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615 pages, Paperback
First published November 14, 1913
’Even when he was not thinking of the little phrase, it existed, latent, in his mind, in the same way as certain other conceptions without material equivalent, such as our notions of light, of sound, of perspective, of bodily desire, the rich possessions wherewith our inner temple is diversified and adorned. Perhaps we shall lose them, perhaps they will be obliterated, if we return to nothing in the dust. But so long as we are alive, we can no more bring ourselves to a state in which we shall not have known them than we can with regard to any material object, than we can, for example, doubt the luminosity of a lamp that has just been lighted, in view of the changed aspect of everything in the room, from which has vanished even the memory of the darkness. In that way Vinteuil's phrase, like some theme, say, inTristan, which represents to us also a certain acquisition of sentiment, has espoused our mortal state, had endued a vesture of humanity that was affecting enough. Its destiny was linked, for the future, with that of the human soul, of which it was one of the special, the most distinctive ornaments. 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.’Beautiful. Throughout Swann’s Way we see this sentiment expressed to cover all of reality in a blanket of art; by reshaping what we perceive into beautiful notions of prose, music, sculpture, architecture, or any other form of aesthetics, Proust seeks to discover the true shape of meaning and cling to an ideal, an ideal that will linger like a sweet perfume long after the actual object of desire and reflection has either faded or reared it’s ugly head and begun to rot.
’[E]ven though he probably valued the Florentine masterpiece only because he fount it again in her, nevertheless that resemblance conferred a certain beauty on her too, made her more precious…and he felt happy that his pleasure in seeing Odette could be be justified by his own aesthetic culture.’Lovemaking for the couple becomes more personal, more artistic in his eyes through their personal euphemism ‘make cattleya’ as it brings all further acts of intimacy performed under such a title an extension to the first, passionate and idealized union of their bodies. The act ‘lived on in their language’ and offered Swann a sense of possession over the act by creating with the phrase an ‘entirely individual and new’ action. The ‘little phrase’ played by the pianist during their first encounter at the Verdurin’s becomes the anthem of their love, and it’s melody carries the image of his ideal Odette, the Odette that swooned over his every word and loved him deeply, the Odette that he will always hold to his heart and pursue even when the Odette he can physically hold comes up as a pale shell of the ideal (I've been reading to much Derrida lately to not comment that we can never achieve the ideal, which makes his downfall inevitable. The lack of sound logic in his thinking is apparent all through his romantic decline too). Sometimes when you have lost everything, you fight for that ideal that has already dissipated in order to uphold some sort of self-dignity, even though it is just that dignity which will be lost in the process. Proust delivers love and tragedy at it’s finest.
The facts of life do not penetrate to the sphere in which our beliefs are cherished; they did not engender those beliefs, and they are powerless to destroy them; they can inflict on them continual blows of contradictions and disproof without weakening them; and an avalanche of miseries and maladies succeeding one another without interruption in the bosom of a family will not make it lose its faith in either the clemency of its God or the capacity of its physician.
No doubt, by virtue of having permanently and indissolubly united so many different impressions in my mind, simply because they made me experience them at the same time, the Meseglise and Guermantes ways left me exposed, in later life, to much disillusionment and even to many mistakes. For often I have wished to see a person again without realising that it was simply because that person recalled to me a hedge of hawthorne in blossom.
...musical motifs as actual ideas, of another world, of another order, ideas veiled in shadow, unknown, impenetrable to the human mind, but none the less perfectly distinct from one another, unequal among themselves in value and significance.
Sometimes in the afternoon sky the moon would creep up, white as a cloud, furtive, lustreless, suggesting an ancient actress who does not have to come on for a while, and watches the rest of the company for a moment from the auditorium in her ordinary clothes, keeping in the background, not wishing to attract attention to herself.
Here and there in the distance, in a landscape which in the failing light and saturated atmosphere resembled a seascape rather, a few solitary houses clinging to the lower slopes of a hill plunged in watery darkness shone out like little boats which have folded their sails and ride at anchor all night upon the sea.
For the buttercups grew past numbering in this spot where they had chosen for their games among the grass, standing singly, in couples, in whole companies, yellow as the yolk of eggs, and glowing with an added lustre, I felt, because being powerless to consummate with my palate the pleasures which the sight of them never failed to give me, I would let it accumulate as my eyes ranged over their golden expanse, until it became potent enough to produce an effect of absolute, purposeless beauty; and so it had been from my earliest childhood, when from the towpath I had stretched out my arms towards them before I could even properly spell their charming name - a name fit for the Prince in some fairy tale - immigrants, perhaps, from Asia centuries ago, but naturalised now for ever in the village, satisfied with their modest horizon, rejoicing in the sunshine and the water's edge, faithful to their little glimpse of the railway station, yet keeping none the less like some of our old paintings, in their plebeian simplicity, a poetic scintillation from the golden East.
A sleeping man holds in a circle around him the sequence of the hours, the order of the years and worlds. He consults them instinctively as he wakes and reads in a second the point on the earth he occupies, the time that has elapsed before his waking; but their ranks can be mixed up, broken.
A real human being, however profoundly we sympathize with him, is in large part perceived by our senses, that is to say, remains opaque to us, presents a dead weight which our sensibility cannot lift. If a calamity should strike him, it is only in a small part of the total notion we have of him that we will be able to be moved by this; even more, it is only in a part of the total notion he has of himself that he will be able to be moved himself. The novelist’s happy discovery was to have the idea of replacing these parts, impenetrable to the soul, by an equal quantity of immaterial parts, that is to say, parts which our soul can assimilate.
Swann did not try to convince himself that the women with whom he spent his time were pretty, but to spend his time with women he already knew were pretty. And these were often women of a rather vulgar beauty, for the physical qualities that he looked for without realizing it were the direct opposite of those he admired in the women sculpted or painted by his favorite masters. Depth of expression, melancholy, would freeze his senses, which were, however, immediately aroused by flesh that was healthy, plump, and pink.
And in fact, Swann’s love had reached the stage where the doctor and, in certain affections, even the boldest surgeon, ask themselves if ridding a patient of his vice or relieving him of his disease is still reasonable or even possible.
“Así ocurre con nuestro pasado. Es trabajo perdido el querer evocarlo, e inútiles todos los afanes de nuestra inteligencia. Ocúltase fuera de sus dominios y de su alcance, en un objeto material (en la sensación que ese objeto material nos daría) que no sospechamos. Y del azar depende que nos encontremos con ese objeto antes de que nos llegue la muerte, o que no lo encontremos nunca.”Son legión quienes afirman que En busca del tiempo perdido es una novela sobre el paso del tiempo, sobre el deleite en su recuperación. Hay quién dice que es el retrato de un novelista, de su formación y crecimiento, una reivindicación de una forma de hacer novela. Para mí, sin querer quitar ni poner razones, la obra de Proust, al menos en este primer volumen, es la representación de una forma de sentir, de experimentar la vida y de sentirse a uno mismo, la descripción literaria de una especial sensibilidad.
“Y muy pronto, abrumado por el triste día que había pasado y, por la perspectiva de otro tan melancólico por venir, me llevé a los labios una cucharada de té en el que había echado un trozo de magdalena. Pero en el mismo instante en que aquel trago, con las migas del bollo, tocó mi paladar, me estremecí, fija mi atención en algo extraordinario que ocurría en mi interior. Un placer delicioso me invadió, me aisló, sin noción de lo que lo causaba. Y él me convirtió las vicisitudes de la vida en indiferentes, sus desastres en inofensivos y su brevedad en ilusoria, todo del mismo modo que opera el amor, llenándose de una esencia preciosa; pero, mejor dicho, esa esencia no es que estuviera en mí, es que era yo mismo. Dejé de sentirme mediocre, contingente y mortal.”Parto de la base de que Proust es veraz en las descripciones que hace de sus arrebatos, de sus pasiones, de sus éxtasis ante las cosas más nimias, por mucho que a mí, de sensibilidad infinitamente menos exaltada, me parezca casi inverosímil y ciertamente extravagante gran parte de su relato por grande que sea el poder evocador, maravilloso lo evocado y soberbia la expresión de todo ello.
“… de pronto un tejado, un reflejo de sol en una piedra, el olor del camino, hacíanme pararme por el placer particular que me causaban y además porque me parecía que ocultaban por detrás de lo visible una cosa que me invitaban a ir a coger, pero que, a pesar de mis esfuerzos, no lograba descubrir… cerrando los ojos, empeñado en acordarme exactamente de la silueta del tejado o del matiz de la piedra, que sin que yo supiera por qué, me parecieron llenas de algo, casi a punto de abrirse y entregarme aquello de que no eran ellas más que vestidura.”Ciertamente, esas experiencias espirituales me han producido siempre, superada la estupefacción, una mezcla de envidia y alivio sin poder saber qué es lo que más pesa en mi ánimo. Uno tiene la sensación de que personas así, capaces de sentir con tal intensidad parecen vivir, no una, sino dos o tres vidas al tiempo, con el corolario ineludible, y de ahí mi alivio, de las dos o tres muertes correspondientes. Debe ser tan maravilloso como demoledor la intuición de tanto misterio oculto, la lucha interna y constante de esos estados de ánimo tan ajenos y desacordes entre sí, lidiar con esa sensibilidad tan entremezclada con la enfermedad que esta es capaz de acentuar y despertar aquella mientras que ciertos estímulos vividos o simplemente anhelados o prometidos pueden provocar estados febriles. Indiscutiblemente, los padecimientos por tan extremada sensibilidad serían insoportables, pero también los momentos de éxtasis, numerosos si creemos al autor, serían indescriptibles… excepto para él, naturalmente.
“Queremos buscar en las cosas, que por eso nos son preciosas, el reflejo que sobre ellas lanza nuestra alma, y es grande nuestra decepción al ver que en la Naturaleza no tienen aquel encanto que en nuestro pensamiento les prestaba la proximidad de ciertas ideas; y muchas veces convertimos todas las fuerzas del alma en destreza y en esplendor, destinados a accionar, sobre unos seres que sentimos perfectamente que están fuera de nosotros y no alcanzaremos nunca.”Me maravilla la exaltación que le provoca la soledad, el poder de su imaginación capaz de procurarle los mayores gozos al evocar lugares y personas desconocidas así como de agravar sus decepciones ante el contacto con esas realidades que tan mal se ajustan a sus evocaciones.
¡Costumbre, celestina mañosa, sí, pero que trabaja muy despacio y que empieza por dejar padecer a nuestro ánimo durante semanas enteras, en una instalación precaria; pero que, con todo y con eso, nos llena de alegría al verla llegar, porque sin ella, y reducida a sus propias fuerzas, el alma nunca lograría hacer habitable morada alguna!Algo cuesta acostumbrarse a Proust, pero también es verdad que merece mucho la pena el empeño, realmente les llenará de alegría habitar su morada y él, insuperable anfitrión, les recibirá obsequioso.
Proust so titillates my own desire for expression that I can hardly set out the sentence…
My great adventure is really Proust. Well—what remains to be written after that? I’m only in the first volume, and there are, I suppose, faults to be found, but I am in a state of amazement; as if a miracle were being done before my eyes. How, at last, has someone solidified what has always escaped—and made it too into this beautiful and perfectly enduring substance? One has to put the book down and gasp. The pleasure becomes physical—like sun and wine and grapes and perfect serenity and intense vitality combined.
– Virginia Woolf, The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume Two, 1912-1922
But, when nothing subsists of an old past, after the death of people, after the destruction of things, alone, frailer but more enduring, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, smell and taste still remain for a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, upon the ruins of all the rest, bearing without giving way, on their almost impalpable droplet, the immense edifice of memory. (51)
He apologized for his fear of new friendships, for what he had called, out of politeness, his fear of being unhappy. ‘You’re afraid of affection?’ (223)
...helped me better understand what a contradiction it is to search in reality for memory's pictures, which would never have the charm that comes to them from memory itself and from not being perceived by the senses. The reality I had known no longer existed. (481)
"A little tap on the window-pane, as though something had struck it, followed by a plentiful light falling sound, as if grains of sand being sprinkled from a window overhead, gradually spreading, intensifying, acquiring a regular rhythm, becoming fluid, sonorous, musical, immeasurable, universal: it was the rain."The young narrator and the mature M Swann, the two protagonists, reflect two different pictures painted from the same palette. Possession of this mesmerizing, identical chord seals their reactions to negligence and rebuttal, indulgence and dismissal. Both emerge men who swap bounty and dullness like the two sides of the same coin, who keep distance and proximity as alternate remedies to extend love’s term. Both love without remorse, offering their heart to be plucked like a harp till it broke; both avow to blissful solitude, surrendering their memories to dissolve in its vicious depth. Both live to compose panegyric for memories and perhaps both would volunteer to drown into them.
"The places we have known do not belong only to the world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. They were only a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years."Proust leaves me in a sparkling rivulet, promising to direct me to its bigger cousins in due time. He also promises me that the ingredients of life can, at the most, be discoloured but not toxic if tended with an eye pouring beauty and forgiveness. Like an artist, who imparts contentment to his soul by creating a painting justifying his notion and not by subjecting it to an external validation, we should, too, scrap at the rough edges of life should they turn up, without besieging attendance of an audience, and unleash our net at the first sight of beauty.
"You are afraid of affection? How odd that is, when I go about seeking nothing else, and would give my soul to find it!"
“As we, or mother Dana, weave and unweave our bodies, Stephen said, from day to day, their molecules shuttled to and fro, so does the artist weave and unweave his image.”
~ James Joyce, Ulysses
“The Universe is the externalization of the soul.”
“Our social personality is a creation of the minds of others”