Compressed by Reality


In the famous Goodnight Kiss scene, Marcel implores his mother to visit him and is rewarded with an overnight stay. This sends him into a state of despair:

It struck me that if I had just won a victory it was over her, that I had succeeded, as sickness or sorrow or age might have succeeded, in relaxing her will, in undermining her judgement; and that this evening opened a new era, would remain a black date in the calendar. And if I had dared now, I should have said to Mamma: “No, I don’t want you to, you mustn’t sleep here.” (I,51) 

A pattern is established whereby Marcel is crushed when he possesses what he has desired. Note how similar this passage is, where his mother relents and allows him to go to the theater to see Berma:

…”Very well, we don’t want to make you unhappy–if you think you will enjoy it so very much, you must go,” when this visit to the theatre, hitherto forbidden and unattainable, depended now on myself alone, then for the first time, being no longer troubled by the wish that it might cease to be impossible, I wondered whether it was desirable, whether there were not other reasons than my parent’s prohibition which should have made me abandon it. In the first place, whereas I had hated them for their cruelty, their consent made them now so dear to me that the thought of causing them pain stabbed me also with a through which the purpose of life now appeared to me as the pursuit not of truth but of loving kindness, and life itself seemed good or evil only in so far as my parents were happy or sad. (II,18)

Similarly, the actual performance of Berma in Phedre does not measure up to his absurdly elevated expectations.

Alas! that matinée was to prove a bitter disappointment. (II,20)

But at the same time all my pleasure had ceased; in vain did I strain towards Berma eyes, ears, mind, so as not to let one morsel escape me of the reasons which she would give me for admiring her, I did not succeed in gleaning a single one. (II,26)

These examples might be illustrations what the narrator later calls the law of imagination: you are forbidden from imagining what you see in front of you. Marcel will need to find ways to reconcile his imagination with life experience.

My interest in Berma’s acting had continued to grow ever since the fall of the curtain because it was no longer compressed with the limits of reality. (II,38)

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