oneself. One either feels this call to intimacy or one stops reading.
This passage struck me because there have already been several people here who have mentioned feelings of intimacy while reading Proust. Aciman believes the intimacy springs from a fusion between the lives of Proust and the reader. He suggests that it feels as though the novel is a novel about the reader's life, that all the reader must do is change the time and place and names. I can't say that I feel as though I am reading my life, but I can say that Proust seems to have infused my life. His benevolent presence seems to be everywhere.

For the record, Aciman's favorite passage is the one I coincidentally mentioned the other day, the one with the moonlight walk and the Telegraph Office and Hubert Robert. Aciman sees the passage to being about time and being lost and how being lost creates a timeless moment. I hope the rest of The Proust Project is as good as Aciman's introduction.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Pieter de Hooch

He would begin with the sustained violin tremolos that are heard alone for a few measures, occupying the entire foreground, then all of a sudden they seemed to move away and, as in those paintings by Pieter de Hooch, which assume greater depth because of the narrow frame of a half-open door, away in the distance, in a different color, in the velvet of an interposed light, the little phrase would appear, dancing, pastoral, interpolated, episodic, belong to another world.

--Marcel Proust, Swann's Way

The Lydia Davis translation does note that de Hooch was a Dutch painter known of his handling of light and perspective, but a visual of a mother looking for lice in her daughter's hair is always of use, is it not?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Who is Hubert Robert?

In each garden the moonlight, like Hubert Robert, scattered its broken staircases of white marble, its fountains, its half-open gates. Its light had destroyed the Telegraph Office. All that remained of it was one column, half shattered but still retaining the beauty of an immortal ruin. (Davis translation, pg 117)
Davis is pretty good at making note of people and places, but not this time. I should have suspected that Hubert Robert was a French artist. He lived 1733-1808, was prolific and apparently quite the man of daring adventures. He got caught in the Terror and was supposed to be guillotined, but lucky for him, some other fellow was mistaken for him and Robert got to keep his head. He also knew Voltaire who had him paint the decorations of his theater.

I suppose Proust's contemporary audience would know exactly who Robert was. Me, I am grateful for Google. But now that I know who he was, I think it interesting how Proust uses Robert's art as a basis for description of the Telegraph Office. It might have looked something like this:

Okay, maybe nothing so dramatic, but it does make the Telegraph Office seem more than it is, don't you think?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The reading experience

Proust has an extraordinary passage in the Combray section of Swann’s Way (p. 86-88 in the Davis translation) on the pleasures of reading, where he traces the levels of experience and sensation he undergoes as he reads. First, though, he considers the relationship of the mind to the world outside the mind:

And wasn’t my mind also like another crib in the depths of which I felt I remained ensconced, even in order to watch what was happening outside? When I saw an external object, my awareness that I was seeing it would remain between me and it, lining it with a thin spiritual border that prevented me from ever directly touching its substance; it would volatize in some way before I could make contact with it, just as an incandescent body brought near a wet object never touches its moisture because it is always preceded by a zone of evaporation.
We have no real contact with the world; our consciousness of it is everything. This calls into question what the “real” is. If our perceptions of the world outside the mind take place in the mind, then what is the difference between having an image in our minds taken from a book and having one taken from the scene in front of our eyes? It’s all image:

All the feelings we are made to experience by the joy or the misfortune of a real person are produced in us only through the intermediary of an image of that joy or that misfortune; the ingeniousness of the first novelist consisted in understanding that in the apparatus of our emotions, the image being the only
essential element, the simplification that would consist in purely and simply abolishing real people would be a decisive improvement.
I’m not sure what to think of this, exactly; it recalls an earlier question of mine about the value of the world outside the mind: is he belittling it, or failing to see it? Is there really no difference between the real world and the imagined world? His focus on the means of perception seems to imply, sometimes, that everything is mind and we have access to nothing beyond the mind. Yet Proust is wonderful at evoking the feeling of what it’s like to be in the world, so I don’t think he’s belittling it. Paradoxically, a heightened awareness of the mind accompanies, in Proust, a heightened awareness of the world outside the mind. Awareness of the mind doesn’t become solipsistic; it seems to lead to a greater interest in what lies beyond it.

Proust then charts the workings of his mind as he reads, working from the inside, where all the action really takes place, outward. He begins with the innermost level, which is:

my belief in the philosophical richness and the beauty of the book I was reading, and my desire to appropriate them for myself, whatever the book might be.
His reading begins with desire – desire for truth and beauty. After this come “the emotions aroused in me by the action in which I was taking part” – the emotions evoked by the story itself. This is a particularly intense form of experience; the author:

provokes in us within one hour all possible happinesses and all possible unhappinesses just a few of which we would spend years of our lives coming to know and the most intense of which would never be revealed to us because the slowness with which they occur prevents us from perceiving them.

Reading offers the chance to pursue truth and beauty and also experience in a more intense form than we might find elsewhere. Proust’s narrator finds himself caught up in the experiences of characters who seem as real to him as real people. Next:

Already less interior to my body than these lives of the characters, next came, half projected in front of me, the landscape in which the action unfolded and which exerted on my thoughts a much greater influence than the other, the one I
had before my eyes when I lifted them from the book.
When fully absorbed in reading, we find that the landscape of the book becomes more real than wherever we may be sitting with our book in hand. The narrator is in Combray, but he might find himself homesick for mountains from a distant land. Finally,

Continuing to trace from the inside to the outside these states simultaneously juxtaposed in my consciousness, and before reaching the real horizon that enveloped them, I find pleasures of another kind, the pleasure of being comfortably seated, of smelling the good scent of the air, of not being disturbed by a visit ….
He finally comes to world he actually exists in, and is aware of the sensations of his own body. And that is the narrator’s description of reading – a jumble of feeling, image, and sensation. When reading, the narrator holds together in his mind many different levels of experience, different places, different emotions, different people, different realities.

One volume down

I've experienced a strange reluctance to post here as I read. I'm sure most of that is because I like to form my own impressions of a book as a whole before being swayed by another's opinions, but I suspect part of it is also a nagging feeling of not having finished an assignment. But now my once pristine paperback copy of Swann's Way is fully post-it note-ed and slightly the worse for wear, I have explained to each of my relatives who asked me while I was on vacation why it was I was reading a seven part novel I had to confess didn't have much of a plot (prompting from one aunt what is possibly the only known comparison of Swann's Way to Napoleon Dynamite), and I have nearly overdosed on beautiful, quotable passages. I found it enthralling and suffocating and I loved every minute of it, even when I was yelling at Swann for being such a freaking idiot over Odette.

I have some thoughts on the events at the end of "Swann In Love" but I think I'll save those for another post a little later. For now, I need to clear my head a bit before I crack open the next volume.

Why read Proust

As my own life threatens to become submerged in a sea of minutiae, I thought we could all use some inspiration to continue with our reading, so here are some thoughts from Arnold Weinstein’s “Recovering Your Story” essay on Proust. (Note on Weinstein: He’s a plot spoiler! You’ve been warned.)

To assent to Proust requires rethinking who we are, where we are (in the sense of where does the inner “I” reside), what do we have, what have we lost, how we might get it back. And this mandates acknowledging a kind of absolute poverty in ourselves – in knowing and owning ourselves – that is at complete odds with all our apparent possessions, such as houses, cars, money in the bank, all those things that can be seen in a “walking mirror.”

…And whereas we might regard such writing as merely playful or cunning, the real impact of such vision transcends style altogether and moves into our own backyard: Our own lives, experiences and perceptions are multiple, kaleidoscopic. Here is the payoff: A novel that upends our own complacent certainties, teaches us to make friends with metamorphosis, shows us what a shimmering thing a life is.