Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Slow Read: Swann's Way, Week 4

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

Combray, continued

That year my family fixed the day of their return to Paris rather earlier than usual. On the morning of our departure I had had my hair curled, to be ready to face the photographer, had had a new hat carefully set upon my head, and had been buttoned into a velvet jacket; a little later my mother, after searching everywhere for me, found me standing in tears on that steep little hillside close to Tansonville, bidding a long farewell to my hawthorns, clasping their sharp branches to my bosom, and (like a princess in a tragedy, oppressed by the weight of all her senseless jewellery) with no gratitude towards the officious hand which had, in curling those ringlets, been at pains to collect all my hair upon my forehead; trampling underfoot the curl-papers which I had torn from my head, and my new hat with them.
It's not clear how old he is, and he has jumped around in time. I assume he's a teenager when he's reading those books in the garden, but here he remembers a younger self. I wonder how old a child is who's hair is curled for the photos. Did he look like one of these boys, I wonder? I wonder how much fashions differed internationally, and whether I've found the right time period. Perhaps he looked like the children on the cover of this book.

People said: "That poor M. Vinteuil must be blinded by love not to see what everyone is talking about, and to let his daughter—a man who is horrified if you use a word in the wrong sense—bring a woman like that to live under his roof. He says that she is a most superior woman, with a heart of gold, and that she would have shewn extraordinary musical talent if she had only been trained. He may be sure it is not music that she is teaching his daughter."
People know each other's business. Who is better off, the suspicious gossips, or the blinded sweet old man? If the narrator's unintended peeping tom episode is true, those gossips were uncannily correct.
During the long fortnight of my aunt's last illness Francoise never went out of her room for an instant, never took off her clothes, allowed no one else to do anything for my aunt, and did not leave her body until it was actually in its grave. Then, at last, we understood that the sort of terror in which Francoise had lived of my aunt's harsh words, her suspicions and her anger, had developed in her a sentiment which we had mistaken for hatred, and which was really veneration and love.
They distance themselves from emotions, and don't understand them in others, so much so they mistake love for hatred, concern for terror...interesting. Could this explain why so far, for all the description, I am still feeling distant from the book? Or am I reading too slowly?
But to wander thus among the woods of Roussainville without a peasant-girl to embrace was to see those woods and yet know nothing of their secret treasure, their deep-hidden beauty. That girl whom I never saw save dappled with the shadows of their leaves, was to me herself a plant of local growth, only taller than the rest, and one whose structure would enable me to approach more closely than in them to the intimate savour of the land from which she had sprung.
I had the same feeling at the amusement park when I was a budding teenager. I would see other couples embracing, making out on the rides together, and I so wanted to be with someone, doing that. (Marriott's Great America.)
After leaving this park the Vivonne began to flow again more swiftly. How often have I watched, and longed to imitate, when I should be free to live as I chose, a rower who had shipped his oars and lay stretched out on his back, his head down, in the bottom of his boat, letting it drift with the current, seeing nothing but the sky which slipped quietly above him, shewing upon his features a foretaste of happiness and peace.
This romantic view of the rower is all in his mind I would suspect. How the rower must wish he had the leisurely time just to take a stroll along the banks.
So the 'Meseglise way' and the 'Guermantes way' remain for me linked with many of the little incidents of that one of all the divers lives along whose parallel lines we are moved, which is the most abundant in sudden reverses of fortune, the richest in episodes; I mean the life of the mind. Doubtless it makes in us an imperceptible progress, and the truths which have changed for us its meaning and its aspect, which have opened new paths before our feet, we had for long been preparing for their discovery; but that preparation was unconscious; and for us those truths date only from the day, from the minute when they became apparent.
So, I believe he's saying certain understandings he came to, such as awakening to his subjective experience being subjective, are intimately connected to the memory of these physical paths. They cannot be separated for him, in a way. The memory of one invokes the other. I suppose this is what happens for some things. I think it remains to be seen exactly what it is that Swann's Way invokes.
Whether it be that the faith which creates has ceased to exist in me, or that reality will take shape in the memory alone, the flowers that people shew me nowadays for the first time never seem to me to be true flowers. The 'Meseglise way' with its lilacs, its hawthorns, its cornflowers, its poppies, its apple-trees, the 'Guermantes way' with its river full of tadpoles, its water-lilies, and its buttercups have constituted for me for all time the picture of the land in which I fain would pass my life, in which my only requirements are that I may go out fishing, drift idly in a boat, see the ruins of a gothic fortress in the grass, and find hidden among the cornfields—as Saint-Andre-des-Champs lay hidden—an old church, monumental, rustic, and yellow like a mill-stone; and the cornflowers, the hawthorns, the apple-trees which I may happen, when I go walking, to encounter in the fields, because they are situated at the same depth, on the level of my past life, at once establish contact with my heart.
Those paths, and their flowers, encountered at the height of his passionate absorption of understanding I suppose, can never be replaced as the quintessential flowers. Nothing after is as vivid as the first awakening to that understanding.
All these memories, following one after another, were condensed into a single substance, but had not so far coalesced that I could not discern between the three strata, between my oldest, my instinctive memories, those others, inspired more recently by a taste or 'perfume,' and those which were actually the memories of another, from whom I had acquired them at second hand—no fissures, indeed, no geological faults, but at least those veins, those streaks of colour which in certain rocks, in certain marbles, point to differences of origin, age, and formation.
Don't these striations always sift into distinction if one allows enough awareness to settle on them? Or do they end up blurring, becoming more difficult to differentiate between memories, memories of memories, and memories of others? I don't believe I have taken on memories of others as my own, or taken memories of memories as the original, as the "condensed into a single substance" seems to imply happens. I know memory is malleable, but I try to be aware when it feels hazy, and when if feels sharp. I wonder if these strata, these fissures, will be relevant.

Previous posts:
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

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