Friday, October 16, 2009

Slow Read: Swann's Way, Week 1

In Search of Lost Time, Volume 1: Swann's Way by Marcel ProustIn Search of Lost Time: Volume 1, Swann's Way (Modern Library Classics) (v. 1)

by Marcel Proust, translated by Scott Moncrieff

Part 1: Overture: Combray, Section 1 (<--link to Gutenberg free text)

As this first section is called Overture I immediately thought of music. Something to keep in mind, though I don't know that I remember much from my music-learnin' days that will add to the experience. I do remember the final notes reflect on the whole piece. I'm assuming the overture gives us a peek, a prelude, into what we can expect from the book, and the emotional overtone. And emotional it will be, dontchathink. But this kid is emotional with a purpose...he is ever so careful to take note of everything that has touched him to the core.

He seems somewhat afraid of sleep, or more accurately, attuned to that moment when he wakes up:

But for me it was enough if, in my own bed, my sleep was so heavy as completely to relax my consciousness; for then I lost all sense of the place in which I had gone to sleep, and when I awoke at midnight, not knowing where I was, I could not be sure at first who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may lurk and flicker in the depths of an animal's consciousness; I was more destitute of human qualities than the cave-dweller; but then the memory, not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I had lived, and might now very possibly be, would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being, from which I could never have escaped by myself: in a flash I would traverse and surmount centuries of civilisation, and out of a half-visualised succession of oil-lamps, followed by shirts with turned-down collars, would put together by degrees the component parts of my ego.
Back to the overture idea. What can I list from this section that might be significant to the book?
  1. Swann. Is Swann's Way that of the father, who was oft quoted by the narrator's grandfather? "...for the loss of his wife, but used to say to my grandfather, during the two years for which he survived her, "It's a funny thing, now; I very often think of my poor wife, but I cannot think of her very much at any one time." "Often, but a little at a time, like poor old Swann," became one of my grandfather's favourite phrases, which he would apply to all kinds of things."
  2. Or is Swann's Way that of the son, yet to be revealed, who is hinted to be a companion of the narrator at a later time? At this time he is simply a guest who keeps his mother from giving him a goodnight kiss, as all guests do.
  3. Of course there is the famous Proustian vivid memories tied to senses and emotions.
  4. The narrator's neediness tied to parental remoteness
  5. The notion of a person:
    But then, even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is created by the thoughts of other people. Even the simple act which we describe as "seeing some one we know" is, to some extent, an intellectual process. We pack the physical outline of the creature we see with all the ideas we have already formed about him, and in the complete picture of him which we compose in our minds those ideas have certainly the principal place. In the end they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice that these seem to be no more than a transparent envelope, so that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is our own ideas of him which we recognise and to which we listen.
    Does this notion make a person liable for his actions affecting another? "...her anger would have been less difficult to endure than this new kindness which my childhood had not known; I felt that I had with an impious and secret finger traced a first wrinkle upon her soul and made the first white hair shew upon her head."
  6. Going to sleep is like dying. What all will he do to avoid it and to get that goodnight kiss from mum?
    Once in my room I had to stop every loophole, to close the shutters, to dig my own grave as I turned down the bed-clothes, to wrap myself in the shroud of my nightshirt. But before burying myself in the iron bed which had been placed there because, on summer nights, I was too hot among the rep curtains of the four-poster, I was stirred to revolt, and attempted the desperate stratagem of a condemned prisoner.
  7. Threads. Tugging on rope to re-awaken the world. Note to mum: "Now I was no longer separated from her; the barriers were down; an exquisite thread was binding us." The tapestry that is a person's perception of another.
Speaks to numbers 3 and 5:
I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognised their voice the spell is broken. We have delivered them: they have overcome death and return to share our life. And so it is with our own past. It is a labour in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.

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