Bram's Reviews > Finding Time Again

Finding Time Again by Marcel Proust
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's review
Aug 25, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2009, proustophilia

Sunday was Community Day at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which meant free entry to all. Deciding to take advantage of this at the expense of a gorgeous late summer day, I spent a couple of hours wandering through the impressive but under-construction building, primarily in the European and American wings that cover the last few centuries. I stopped in front of 200 or so paintings, but only two “spoke” to me. While in many circumstances a one-percent hit rate implies a horrible failure or disappointment, I left the museum with feelings of utter satisfaction and delight at my good fortune. Similar, in fact, to how I feel right now after finishing In Search of Lost Time. The connection between the museum and novel run deeper than that, however. My ability to be transported by art (or music, or _____) has been permanently enriched through reading Proust’s ideas on Lost Time, and how this Time actually can be recaptured in reality (additional and annoyingly incoherent musings on this below). Like many of the ideas contained within this book, this recapturing of Time is something about which I’ve somehow always and never known—that is, I’ve known it intuitively, yet without a concreteness or completeness that would allow for a full experience beyond the fleeting moment it can occasionally inhabit in quotidian existence. The initial lightning strike that leads to a discovery of Lost Time is inevitably involuntary, but it can be harnessed, extended, and savored through recognition and analysis, as old Marcel finally discovers while sitting in the library of the Prince & Princess de Guermantes.

As I gazed at (or more accurately, into) de Crissé’s The Bay of Naples, the unconscious displacement that I began to feel in both time and space was met with a newly-awakened consciousness that tried to hold onto and understand this feeling of joyful abandonment to a past experience. I must admit that, like Marcel in his initial attempts at clarifying The Search by dwelling on the madeleine or the steeples at Martinville, I was not wholly successful. I couldn’t quite understand where I was trying to go temporally or why I was so moved, but thanks to Proust, I understood what was happening. While an explanation of The Search mentioned in the book’s title is probably appropriate here to elucidate my point, I hesitate to summarize the narrator’s precious conclusion (one that offers a revelation at once sui generis and instantly familiar) for fear of doing it, and any readers of this review, an injustice. The Search is a thematic thread that begins almost immediately in the novel with the famous madeleine scene (and who knew that this small part was actually an adumbration of the novel’s key theme?) and reaches a peak with a final discovery that takes place some 200 pages from the end of the book. And despite the fact that this Search is the remarkably robust thread that binds these seven volumes together, it actually makes up very little of the bulk of the novel. But in its entirety, in the perfect satisfaction of its resolution, this theme amounts to a tour-de-force that is, in my humble opinion, unequaled in literature. For how often can I say that I actually experience certain parts of my life differently (and with greater, fuller satisfaction) as a consequence of reading a book?

I didn’t start out so smitten with the book’s final volume. Indeed, I was more bored with the first 150 pages (even with the shocking scene of flagellation) than with any other part of the novel. Now, this was most likely due to reading only three or four pages at a time over a period of a few weeks. I can’t get into a flow with an intermittent pace like that. Luckily, I had to fly to Chicago for work this weekend, and unlike David’s average airborne reading experience, mine is usually filled with uninterrupted stretches of intense reading. Two point five hours of Proust and only Proust each way—a perfect scenario for finishing a book begun over eight months ago when I first cracked open Swann’s Way. And Marcel delivered. Big time. Shortly after the aforementioned flagellation scene, he finally delves into his Lost Time thesis with unfettered ecstasy and pellucidity; sixty straight pages of glorious enlightenment. Honestly, I reread some parts of this section four or five times before moving on. Ever wanted to know how to travel through time and space? Proust tells you. And, perhaps because you already know this is possible in some vague way, it’s convincing as all hell. Seriously. And the joy of reading this section was compounded by a bizarre meta-effect, wherein I experienced the exact feelings Proust was describing as (or because?) he was finally describing them in full. Whoa.

Then we get the bal de têtes (masked ball), which contains the illuminating and humorous ruminations on the still-living society characters, each of whom has undergone tremendous physical, social, moral, and intellectual changes since the narrator last saw them years before. And then, quite suddenly, I found myself only a few pages from the end. How could Proust possibly wrap up this book appropriately in so short a space? Not only does he do it appropriately, he does it masterfully. I suppose it’s fitting that the most rewarding read of my life contains the most satisfactory conclusion. But “satisfactory” sounds like it’s easy or happy when it is, in fact, neither. Rather, the ending of the book has a calm inevitability that, when finally reached, reveals itself to be as inescapable and natural as death. Or, of course, life—life, which is finally crystallized for our narrator in the person of Mlle de Saint-Loup, who allows him to reflect on every important character relationship in the book, which together are (mis)woven into an incestuous tangle, all within a single heroic paragraph. In that one paragraph it becomes clear how many variations each character comprises, and it’s likely that if I started rereading this book immediately, I’d find that my “initial” impressions of Odette, Swann, Legrandin, Saint-Loup, Charlus, et al. lined up not at all with the farewell views I’m left with in this final volume. Which, when I think back through my own life and the personal permutations that would make me nigh-unrecognizable to myself, sounds just about right.
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Reading Progress

August 25, 2009 – Shelved
September 9, 2009 –
page 97
Started Reading
September 22, 2009 – Shelved as: 2009
September 22, 2009 – Finished Reading
May 6, 2011 – Shelved as: proustophilia

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Bram, a beautiful review. unfettered ecstasy and pellucidity wow!

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

When the hell was this review posted? Why did I not see it until now? (And, yes, you are a 'top friend' -- teehee -- so that's not the reason why.)

Anyway, Bram, you need to quit whatever the hell you're doing with your life and become a writer already. You know how nuns and priests talk about receiving 'a call' to their religious vocation? Well, I think you've received your call and hung up on it or something.

message 3: by Stephen (new)

Stephen DK, I've been telling you the same thing for months and months.

message 4: by brian (new)

brian   bram is kind of an infuriating guy b/c he's just so fucking smart and so gifted a writer but ALSO seems to be a very well-adjusted down-to-earth cool guy.

what the fuck, bram?

Bram I actually spend hours and hours meticulously plagiarizing, but thanks anyway.

But seriously, I'm blushing 3000 miles away. After Morrissey, you guys are next on my make-out list.

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