C.G. Fewston's Reviews > The Captive & The Fugitive

The Captive & The Fugitive by Marcel Proust
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Memory is a leitmotif spanning the entirety of In Search of Lost Time, and in The Captive (1923) and in The Fugitive (1925), two books placed into a single volume (Volume V), Proust continues to explore and expand on how memory shapes and redefines reality and truth (including the tricks in one’s perceptions which define one’s understanding of the imagined self). Also, in Swann’s Way (1913) and in Within a Budding Grove (1919) and in The Guermantes Way (1920 & 1921), Proust discusses the importance of Places and Names, and after several volumes returns to these central ideas to directly link their effects on memory.

“In these return journeys along the same line from a place to which one will never return, when one recognizes the names and the appearance of all the places through which one passed on the outward journey, it happens that, while one’s train is halted at one of the stations, for an instant one has the illusion of setting off again, but in the direction of the place from which one has come, as on the first occasion. The illusion vanishes at once, but for an instant one had felt oneself being carried towards it once more: such is the cruelty of memory” (Volume V, pgs 753-754).

Proust digs deeper into his subconsciousness and consciousness as he finally understands the limitations of his memory on reality and desire, and how memory is not to be trusted, not meant to be absolute and resolute, but faulty and imperfect, as much as any human life can be in a world where truth from individual and collective memory is defined by a multitude of perceptions built brick by brick from ideologies constructed out of beliefs founded from religions and politics raised from cultures that prosper from the majority strengths or dwindle from the weaknesses suffering in the minority in any given geographical region. Memory, as Proust declares, is not all-powerful:

“And once again I discovered, first of all that memory has no power of invention, that it is powerless to desire anything else, let alone anything better, than what we have already possessed; secondly, that it is spiritual, in the sense that reality cannot provide it with the state which it seeks, and lastly that, stemming from a dead person, the resurrection that it incarnates is not so much that of the need to love, in which it makes us believe, as that of the need for the absent person” (Volume V, p 748).

Often formed from one’s experiences and longing of more such stronger experiences, desire is in itself an individual and collective illusion, crafted by what has been known (the past) by what is further expected (the future) but what cannot be currently grasped (the present); hence the nature of desire (and, as a result, suffering), because if we claim and conquer what we so desire, human nature dictates desire (for that particular person or thing or goal) shall predictably vanish and be replaced by new desires (for new people, things, or goals). Therefore, to escape the torments of memory (or even its pleasures which will forever remain in the past and, thereby, cause suffering because the past cannot be repeated or reclaimed no matter how hard one tries) one should flee the torments of desire (which combine three important points in Time & Space: Past, Present, Future):

“So that if happiness, or at least the absence of suffering, can be found, it is not the satisfaction, but the gradual reduction and the eventual extinction of desire that one should seek… The bonds between ourselves and another person exist only in our minds. Memory as it grows fainter loosens them, and notwithstanding the illusion by which we want to be duped and with which, out of love, friendship, politeness, deference, duty, we dupe other people, we exist alone. Man is the creature who cannot escape from himself, who knows other people only in himself, and when he asserts the contrary, he is lying…

“We believe that we can change the things around us in accordance with our desires—we believe it because otherwise we can see no favourable outcome. We do not think of the outcome which generally comes to pass and is also favourable: we do not succeed in changing things in accordance with our desires, but gradually our desires change. The situation that we hoped to change because it was intolerable becomes unimportant to us” (Volume V, pgs 607-609).

Such is the stuff of maturity and adulthood.

Proust, however, understands the role of memory, often shaped and renewed by desire, and how memory, albeit a tool for suffering, can be a tool for shaping and renewing existence(s) in a reality no longer found in the present, except voiced by our very words from our imagined thoughts (which is also the act of storytelling, a truly mythological act of human existence and survival):

“It could have been arrested only by the appeal of some reality that addressed itself to my imagination, as might have done, this evening, a picture of that Venice of which I had thought so much during the afternoon, or some general element, common to several aspects and truer than they, which, of its own accord, never failed to awake in me an inner spirit, habitually dormant, the ascent of which to the surface of my consciousness filled me with joy…

“I understood that what Brichot, perhaps without realizing it, preferred in the old drawing-room, more than the large windows, more than the gay youth of his hosts and their faithful, was that unreal aspect (which I myself could discern from certain similarities between La Raspelière and the Quai Conti) of which, in a drawing-room as in everything else, the actual, external aspect, verifiable by everyone, is but the prolongation, the aspect which has detached itself from the outer world to take refuge in our soul, to which it gives as it were a surplus-value, in which it is absorbed into its habitual substance, transforming itself—houses that have been pulled down, people long dead, bowls of fruit at suppers which we recall—into that translucent alabaster of our memories of which we are incapable of conveying the colour which we alone can see, so that we can truthfully say to other people, when speaking of these things of the past, that they can have no conception of them, that they are unlike anything they have seen, and that we ourselves cannot inwardly contemplate without a certain emotion, reflecting that it is on the existence of our thoughts that their survival for a little longer depends, the gleam of lamps that have been extinguished and the fragrance of arbours that will never bloom again” (Volume V, pgs 378-379).

The illusion of truth which shapes Proust’s reality and, thereby, shapes his thoughts and memories which reshapes Proust’s truth and again reshapes his reality through his memories and thoughts continues to haunt and torment Proust, already a sever neurotic, into a mythological ouroboros, a manifested paradox speaking to the nature of human existence and its individuation process, ever-seeking to make sense of the soul and infinity and how we can be made whole on this journey we call Life, “the fraternity of travel”:

“Either swift-moving and bent over the mythological wheel of her bicycle, strapped on rainy days inside the warrior tunic of her waterproof which moulded her breasts, her head turbaned and dressed with snakes, when she spread terror through the streets of Balbec; or else on the evenings when we had taken champagne into the woods of Chantepie, her voice provocative and altered, her face suffused with warm pallor, reddened only on the cheekbones, and when, unable to make it out in the darkness of the carriage, I drew her into the moonlight in order to see it more clearly, the face I was now trying in vain to recapture, to see again in a darkness that would never end… And these moments of the past do not remain still; they retain in our memory the motion which drew them towards the future—towards a future which has itself become the past—drawing us along in their train… the fraternity of travel” (Volume V, p 659).

Regardless of these unanswerable, ever-moving questions of the past, the present, the future and how events within them all shape and reshape reality, the reader has to ask: How much of Volume V, containing the two novels The Captive (1923) and The Fugitive (1925), is real? Imagined? Legend?

And one more thing: Does the reality of life unfold and take shape in the memory, the soul, alone?

Now on to Proust’s Volume VI, Time Regained (1927).

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Reading Progress

December 25, 2017 – Started Reading
December 25, 2017 – Shelved
May 17, 2018 –
page 55
May 24, 2018 –
page 111
May 28, 2018 –
page 188
May 31, 2018 –
page 222
June 10, 2018 –
page 333
June 12, 2018 –
page 488
June 19, 2018 –
page 570
June 20, 2018 –
page 600
June 21, 2018 –
page 755
June 25, 2018 –
page 888
June 27, 2018 – Finished Reading

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