Optical Illusions


Marcel visits Elstir’s studio and meditates on the sources of his artistic vision. Here is a concise definition of Impressionism.

Now the effort made by Elstir to reproduce things not as he knew them to be but according to the optical illusions of which our first sight of them is composed, had led him precisely to bring out certain of these laws of perspective, which were thus all the more striking, since art had been the first to disclose them. (II,570)

Proust’s writing is impressionistic in the same way, as in this scene of the Rivebelle restaurant.

All this dizzy activity became fixed in a quiet harmony. I looked at the round tables whose innumerable assemblages filled the restaurant like so many planets, as the latter are represeneted in old allegorical pictures. Moreover, there seemed to be some irresistible force of attraction at work among these various stars, and at each table the diners had eyes only for the tables at which they were not sitting, with the possible exception of some wealthy Amphitryon who, having managed to secure a famous author, was endeavouring to extract from him, thanks to the magic properties of the turning-table, a few insignificant remarks at which the ladies marvelled. The harmony of these astral tables did not prevent the incessant revolution of the countless waiters, who, because instead of being seated like the diners they were on their feet, performed their gyrations in a more exalted sphere. No doubt they were running, one to fetch the hors d’oeuvres, another to change the wine or to bring clean glasses. But despite these special reasons, their perpetual course among the round tables yielded, after a time, to the observer  the law of its dizzy but ordered circulation. (II,532)

 

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