The Proust Project I


The novelist André Aciman invited twenty-eight writers to choose a favorite passage from ISOLT and comment on it in a brief essay. I include here portion of a few of the responces.

Lydia Davis on the Martinville steeple passage and her wonder at a boy writing it:

Young Marcel’s age is a constant puzzle, anyway, in the first volume of the novel: it seems, throughout, to be an amalgam of different ages. Would a child of thirteen or, say, seven do all of the following: wait for his mother’s kiss in the hallway; enjoy his private lust in the little room that smelled of orrisroot; be allowed to sit with the adults at dinner for a short time only; read Bergotte and discuss him with his friend Bloch and with Swann; tearfully hug the hawthorns in his new jacket and rip the curlpapers out of his hair; write the description of the steeples; dread the approach of bedtime once again, and with it the separation of his mother? (15)

 Lara Vapnyar on Swann and Odette and the cattleyas:

“Perhaps, too, he was fixing upon the face of an Odette not yet possessed, nor even kissed by him, which he was seeing for the last time, the comprehensive gaze with which, on the day of his departure, a traveller hopes to bear away with him in memory a landscape he is leaving for ever.”  The beauty of this sentence is in Proust’s ability to move from past to future, and back, and back again, never quite touching the present. In the words “not yet possessed” there is a glimpse of the future, where Odette would already be possessed by Swann and what’s happening now in the carriage would inevitably be looked upon as the past. The metaphoric traveller is making a similar time journey: he is looking at the place he is about to depart from (the act of leaving is still in the future) as if it had already slipped into the past and he had memories of it. The only thing that is missing is the present…(30)

Alain de Botton on the passage where Marcel spends the night on a train:

We’ve all heard the train wheels beat against the rails, but takes Proust to rescue the sound from our customary inattention and to pin it down in words that carry over the emotional charge of the original experience. The value of Proust’s novel is not limited to its depiction of emotions and people akin to those in our own life, it stretches to an ability to describe these far better than we would have been able, to put a finger on perceptions that we recognize as our own but could not have formulated on our own. An effect of reading a book that hs devoted attention to noticing such faint yet vital tremors is that once we’ve put the volume down and resumed our own life, we may attend to precisely the things which the author would have responded to had he or she been in our company. Our mind will be like a radar newly attuned to pick up certain objects floating through consciousness. The book will have sensitized us, stimulated our dormant antennae by evidence of its own sensitivity. (43-43)

Wayne Koestenbaum on Marcel’s infatuation with the duchess:

Marcel’s extreme consciousness requires the ballast of a motionless, heraldic, feminine object. The duchess could be Vivien Leigh, or Arletty, or Catherine Deneuve, or Kim Novak in Vertigo, a figment one never stops searching for; the duchess is any woman you have idealized for reasons that sensible people would call silly or superficial. Proust’s Search is full of love objects, and the duchess is not the central one. And yet, in my biased estimation, Marcel’s brief love for the duchess–her name, her remoteness, her station, her beauty, her nose, her pronunciation, her chiffon–stands out as the most poignant. (58)

 Andrew Solomon on Marcel’s grandmother’s illness:

“But to ask pity of our body is like discoursing  in front of an octopus, for which our words can have no more meaning than the sound of the tides.” To discourse in front of an octopus is not deeply satisfying, but to realize that your are the octopus is ghastly….Somehow this octopus is the flawed part of us. It is the part the insufferable le needs of which so weigh down the characters in Proust, leading them into damage and despair. To love purely and freely, without the encumbrance of desire or illness–this ascetic goal seems to preoccupy Marcel even as he writes of human weakness, sensual despair, and the alien body. This body–will no one rid me of its pleasures and its pain? And yet, one does not even have the language with which to address the monstrous thing within which one is imprisoned and without which one is gone. (64)

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One Response to “The Proust Project I”

  1. Patrice LOUIS Says:

    Sincère salut d’Illiers-Combray où je suis venu vivre par passion pour Proust. Rendez-vous sur mon blogue lefoudeproust.fr
    Patrice Louis

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