Jessica's Reviews > In Search of Lost Time

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
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Jul 31, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, groups-of-people, hagging-out, happyendings, leetle-boys, love-and-other-indoor-sports, must-reread, wish-i-owned
Recommended for: recherchers of temps perdu; rememberers of things past; snobs; size queens

I took today off work because I need to put everything I own into boxes so I can move tomorrow, but obviously I can't begin doing that until I get some of these obsessive thoughts about Proust out of my system. I mean, can I? Nope. I can't! After all, this house is where I read Proust -- wait, I read Swann's Way before I moved here, which is pretty nuts to think about -- and so how can I move without reviewing the whole thing?

I do feel pretty traumatized after finishing this book. Sort of shellshocked and confused with all these half-formed thoughts and intense inexplicable feelings bouncing around in me, and I don't know what to do with them or myself. Yesterday I wound up sitting in my friend's bar explaining Proust's aesthetic theories, but that kind of behavior'll get you kicked out of most places, and is not really becoming a young lady. And obviously that's where this website comes in.... what is it for, if not to unload just this kind of mental baggage?

Reading Proust made me wish I were more of a scholar, so I could try to puzzle out some kind of literary context for what this book is. I feel like people think of Proust as being stuffy and old-fashioned and all crusty and ancient, but I think a lot of that has to do with the subject matter (a lost time with superficial resemblance to Jane Austen's milieu), so it's kind of shocking to remember what else was going on while he was writing this. I know this is dumb and there're much better comparisons, but I kept thinking while reading this that it was like thinking your whole life that New York punk in the seventies was all about the Ramones and imagining you really got what was going on then from just listening to that.... but then when you're in your mid-twenties someone suddenly plays you Television for the first time, and you're like what? Like you think you know what modernism is, it's like Ulysses or whatever, but then you find out it's got this completely insane cousin across the river who's just doing all these things that appear at first to have no relationship at all to everything you ignorantly thought you kind of understood at least a little bit before. Again, I'm not much of a scholar and what I'm saying probably doesn't make any sense. To be honest, I don't even know what "modernism" means, I just know it sounds literary.... I think what I'm trying to get at is that the relevance of Proust's concerns to his time aren't immediately obvious because his approach to them initially seems so weird and unfamiliar. But then you realize, while you're in it, that Proust is actually so much of his time it's incredible, and that what he's saying and doing was hugely innovative and exciting at the beginning of the last century, and actually, I'd say, remains as much so today. And I just kind of wish that I knew more about art and literature and whatnot so I could tie it all in better, since I sense there're all these fascinating connections and reference points, but I don't know what they are. I'd sort of like to sneak into some college class or something where they're reading Proust, and listen in, or at least steal their syllabus.... do they even read Proust in college? I feel like they don't. I mean, I never heard of him when I was in college, or after. I really hadn't. I honestly had no idea who Proust was until I started hanging out on this website.

Anyway, for me the most relevant contemporary writer I thought of while reading this wasn't a novelist. A little background: I always really loathed the discipline of psychology and thought it was stupid. When I unwittingly enrolled in social work school, I was dismayed to discover that getting my MSW involved reading pages and pages of precisely this stuff I'd always looked down on.... My happy discovery was that Freud, at least, was actually a fabulous writer, and a lot of his ideas are totally fascinating and very beautiful. What I realized finally is that I just resented psychology for its pretension of pretending it's a science. But actually psychology's concerns and sometimes even their expression are hugely significant -- among the most significant -- and kind of wonderful. In fact, I decided, I love psychology, as long as it knows its place and realizes it's an art, not a science.... Freud said he wanted his case histories to read like short stories, so I think he understood this. Proust, of course, took this to an extreme, by exploring essentially the same territory, not in a short story, but in an extraordinarily long and in some ways kind of ridiculous novel. In Search of Lost Time is about the development of the mind, the experience of consciousness, the influence of past events and relationships on one's emotions and behavior.... all the same stuff Freud cared about, only it made more sense to me here, presented this way.

I completely lost my shit reading the last couple pages of this book, and broke down on some fundamental level in a way I imagine was akin to what you can get from really top-shelf psychotherapy. Towards the end of the book, Proust explains everything he's been trying to do, and just did, in writing this novel. It's his theory of art and specifically of literature, and it's pretty hard to argue with since you've watched him just do it. One of the things that Proust says is that readers of his book "would not be my readers but readers of themselves, my book serving merely as a sort of magnifying glass, such as the optician of Combray used to offer to a customer, so that through my book I would give them the means of reading in their own selves" (p. 384). I guess that could sound unexciting, ripped out of context, but he really does do this, and it truly is astounding. I felt throughly convinced by Proust's theory of what art is for, and as far as I'm concerned he was totally successful in accomplishing his aims. Like psychotherapy, ISoLT attempts to dive into the murk of the unconscious past to retrieve experiences and cognitions that have become inaccessible. Proust dives in and swims down to the bottom, and he finds them, and he grabs them, and he brings them back up and then hands them to you.... Which is pretty nuts. I mean, it's intense. I feel fucked up from it.

Hm. I thought I wanted to talk about this book, but maybe I just want to pack up my shit after all. I really do want to review this book, but maybe it's too soon? It's a really insane novel, and there's tons of stuff in it I'd really love to dork out about on here.... but yeah, maybe too soon. I might come back and say something more coherent later on, when it's all settled down a bit.

I guess the only thing I need to add right at this moment is that I really felt like Proust gave me this particular combination of the things I need most. I really can't read anything too difficult or serious, and to anyone who's considering giving Proust a try -- I can't emphasize this enough -- forget what you heard: this book is anything but a ponderous drag. It's silly and hilarious and smart and bizarre, and there's tons of fashion and sex and depravity and satire and insane plot twists that don't make any sense. I personally have a very short attention span and I cannot and do not read anything that isn't vastly entertaining. In Search of Lost Time is VASTLY ENTERTAINING!! (Except for The Captive, which is only somewhat entertaining.) This is not to say that it's for everyone, and I can see how lots of people would totally hate this. HOWEVER: it's definitely worth a shot, because this book could change your life. I mean that. It could. I'm a completely different person now than I was when I started. So what if this means I'm now an obsessively jealous, elitist, antisemitic, agoraphobic pervert who speaks exclusively in run-on sentences? I think I'm better for it, and you might be too.
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Reading Progress

02/28/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 151-174 of 174) (174 new)

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message 151: by Jen (new)

Jen Jessica wrote: "Oh, Ginnie's definitely here. I don't think she's disguised as a romancer, though. I think she's among us.

I feel like if I go buy the newspaper, I'm just going to sit around reading it. Is there ..."

What?! Dear God, I am going to have to look through my friend list now. Shit. And I thought that her/him/its being on here in romance was scary! Lovely.

Jessica I'd just like to add another thing I really loved about this book, which is that the main character, who's basically Proust, is a horrendously lazy procrastinator who spends almost his entire life completely fucking around and doing just about anything but getting a start on writing his book. Everyone keeps being like, "So how's that novel coming, Proust? You start that yet already?" and he'll blow off social engagements to stay home, insisting he needs to get started writing the thing, and then he'll just spend the whole day staring out the window at laundresses passing by his house, and daydreaming about his early childhood. It's great! Proust doesn't actually get off his ass and start writing until he suddenly realizes he's old and his death is impending, and that if he doesn't get moving he'll die without ever writing the book he's got in him.

Kind of like me.... with everything!

message 153: by David (new)

David Katzman Y'all forgot to mention that Ginnie looked like she had a mild case of Down's Syndrome. ps. i don't think that's really her, eh? it's probably a stock photo she also plagiarized from Getty Images.

How could no one else possibly have experienced their first reference to Proust through Monty Python???

message 154: by Megha (new)

Megha David wrote: "How could no one else possibly have experienced their first reference to Proust through Monty Python???

I think this is where I had first heard of Proust too. I didn't remember that until you mentioned it though.

message 155: by [deleted user] (new)

I feel as if I've always known about Proust and the madeleines, but I probably learned about him from my ex, Josh. Dumb.

Jessica Hm, I'd never see that sketch before. I find it very intriguing that they're all pronouncing his name "Prowst." Fascinating! Is "Proost," then, the American version, and the Brits say Prowst instead? Or is it just Monty Python? Hmmmmmm......

I'd just like to share that I have run out of boxes. I knew this would happen. It's like I want things to be this way.

message 157: by David (new)

David Katzman Eric Idle (VO) does pronounce it pr-OO-st at the very beginning. I caught Chapman saying pr-OW-st as you note...probably a subtle dialect joke making fun of people from Lewton (spelling?) where that character says he's from.

message 158: by David (new)

David Katzman Ah, it's Luton, Bedfordshire. There is a university there, hence the professor attempting to analyze Proust before even getting to the summary.

message 159: by Jen (new)

Jen David wrote: "Y'all forgot to mention that Ginnie looked like she had a mild case of Down's Syndrome. ps. i don't think that's really her, eh? it's probably a stock photo she also plagiarized from Getty Images.

I don't know how I missed that but I did. I heard about Proust in high school, but it was always a vague and insubstantial thing- trotted out when classmates were having philosophical discussions..."Ah, yes, quite Proustian in fact blahbididah bull shit" The first time I actually read about people discussing Proust in detail was GR.

message 160: by Stephen (new)

Stephen I find Proust just as hard to talk about. It's hard for me to to read the books like novels, because every so often I have to stop and annotate until the margins look like gutters. Wonderful review. I love your writing style also.

message 161: by Ben (new)

Ben I can't believe ya'll got me thinking about that Ginne crap again.....

Actually, who am I kidding, it's amusing as hell..

message 162: by Bram (last edited Aug 02, 2009 08:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bram Ben, I just read through all those posts--thanks for putting them up. The defending of Ginnie stuff was crazy.

message 163: by Jen (new)

Jen Bram wrote: "Ben, I just read through all those posts--thanks for putting them up. The defending of Ginnie stuff was crazy."

Yes. It was great to read makes me wish for an optional identity verification of some kind for GR, but then it would be impossible to have Manny's "Maiden Aunt," the "hooker lady who loved Peanut Butter" personality and so forth, which would be sad.

message 164: by [deleted user] (new)

-29 new posts? What happened here?

message 165: by Bram (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bram Yeah, I thought we were almost at 200. Did Ginnie erase them?

message 166: by [deleted user] (new)

Who deleted??? And why??? Speak up...

message 167: by Michelle (last edited Aug 03, 2009 08:36AM) (new)

Michelle All right...Who deleted their profile this time?

Edit* Some of Jessica's comments are gone from when she was telling Ginnie's story.

message 168: by [deleted user] (new)

Maybe DFJ took flak from some of the Ginnie apologists for reviving this topic. You know, she's friends with some of that ilk.

message 169: by trivialchemy (new)

trivialchemy This thread is like a history of Goodreads in one place. A modernist, self-referential history where the posts delete themselves just like in Goodreads real-life!

message 170: by Jen (new)

Jen In fact, Isaiah, your comment is scheduled for deletion tonight! :)

Jessica Hm, that's really weird. I didn't delete anything.

message 172: by Robin (new)

Robin Wow, I go away for a week....

I don't mean to sound like some sort of elitist (and a nerd for going back to the original subject, much as I love the Bookface history lesson), but I read Swann's Way at Harvard Summer School between junior and senior years of high school in a class that taught Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as well. So someone is teaching Proust. (Harvard rejected me, though, for real college, so don't worry.)

And, Jessica, Botton has tried to popularize Proust, but as you can see he hasn't gotten very far. But the madelines are everywhere in pop culture. Everywhere. You'll find 'em. (I also read Proust while moving this past winter. So bittersweet, and an excellent time-suck.)

And the reason I'm still on Vol. IV is that Proust's psychological shit totally works on me. I get bogged down in my own memories that he dredges up, and that slows down my reading time. I've even started dreaming about people I haven't thought about in years.... And glad you mentioned Freud. In the little notes I'm taking at the back, I keep writing, "Freud! Freud!"

Kundera defended Flaubert (and Proust and Cervantes -- haven't read him yet) in an excellent article a few years back in the New Yorker:
It made me want to go back and read Madame Bovary since I hadn't read it since high school and feel like I missed a lot. Kundera's thesis is something like writing has matured in the form of the novel, where the writer gets beyond the lyrical to the prosaic. "The novelist is born out of the ruins of his lyrical world...". He says ISoLT is the opposite of an autobiography, b/c it depends on the reader to recognize the truth of the novel in him/herself. Hence it taking me forever to read the damn thing and having to cancel my subscription to the New Yorker!!!

But glad to have someone else on board! Come join the party!

message 173: by Jen (new)

Jen Robin wrote: "Wow, I go away for a week....

I don't mean to sound like some sort of elitist (and a nerd for going back to the original subject, much as I love the Bookface history lesson), but I read Swann'..."

I have never had a madeline. I almost bought a packaged one from Starbucks Saturday to go with my Proust. I resisted. I am waiting until mine come on a little silver serving tray by my maid. I'm working on it.

message 174: by Bram (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bram I can't remember how I got here, but I just reread this (great) review and thread...8.5 years later. Wow, merry xmas J and anyone else who still has a GR profile.

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