Friday, November 27, 2009

Slow Read: Swann's Way, Week 7

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

Part Two: Swann in Love

I'm 90% through and finally the good stuff happens. Sure, the writing has been good, the use of flowers as people was lovely, and music as a touchstone for love a sweet touch, but it did go on. Now that it's getting somewhere, I wonder, would it be as good, this end of Swann's Love, if we hadn't had all that came before? I'd like to say for Proust's sake that the long lingering over Swann's swoon of denial made the emergence that much more sharp, but I think we could have had the same impression without a couple or a few of those rounds. On the other hand, today's authorial practice of never ever putting a bit in the writing unless it furthered the story has gone too far in the other direction. Proust is creating a mood, a feeling, and a venue, and it does work.

Just an aside:

(though people now thought of it, by the same mental process which enables one to discover the meaning of a piece of symphonic music of which one has read the programme, or the 'likenesses' in a child whose family one has known: "He's not positively ugly, if you like, but he is really rather absurd; that eyeglass, that tuft, that smile!" realising in their imagination, fed by suggestion, the invisible boundary which divides, at a few months' interval, the head of an ardent lover from a cuckold's)
Does everybody know but Swann? Swann doesn't only because he doesn't want to, quite yet.
These new manners, indifferent, listless, irritable, which Odette now adopted with Swann, undoubtedly made him suffer; but he did not realise how much he suffered; 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 to-day with what she had been at first that he could have measured the extent of the change that had taken place. Now this change was his deep, his secret wound, which pained him day and night, and whenever he felt that his thoughts were straying too near it, he would quickly turn them into another channel for fear of being made to suffer too keenly. He might say to himself in a vague way: "There was a time when Odette loved me more," but he never formed any definite picture of that time.
Love growing, peaking, then dying, what a topsy-turvy time. Poor Swann. But he won't ever again be fooled in quite this way, I bet. He finds himself at a gathering which includes his set. There are fine little examples of the ways in which young folk cast off the tastes of their elders.
Mme. de Cambremer cast a furtive glance behind her. She knew that her young daughter-in-law (full of respect for her new and noble family, except in such matters as related to the intellect, upon which, having 'got as far' as Harmony and the Greek alphabet, she was specially enlightened) despised Chopin, and fell quite ill when she heard him played. But finding herself free from the scrutiny of this Wagnerian, who was sitting, at some distance, in a group of her own contemporaries, Mme. de Cambremer let herself drift upon a stream of exquisite memories and sensations.
But then, Wagner will go out of fashion, and a younger set will re-discover Chopin, just as Sting replaced the Rolling Stones, and each has been replaced and come around again.
Mme. de Gallardon, with a stern countenance and one hand thrust out as though she were trying to 'force' a card, began with: "How is your husband?" in the same anxious tone that she would have used if the Prince had been seriously ill. The Princess, breaking into a laugh which was one of her characteristics, and was intended at once to shew the rest of an assembly that she was making fun of some one and also to enhance her own beauty by concentrating her features around her animated lips and sparkling eyes, answered: "Why; he's never been better in his life!" And she went on laughing.
Just as the Verdurins, who apparently are Bohemians, had well-rehearsed spontaneity, so too do the elite.
"Listen, and I'll explain," she began to Mme. de Gallardon. "To-morrow evening I must go to a friend of mine, who has been pestering me to fix a day for ages. If she takes us to the theatre afterwards, then I can't possibly come to you, much as I should love to; but if we just stay in the house, I know there won't be anyone else there, so I can slip away."
And the Princess, just like the mistress.
"...It's only when I see you that I stop feeling bored." Which was probably not true. But Swann and the Princess had the same way of looking at the little things of life—the effect, if not the cause of which was a close analogy between their modes of expression and even of pronunciation. This similarity was not striking because no two things could have been more unlike than their voices. But if one took the trouble to imagine Swann's utterances divested of the sonority that enwrapped them, of the moustache from under which they emerged, one found that they were the same phrases, the same inflexions, that they had the 'tone' of the Guermantes set.
I wonder if Swann fell in love because Odette was not of his set. The unfamiliarity blinded him to clues to her duplicity. The exotic differences, exciting, enticing, perhaps even dangerous. The Princess is familiar.

Of that tune, Swann's and Odette's, their song, unexpectedly encountered:
Swann felt that it was present, like a protective goddess, a confidant of his love, who, so as to be able to come to him through the crowd, and to draw him aside to speak to him, had disguised herself in this sweeping cloak of sound. And as she passed him, light, soothing, as softly murmured as the perfume of a flower, telling him what she had to say, every word of which he closely scanned, sorry to see them fly away so fast, he made involuntarily with his lips the motion of kissing, as it went by him, the harmonious, fleeting form.
...ever since, more than a year before, discovering to him many of the riches of his own soul, the love of music had been born, and for a time at least had dwelt in him, Swann had regarded musical motifs as actual ideas, of another world, of another order, ideas veiled in shadows, unknown, impenetrable by the human mind
I wonder if music has become, to Swann, as flowers are to the narrator. Perhaps not, as Swann discovered this through love, whereas the narrator had this delicate relationship to flowers before such experiences.
certain great artists who do us the service, when they awaken in us the emotion corresponding to the theme which they have found, of shewing us what richness, what variety lies hidden, unknown to us, in that great black impenetrable night, discouraging exploration, of our soul, which we have been content to regard as valueless and waste and void. Vinteuil had been one of those musicians. In his little phrase, albeit it presented to the mind's eye a clouded surface, there was contained, one felt, a matter so consistent, so explicit, to which the phrase gave so new, so original a force, that those who had once heard it preserved the memory of it in the treasure-chamber of their minds.
Was it possible Swann was opened to love, awakened, by this song? Like enlightenment, I believe love can be a sudden opening to that great emptiness through which we are all connected. This opening of the heart is facilitated by a readiness and a convergence of the moment. A phrase of music could open it that final crack, or a turn of phrase, a clap, a snap of the fingers, like a blossom burst open by a gust of wind.
Perhaps it is not-being that is the true state, and all our dream of life is without existence; but, if so, we feel that it must be that these phrases of music, these conceptions which exist in relation to our dream, are nothing either. We shall perish, but we have for our hostages these divine captives who shall follow and share our fate. And death in their company is something less bitter, less inglorious, perhaps even less certain.
Sounds rather Buddhist with a pinch of god-stuff. Love sparks the divine connectedness. Oh, that sounds like Rumi.
So Swann was not mistaken in believing that the phrase of the sonata did, really, exist. Human as it was from this point of view, it belonged, none the less, to an order of supernatural creatures whom we have never seen, but whom, in spite of that, we recognise and acclaim with rapture when some explorer of the unseen contrives to coax one forth, to bring it down from that divine world to which he has access to shine for a brief moment in the firmament of ours. This was what Vinteuil had done for the little phrase.
For lack of a better expression we create angels. Could it be enough to Recognize the interconnection across Emptiness? (I do not say abyss for the negativity associated with it.) A friend of mine has said he sees art as people sharing their experience of samadhi. Something in the art then seems to spark a universal recognition of this mastery of Truth.
Swann dared not move, and would have liked to compel all the other people in the room to remain still also, as if the slightest movement might embarrass the magic presence, supernatural, delicious, frail, that would so easily vanish. But no one, as it happened, dreamed of speaking. The ineffable utterance of one solitary man, absent, perhaps dead (Swann did not know whether Vinteuil were still alive), breathed out above the rites of those two hierophants, sufficed to arrest the attention of three hundred minds, and made of that stage on which a soul was thus called into being one of the noblest altars on which a supernatural ceremony could be performed.
A sublime moment, Swann was not alone in sensing the divine through the music.
From that evening, Swann understood that the feeling which Odette had once had for him would never revive, that his hopes of happiness would not be realised now.
He is now ready to emerge from the madness that was his love. It allowed him to experience this sacred moment, led up to it, yet experiencing this also brought him through to a sanity regarding his love that he couldn't access before. ....yet he does go on with some more dying obsessions. This is what happens, isn't it, my friends who have loved so heart-breakingly thoroughly? We have these moments of clarity, but still that wicked obsession sends us down a well-worn track, looking again for clues and markers that assure us there was indeed something there, this love wasn't just one-sided, that other one that has turned cold, but they participated, they did. When this happens to you, my friend, avoid that other person at all costs. I know you want to rub that raw place again, be near that other one, but don't. Allow some time and space. So too should have Swann.
No doubt Swann was assured that if he had now been living at a distance from Odette he would gradually have lost all interest in her, so that he would have been glad to learn that she was leaving Paris for ever; he would have had the courage to remain there; but he had not the courage to go.
Friends of those love-spurned who do not have this courage, help them find it! Try to convince them it is for their own good to stay away from that love interest. Maybe nothing can be done. Be gentle. But the sooner removed, the sooner that heart can heal and get on an even keel. Still, there is some need, like picking at a scab, to confront and pin down.
He went to see Odette. He sat down, keeping at a distance from her. He did not dare to embrace her, not knowing whether in her, in himself, it would be affection or anger that a kiss would provoke. He sat there silent, watching their love expire. Suddenly he made up his mind.
He pushed her for details of her lies, and discovered over and over ways she had played him that he didn't expect. Someone should have stopped him. Or maybe he had to be exposed, then he could be inoculated from any further what-ifs.
He smiled back at her with the sudden, craven weakness of the utterly spiritless creature which these crushing words had made of him. And so, even in the months of which he had never dared to think again, because they had been too happy, in those months when she had loved him, she was already lying to him!
Here's where it gets interesting to me. Like Swann, or Proust, I too examine love for its shape, its manifestations, its universal entity:
For what we suppose to be our love, our jealousy are, neither of them, single, continuous and individual passions. They are composed of an infinity of successive loves, of different jealousies, each of which is ephemeral, although by their uninterrupted multitude they give us the impression of continuity, the illusion of unity. The life of Swann's love, the fidelity of his jealousy, were formed out of death, of infidelity, of innumerable desires, innumerable doubts, all of which had Odette for their object. If he had remained for any length of time without seeing her, those that died would not have been replaced by others. But the presence of Odette continued to sow in Swann's heart alternate seeds of love and suspicion.
So don't feed those identity beasties, the ones that are so painful, at least. Turn away, in small ways if that's the only way you can, if you must, if there is no hope. Don't put yourself through this agony, as Swann did. It is altogether too tempting to walk these paths again:
And Swann felt himself overflowing with gratitude to her, as well as to Mme. Verdurin (and almost to Odette, for the feeling that he now entertained for her was no longer tinged with pain, was scarcely even to be described, now, as love), while from the platform of the omnibus he followed her with loving eyes.... But now, to the faintness of his love there corresponded a simultaneous faintness in his desire to remain her lover. For a man cannot change, that is to say become another person, while he continues to obey the dictates of the self which he has ceased to be.
Dream sequence, seems significant. To visit, go here, and use a find search for "He was mistaken." (wow, a short sentence, how about that?) Swann's self-analysis of the dream has quite a modern psychological understanding.
his mind, anxious to admire the richness of invention that life shews, and incapable of facing a difficult problem for any length of time, such as to discover what, actually, had been most to be wished for, came to the conclusion that the sufferings through which he had passed that evening, and the pleasures, at that time unsuspected, which were already being brought to birth,—the exact balance between which was too difficult to establish—were linked by a sort of concatenation of necessity.
We modern American Buddhists like to use the word interconnected, but I wonder if this word, new to me, concatenation, does the job?
Odette's pallid complexion, her too thin cheeks, her drawn features, her tired eyes, all the things which—in the course of those successive bursts of affection which had made of his enduring love for Odette a long oblivion of the first impression that he had formed of her—he had ceased to observe after the first few days of their intimacy.... ...he cried out in his heart: "To think that I have wasted years of my life, that I have longed for death, that the greatest love that I have ever known has been for a woman who did not please me, who was not in my style!"
Finally! Swann is recovered. Boy, I hear ya, Swann. I've been there. Inoculated now.

Previous posts:

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Weeks 5 and 6

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