Matt's Reviews > Swann's Way

Swann's Way by Marcel Proust
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Aug 21, 07

it was amazing
Read in July, 2007

Reading "Swann's Way" was simultaneously one of the most enlightening and most disheartening things I've ever done. The enlightening part should be obvious - never in modern literature has someone dealt so eloquently with issues of memory, love, nostalgia, etc. There is his famous episode of the Madeleine, which frames the whole book - the unnamed narrator bites into a Madeleine dipped in tea, a treat he hasn't indulged in years, and all of a sudden feels this unplaceable rush of nostalgia. The rest is his search, his "Remembrance of the Things Past," to find the source of this emotional upheaval. This bit of literature, of course, preceeds the scientific research on sense triggers of memory by nearly a century.
What is more amazing to me than this lone innovation, though, is that the whole structure of the book flows like memory. Particularly in the chapter "Combray", the narration moves through time not based on chronology, but based on the flow of associations. The thread of a single character or thought will move through different time periods, as the network of memory associations unfolds.
His brilliance on exactly this subject is what made it so disheartening - since so much of my work deals with memory (and the relationship between memory and places, which "Swann's Way" explores deeply), it was tough to read someone do it so much more eloquently, so much more astutely, that I'll ever be able to. Almost enough to make me want to make work about something else. I mean, how can I compete with this:

"The places we have known do not belong only to the world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at thaat time; the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenures are as fugitive, alas, as the years."
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