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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Slow Read: Swann's Way, Weeks 5 and 6

I had another book to read between these weeks for my library's book group, The Picture of Dorian Gray, so I didn't get time to blog. Oscar Wilde was just a little ahead of Proust on the literary time-line, but I found the settings quite similar. Gardens and dinner salons and people being, or trying to be, witty at the expense of others. I really enjoyed Wilde much more. One day in the library, I saw a woman who's a regular attendee of the Read the Classics programs, and she asked me if I was reading this. We were both having trouble getting into it, and she said she thought it's been overrated. Whereas Wilde is devilish and witty, Proust is meticulously long-winded. He does manage to convey a time and scene quite thoroughly, but it is so slow that Wilde has already run circles around him. During my reading, Lord Henry and Dorian Gray keep inserting themselves into the story, livening up the sickening fakery of the Proustian salons, and I have to remind myself, that vision comes from Wilde, not Proust.

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

The Verdurins never invited you to dinner; you had your 'place laid' there. There was never any programme for the evening's entertainment. The young pianist would play, but only if he felt inclined...

And so, too, if one of the 'faithful' had a friend, or one of the ladies a young man, who was liable, now and then, to make them miss an evening....

...he would be put to the test, to see whether he was willing to have no secrets from Mme. Verdurin, whether he was susceptible of being enrolled in the 'little clan.' ... And so when, in the course of this same year, the courtesan told M. Verdurin that she had made the acquaintance of such a charming gentleman, M. Swann, and hinted that he would very much like to be allowed to come, M. Verdurin carried the request at once to his wife. He never formed an opinion on any subject until she had formed hers, his special duty being to carry out her wishes and those of the 'faithful' generally, which he did with boundless ingenuity.
I should have known I was in for it with this description of the Verdurins. I can't stand people like that. Apparently neither can Proust. So Swann falls for this woman, here called a courtesan, but in his understanding, only rumored to have been a "kept woman." Is it noteworthy that the narrator has such intimate details of Swann's great love that happened at the time of the narrator's birth? I've been told of the 19th century novels that the narrator is simply a device, not to get too worked up about their part in the novel.
But [my grandfather] had entirely severed his connection with what he called "young Verdurin," taking a general view of him as one who had fallen--though without losing hold of his millions--among the riff-raff of Bohemia. One day he received a letter from Swann asking whether my grandfather could put him in touch with the Verdurins. ...

And on my grandfather's refusal to act as sponsor, it was Odette herself who had taken Swann to the house.
So those outside the group don't think much of them, while the Verdurins are so rigid about their faithful. They are funny and creepy.

Dr. Cottard:
was never quite certain of the tone in which he ought to reply to any observation, or whether the speaker was jesting or in earnest. And so in any event he would embellish all his facial expressions with the offer of a conditional, a provisional smile whose expectant subtlety would exonerate him from the charge of being a simpleton, if the remark addressed to him should turn out to have been facetious. But as he must also be prepared to face the alternative, he never dared to allow this smile a definite expression on his features, and you would see there a perpetually flickering uncertainty
Mme. Verdurin:
so was overtaken and vanquished by her device of a feigned but continuous hilarity—she would utter a shrill cry, shut tight her little bird-like eyes, which were beginning to be clouded over by a cataract, and quickly, as though she had only just time to avoid some indecent sight or to parry a mortal blow, burying her face in her hands, which completely engulfed it, and prevented her from seeing anything at all, she would appear to be struggling to suppress, to eradicate a laugh which, were she to give way to it, must inevitably leave her inanimate.
M. Verdurin:
finding it rather a strain to start laughing again over so small a matter, he was content with puffing out a cloud of smoke from his pipe, while he reflected sadly that he could never again hope to keep pace with his wife in her Atalanta-flights across the field of mirth.
Swann (what is he doing here?):
"I know him slightly; we have some friends in common" (Swann dared not add that one of these friends was the Prince of Wales). "Anyhow, he is very free with his invitations, and, I assure you, his luncheon-parties are not the least bit amusing; they're very simple affairs, too, you know; never more than eight at table," he went on, trying desperately to cut out everything that seemed to shew off his relations with the President in a light too dazzling for the Doctor's eyes.
Ah, the allowances one convinces oneself of, for love:
"What a charming atmosphere!" [Swann] said to himself. "How entirely genuine life is to these people! They are far more intelligent, far more artistic, surely, than the people one knows. Mme. Verdurin, in spite of a few trifling exaggerations which are rather absurd, has a sincere love of painting and music! What a passion for works of art, what anxiety to give pleasure to artists! Her ideas about some of the people one knows are not quite right, but then their ideas about artistic circles are altogether wrong! Possibly I make no great intellectual demands upon conversation, but I am perfectly happy talking to Cottard, although he does trot out those idiotic puns. And as for the painter, if he is rather unpleasantly affected when he tries to be paradoxical, still he has one of the finest brains that I have ever come across.
Swann is a trifle too warm in describing a person the Verdurins consider a rival, so he is cast out of the 'faithful.'
His explanation was terribly effective; Mme. Verdurin now realised that this one state of unbelief would prevent her 'little nucleus' from ever attaining to complete unanimity, and was unable to restrain herself, in her fury at the obstinacy of this wretch who could not see what anguish his words were causing her...
The worthy man suffered acutely from the Verdurins' always finding him so dull; and as he was conscious of having been more than ordinarily morose this evening, he had made up his mind that he would succeed in being amusing, at least once, before the end of dinner.
M. Verdurin finds a new humor mask:
As for M. Verdurin, he was unsparing of his merriment, having recently discovered a way of expressing it by a symbol, different from his wife's, but equally simple and obvious. Scarcely had he begun the movement of head and shoulders of a man who was 'shaking with laughter' than he would begin also to cough, as though, in laughing too violently, he had swallowed a mouthful of smoke from his pipe. And by keeping the pipe firmly in his mouth he could prolong indefinitely the dumb-show of suffocation and hilarity. So he and Mme. Verdurin (who, at the other side of the room, where the painter was telling her a story, was shutting her eyes preparatory to flinging her face into her hands) resembled two masks in a theatre, each representing Comedy, but in a different way.
The Verdurins are like a parody of the arts they would say they support.

Before he knows it, Swann is given the boot:
"Didn't I say so?" retorted her husband. "He's simply a failure; a poor little wretch who goes through life mad with jealousy of anything that's at all big." Had the truth been known, there was not one of the 'faithful' who was not infinitely more malicious than Swann; but the others would all take the precaution of tempering their malice with obvious pleasantries, with little sparks of emotion and cordiality; while the least indication of reserve on Swann's part, undraped in any such conventional formula as "Of course, I don't want to say anything—" to which he would have scorned to descend, appeared to them a deliberate act of treachery.
And thus Odette begins her campaign of disdain. The more she lies, evades, and pushes Swann away, the more entrenched he becomes in his addictive love for her. Even while a rational part of his brain tells him that without the ecstatic romantic feelings he wouldn't have much in common with Odette, he becomes more frenetic over trying to see her, as well as trying to catch her in a deception. How familiar those love-addicted thoughts are. The more elusive a love's object, the more one is convinced of that love. For example, Swann realises he may be participating in the whole 'kept woman' dynamic, thinking of the money he gave Odette to help with her expenses...
He could not explore the idea further, for a sudden access of that mental lethargy which was, with him, congenital, intermittent and providential, happened, at that moment, to extinguish every particle of light in his brain, as instantaneously as, at a later period, when electric lighting had been everywhere installed, it became possible, merely by fingering a switch, to cut off all the supply of light from a house. His mind fumbled, for a moment, in the darkness, he took off his spectacles, wiped the glasses, passed his hands over his eyes, but saw no light until he found himself face to face with a wholly different idea, the realisation that he must endeavour, in the coming month, to send Odette six or seven thousand-franc notes instead of five, simply as a surprise for her and to give her pleasure.
When not Odette-addled, Swann is a likable guy. He can hob knob with the Prince, and with regular folks.
He had the same regard—to a degree of identity which they would never have suspected—for the little families with small incomes who asked him to dances in their flats ("straight upstairs to the fifth floor, and the door on the left") as for the Princesse de Parme, who gave the most splendid parties in Paris; but he had not the feeling of being actually 'at the ball' when he found himself herded with the fathers of families in the bedroom of the lady of the house, while the spectacle of wash-hand-stands covered over with towels, and of beds converted into cloak-rooms, with a mass of hats and great-coats sprawling over their counterpanes, gave him the same stifling sensation that, nowadays, people who have been used for half a lifetime to electric light derive from a smoking lamp or a candle that needs to be snuffed.
Swann tortures himself with thoughts of Odette with other men. He spies on her. He suspects her of lying, but when he doesn't suspect and she is lying, he absolutely will not believe she is lying. Such delusion, such attachment, so difficult to avoid when it comes to this kind of love.
As though this had been a bodily pain, Swann's mind was powerless to alleviate it; in the case of bodily pain, however, since it is independent of the mind, the mind can dwell upon it, can note that it has diminished, that it has momentarily ceased. But with this mental pain, the mind, merely by recalling it, created it afresh. To determine not to think of it was but to think of it still, to suffer from it still.
When she pays him a small favor of attention, he elevates it to favoring him over others with her love. She sure does know how to play a man.
So, too, Odette, certain of seeing him come to her in a few days, as tender and submissive as before, and plead with her for a reconciliation, became inured, was no longer afraid of displeasing him, or even of making him angry, and refused him, whenever it suited her, the favours by which he set most store. Perhaps she did not realise how sincere he had been with her during their quarrel, when he had told her that he would not send her any money, but would do what he could to hurt her. Perhaps she did not realise, either, how sincere he still was, if not with her, at any rate with himself, on other occasions when, for the sake of their future relations, to shew Odette that he was capable of doing without her, that a rupture was still possible between them, he decided to wait some time before going to see her again.
For Swann, the very thought of trying to pull away from her ends up pushing him further off the deep end.
An imperfect idea (though possibly all the more profound in consequence), if one were to judge it from the point of view of Swann, who would doubtless have considered that Odette failed to understand him, just as a morphinomaniac.... which in reality have never ceased to weigh heavily and incurably upon them while they were nursing their dreams of normality and health. And, as a matter of fact, Swann's love had reached that stage at which the physician and (in the case of certain affections) the boldest of surgeons ask themselves whether to deprive a patient of his vice or to rid him of his malady is still reasonable, or indeed possible.

Previous posts:
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4

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

Monday, November 09, 2009

Fat Karma: Morbidity and Weight

Invariably, if you try to say we should stop talking about weight, someone responds as if you are saying you can do whatever the hell you want, as if you are saying we shouldn't care about our health. It is difficult to get folks to understand that weight does not necessarily correspond to good or bad health habits.

I've been thinking of doing this series for a while. I'm sure the seed began several years ago when I read Paul Campos' The Obesity Myth. I finally took the plunge when I got into a series of disagreements with someone on facebook regarding the Moral Panic I'd been witnessing in the whole Health Care Reform debate. Just as an aside, I am not hopeful about the thing called a health care reform that just passed the House. It guarantees insurers that every citizen must buy insurance. What a corporate windfall. And while it says they cannot refuse to insure people, and cannot raise the premiums of sick people, it does not say anything, at least that I have heard, that those who are in a supposed high risk category and mythically can choose not to be, cannot be punished with higher premiums. That is, if you're fat, you'll pay, and if you can't afford the premiums, you'll pay fines. So, back to the disagreements. This person dismissed this quote from Campos from the Moral Panic article, "After twenty years of studying this complicated issue, I cannot offer any meaningful public policy suggestions, but I do know that we should all stop talking about this issue." He took a whole book to prove that point, and she can dismiss it from a quote from an article.

What Paul Campos found in the studies was that only the underweight and the extremely overweight are at greater risk of earlier mortality, and in fact if over 65, to be what is considered "overweight" is actually a health benefit. Yet there is a common belief that simply to be overweight is deadly, and to be morbidly obese, as I am considered to be, is beyond the pale. A couple of eye-popping statements in the online comment-troll world keep surfacing on such articles. 1. You don't see any fat old people. and 2. I'm not sure which is worse, obesity or smoking. These are such extreme versions of the age-old fears of simply being fat, with health having nothing to do with it. I thought, huh, so people still do choose smoking over gaining weight. What Campos also found was that most people who do worry about their weight have no reason to...their weight level has no effect, or has a positive effect, on their health. What he found is that people do attach a moral component to a person's weight. People attach a measure of self-worth, and with that as your measure of health, you can never win the fat fight.

For a while I thought about reading boards about weight loss, what people say about how they feel so much better. How now they can go dancing, now they can do this or that with their kids. How much happier they are. How they can let themselves be seen in public. How they can date again. I suspected a good 80% of the comments would have nothing to do with their physical capabilities. People measure the negative health impact of their supposed excess weight by how they feel, when how they feel is measured by their feelings of self-worth, not their actual physical health. The only thing holding people back from active participation in the world is their own negative feelings about their bodies, and nothing else. I could say the same about those commercials for the evil bariatric surgeries.

You know what, I can't run fast, but I can run, even though I am bearing a weight load. If I am climbing or descending stairs, I must be aware of the load I am carrying, with my head and shoulders and knees aligned appropriately with my center of gravity, just as a weight-training athlete would. I can still dance. I can still date. I can still be seen in the world. I can still eat in public, even though I'm fat. What others think of me doesn't and shouldn't matter, yet that is part of the reason why some people feel they need to lose weight. My allergies limit my participation in worldly activities more than my weight does.

If I wish to be healthy, I do need to be concerned about my cholesterol levels, my blood sugar levels, my blood workup indicating vitamin D and iron and other minerals. The Framingham Heart Study does not list obesity as a predictor of coronary heart disease. Number one predictor? Age. Pure and simple, we get old, we're gonna die. All this worry about weight's gonna make us die young, the doctor actually telling me, without studies proving this, that it will shorten my life, this is all about getting old, dying. Well, we're all gonna die. Chances are I will have little say as to when. Next predictors: diabetes, smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol. Guess what folks? In two years, I have gained a little weight, what, maybe 10, 20 pounds. And my cholesterol and my blood sugar levels have gone down. Weight has nothing to do with it. Indeed, how I feel about it has a lot more to do with it, maybe as much as that balanced diet thing. More on that in an upcoming post. My blood pressure went up slightly, which with the help of the lowest level of bp meds, is now lower than it's ever been in my adult life. It and high cholesterol run in my family, no surprise there, whatever I weigh. Funny thing though, when I run my numbers, whether I use my pre-med high systolic blood pressure of 160, or my med-induced number of 110, my 10 year risk of heart attack is still less than 1%.

By the way, without even starting on the ill-advised voodoo nature of wishing negative outcomes on someone, what useful meaning does that have, to tell someone, "This will shorten your life." ? You may think you have a statistic, but you can't apply that to an individual. You have no idea how long I would live in a perfect world, so how can you subtract days, months, or years from that?

I don't like the word "obese," much less, of course, "morbidly obese." These words hold a judgment in the view of many as a death sentence, and at least severely sickly. I'm pretty sure most fat people prefer the descriptive word "fat." If I am sickly at any point, it is more to do with my allergies than anything else. I haven't had the flu in over 20 years, and I've had a cold maybe once in the last 10 years. I have mild asthma, but I don't need to take regular medications for it, and I use a rescue inhaler so rarely that my prescription keeps expiring. My health indicators are all good, and even better since I have been able to act on the information from that blood workup.

Funny thing is, I was blaming my weak knees on my weight, thinking, well gee, they have to work hard, maybe they're wearing out. The erstwhile Facebook friend tossed that out as a bugaboo one time when she couldn't slap down heart disease as the bugaboo, and I would have agreed with her. Actually, it was a Vitamin D deficiency. Many of us in the Pacific Northwest have a Vit. D issue. I wonder how many people suffer from failing knees who could have used a massive Vitamin D boost? When I was getting my new CPAP machine I met a woman in the waiting room in a wheel chair because she needed knee surgery. They won't give her the knee surgery until she loses weight. I found myself wondering, how can they expect her to lose weight if she can't move? She said it had to do with being able to bear the weight to recover. My thought is, what, can't they develop alternative recoveries? People have amazing artificial legs available these days...if these can be developed, why can't there be as amazing a solution to easing the weight-bearing load on a recovering knee? The thing is, my erstwhile Facebook friend had tossed this karma out there as blameworthy. It is our own damn fault if we wreck our knees because we allowed our weight to get so bad as to wreck them, so we deserve to live with it if we don't lose the weight.

Another funny thing, I was blaming my occasional shortness of breath on my fat too. Makes sense, wouldn't we all? But that turned out to be due to an iron deficiency. Regular imbibing of iron, then wow, no shortness of breath. Turns out this is a symptom of anemia. Once diagnosed, I thought, duh, I should have known, I'm a vegetarian. But this hadn't been an issue, though I've been a vegetarian for 20 years. Only in the past few years, my monthly blood flow has gotten heavier, thus, anemia. These are ways in which doctors hurt us, if they don't seek out other possible causes, and we hurt ourselves too, when we blame only the fat.

I'm trying to use the obesity word a little bit, though. Perhaps I can be an example. See? I'm what they call morbidly obese, yet my indicators show that I am in no danger of diabetes or heart disease, even though the fat-fear-mongers would fling these at me like sticks and mud and stones. See? My favorite place to shop is the farmer's market, and my favorite meal is probably Tom Kah soup with lots of veggies. See? When I am given identifiable tasks that will improve my health, I take them and my health improves, without a diet having to enter into the equation, though it can mean a change in diet.

Coming soon: Voodoo Hex of Fat Fear, Breaking the Diet Habit, Confessions, and more.

Earlier posts in this series:
It Starts Young
Health Care Bigotry

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Slow Read: Swann's Way, Week 3

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

Aha! So the end of last week I left off wondering why Bloch was was because he

had gone on to assure me that he had heard it said on unimpeachable authority that my great-aunt herself had led a 'gay' life in her younger days, and had been notoriously 'kept.' I could not refrain from passing on so important a piece of information to my parents; the next time Bloch called he was not admitted, and afterwards, when I met him in the street, he greeted me with extreme coldness. I'm left wondering, why can't this kid keep these things to himself?

I was wondering about St. Hilaire/St. Hilarius. Interesting that he shares a name with a naturalist with similar ideas to Darwin.
Very well, that is Saint Hilaire, who is also known, you will remember, in certain parts of the country as Saint Illiers, Saint Helier, and even, in the Jura, Saint Ylie. But these various corruptions of Sanctus Hilarius are by no means the most curious that have occurred in the names of the blessed Saints.
The boy witnesses his aunt waking from a bad dream in which her dead husband is alive and he makes her go for a walk. It's an interesting little glimpse that the narrator keeps to himself. I wonder if she is agoraphobic, and if it came about because of her husband's death.

The boy especially sees women in flowers...
It was in these 'Month of Mary' services that I can remember having first fallen in love with hawthorn-blossom. The hawthorn was not merely in the church, for there, holy ground as it was, we had all of us a right of entry; but, arranged upon the altar itself, inseparable from the mysteries in whose celebration it was playing a part, it thrust in among the tapers and the sacred vessels its rows of branches, tied to one another horizontally in a stiff, festal scheme of decoration...
...its bunch of stamens, slender as gossamer, which clouded the flower itself in a white mist, that in following these with my eyes, in trying to imitate, somewhere inside myself, the action of their blossoming, I imagined it as a swift and thoughtless movement of the head with an enticing glance from her contracted pupils, by a young girl in white, careless and alive.
At first I think M. Legrandin is having an affair, and thus wouldn't acknowledge the family, but it turns out to be a class thing, in spite of M. Legrandin trying to act all proletariat.
M. Legrandin had barely acknowledged the courtesy, and then with an air of surprise, as though he had not recognised us, and with that distant look characteristic of people who do not wish to be agreeable, and who from the suddenly receding depths of their eyes seem to have caught sight of you at the far end of an interminably straight road, and at so great a distance that they content themselves with directing towards you an almost imperceptible movement of the head, in proportion to your doll-like dimensions. Now, the lady who was walking with Legrandin was a model of virtue, known and highly respected; there could be no question of his being out for amorous adventure, and annoyed at being detected; and my father asked himself how he could possibly have displeased our friend.
Their suspicion is confirmed when M. Legrandin does not tell them (again) of his sister's nearness to Balbec, where the boy will stay with his grandmother. The man is a secret snob. He blathers on about knowing many people in many places. Here's a good hint --> if someone blathers on without quite answering a question directly, he's hiding something.

Oh! Swann's way is a walk. They either go the Guermantes way, or Swann's way, also known as Meseglise.
Since my father used always to speak of the 'Meseglise way' as comprising the finest view of a plain that he knew anywhere, and of the 'Guermantes way' as typical of river scenery, I had invested each of them, by conceiving them in this way as two distinct entities, with that cohesion, that unity which belongs only to the figments of the mind; the smallest detail of either of them appeared to me as a precious thing, which exhibited the special excellence of the whole, while, immediately beside them, in the first stages of our walk, before we had reached the sacred soil of one or the other, the purely material roads, at definite points on which they were set down as the ideal view over a plain and the ideal scenery of a river, were no more worth the trouble of looking at them than, to a keen playgoer and lover of dramatic art, are the little streets which may happen to run past the walls of a theatre. But, above all, I set between them, far more distinctly than the mere distance in miles and yards and inches which separated one from the other, the distance that there was between the two parts of my brain in which I used to think of them, one of those distances of the mind which time serves only to lengthen, which separate things irremediably from one another, keeping them for ever upon different planes.
He's very sensitive and sensual, this boy. Of lilacs along the walk:
Despite my desire to throw my arms about their pliant forms and to draw down towards me the starry locks that crowned their fragrant heads, we would pass them by without stopping...
He's always been very interested in Swann's little girl, because of her author friend Bergotte, so when they walk by, the narrator hopes to see her.
I should have liked to see their reckoning proved false, to see, by a miracle, Mlle. Swann appear, with her father, so close to us that we should not have time to escape, and should therefore be obliged to make her acquaintance. And so, when I suddenly noticed a straw basket lying forgotten on the grass by the side of a line whose float was bobbing in the water, I made a great effort to keep my father and grandfather looking in another direction, away from this sign that she might, after all, be in residence.
I know from the hawthorn on my street, they can have a stunning presence, and I don't have the boy's association with the ceremonies he loves. grandfather called me to him, and, pointing to the hedge of Tansonville, said: "You are fond of hawthorns; just look at this pink one; isn't it pretty?" ...that it was Nature herself who had spontaneously expressed it (with the simplicity of a woman from a village shop, labouring at the decoration of a street altar for some procession) by burying the bush in these little rosettes, almost too ravishing in colour, this rustic 'pompadour.'
Such a significant moment. Taking in his beloved hawthorns, coming upon the unique pompadour hawthorn, then seeing the girl at Swann's.
Suddenly I stood still, unable to move, as happens when something appears that requires not only our eyes to take it in, but involves a deeper kind of perception and takes possession of the whole of our being. A little girl, with fair, reddish hair, who appeared to be returning from a walk, and held a trowel in her hand, was looking at us, raising towards us a face powdered with pinkish freckles. Her black eyes gleamed, and as I did not at that time know, and indeed have never since learned how to reduce to its objective elements any strong impression, since I had not, as they say, enough 'power of observation' to isolate the sense of their colour, for a long time afterwards, whenever I thought of her, the memory of those bright eyes would at once present itself to me as a vivid azure, since her complexion was fair; so much so that, perhaps, if her eyes had not been quite so black—which was what struck one most forcibly on first meeting her—I should not have been, as I was, especially enamoured of their imagined blue.
And this girl holds hints of ways of being that this obedient boy has not known before.
...she allowed her eyes to wander, over the space that lay between us, in my direction, without any particular expression, without appearing to have seen me, but with an intensity, a half-hidden smile which I was unable to interpret, according to the instruction I had received in the ways of good breeding, save as a mark of infinite disgust; and her hand, at the same time, sketched in the air an indelicate gesture, for which, when it was addressed in public to a person whom one did not know, the little dictionary of manners which I carried in my mind supplied only one meaning, namely, a deliberate insult. "Gilberte, come along; what are you doing?" called out in a piercing tone of authority a lady in white, whom I had not seen until that moment, while, a little way beyond her, a gentleman in a suit of linen 'ducks,' whom I did not know either, stared at me with eyes which seemed to be starting from his head; the little girl's smile abruptly faded, and, seizing her trowel, she made off without turning to look again hi my direction, with an air of obedience, inscrutable and sly.
Again, I happened to pick a stopping point that leaves me eager for the next installment. This is purely accidental, as there are many long-winded spots that would not have yielded such an introduction to an intriguing character, so obviously significant to the narrator.

Previous posts:
Week 1
Week 2