One Year In Search of Lost Time ~ 2015 discussion

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Sodom and Gomorrah > Week VI ~ ending August 15th

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message 1: by Teresa (new)

Teresa "...it lent this red-faced Norman something at once bloodless and ecstatic, as though the Marquis had just been operated on, or were imploring Heaven, beneath his monocle, for a martyr's crown" (End of Part II, Chapter 2 ; ~71.49%).


message 2: by Jacob (last edited Aug 18, 2015 04:47PM) (new)

Jacob (jacobvictorfisher) | 112 comments I'm back and for the most part I'll be able to get back into the discussions. Even though I missed several weeks which I enjoyed reading, I'll jump back in here.
This sentence got a laugh out of me:
I would not be able to say today how Mme Verdurin was dressed on that particular evening. I had no better idea at the time perhaps, for I am not observant by nature (343/566 Penguin epub).
It's funny at first because after more than 2000 pages he'll have a hard time convincing me he's not observant. But then I pause and remember the brief exchange between Steph and Teresa a few weeks ago about the unreliability of the narrator and the possibility that much of this is his own imaginings. These hypotheses regarding the narrator makes the above quote seem to be less a moment of narrator self-satire and more a matter transparent revelation.

Later on the same page he writes
And since the impressions that for me gave things their value were of the kind that other people either do not experience or else suppress unthinkingly as insignificant, so that in consequence, had I been able to communicate them, they would have remained misunderstood or would have been scorned...
This helps give a little of the motivation for his lengthy story. Earlier some of you had pointed out the fact that he seems bored by much of the salon society world. The people are inane and he portrays them that way. I don't need him to tell me most of them are stupid, he's described them that way. His interest (I would say as the narrator and not as the young man he was at the time) is society as an artifact for social and psychological analysis. In this quote he's effectively saying, "I have no interest in their world in its own right, I'm interested in the fact they hold their world in such high esteem. That's what makes their world interesting."

What's the difference between an "old family" and a family without a history? It's the fact that an old family knows the names of the people who came before. My family is as old as any other. That's patently obvious. But I can't name them back to the medieval ages (even if I can find books that do), and I can't associate my family's name with their place. I've begun to suspect that the people aren't important, but their places are which, by association, gives the people some added significance. This is how I'm beginning to make sense of the seemingly disparate sections of ISOLT. One is Combray, Balbec, and Paris, the other is the salon. The one I love, the other bores me (ok, fine, M. de Charlus is always interesting, like a breath of fresh air gusting through the salons from the sensual world outside). The one immerses us in sensual detail, the other surrounds us by insipid socialites. How are they connected? I think it has something to do with names (the act of naming and learning names) and historical memory (a form of indirect cultural memory to be sure, in this case it's mostly family history). At first I thought it was weird that he titled sections of ISOLT "Place Names". And he did this again and again. It seemed stupid. Now I'm beginning to see some subtle significance in names and naming throughout ISOLT.

Of course there are other things that he values that other do not. For example, much of the sensual details that the rest of the characters pass over. The church steeples, those moments when our senses trigger a memory, the little phrase of Vinteuil. I'm beginning to see much of the sensual detail through the lens of places and their names.


message 3: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Welcome back, Jacob.

Your last paragraph reminds me of the church Albertine doesn't like because it's been restored.

I cared no more than Elstir for this church, it was with no pleasure to myself that its sunlit front had come and posed before my eyes, and I had got out of the car to examine it only out of politeness to Albertine. I found, however, that the great impressionist had contradicted himself; why exalt this fetish of its objective architectural value, and not take into account the transfiguration of the church by the sunset?



message 4: by Simon (new)

Simon (sorcerer88) | 176 comments Great to have you back, Jacob, and excellent thoughts of yours again!
I also found the narrator saying "I am not observant by nature" funny, almost paradoxical. Though maybe it also means that he simply forces himself to be observant which he wouldn't be out of his nature or habit, otherwise it's hard to analyze the situations as well as he does, unless his remembering is also (re-)imagining as you said.

On the other hand, it's clear this is at least on some level creative reimagining, as noone can remember so many lines of dialogue precisely, but that's a simple restriction, axiom or necessary suspension of disbelief of almost all (first person) fiction.

I'm glad to see that you're also struggling to find interest with the saloon scenes, but i agree with you that the narrator's interest in it is exploring its psychology from the inside (almost like an anthropologist living with a tribe), trying to understand their ridiculous system of repute, family nobility, saloon manners and appropriate conversation, etc. It also seems that he has ambitions to rise in the saloon world himself though, at least at first.


message 5: by Jacob (last edited Aug 20, 2015 10:44AM) (new)

Jacob (jacobvictorfisher) | 112 comments Yes, he certainly seems taken with the salon world early on and even later it seems like there's some ambivalence in his attitude toward the salons. He seems very anthropological, but with the caveat that he's personally involved in many of the situations he describes. A good anthropologist watches from the outside; he's no where near objective considering his relationships with Robert, Mme de Guermantes, and M de Charlus to name only the most significant. This is why I suspect that as the character he's not yet aware of the psychological and sociological possibilities of the salon even if as a narrator he is. I'll have to think more about that though.


message 6: by Simon (new)

Simon (sorcerer88) | 176 comments That's a good point, but it seems unlikely that he could have entered the saloon world without participating himself in some way, without having some kind of relationships. Isn't that standard even for anthropologists? How can you live with a tribe without entering into a relationship with them?


message 7: by Jacob (last edited Aug 21, 2015 10:32AM) (new)

Jacob (jacobvictorfisher) | 112 comments True enough, but an anthropologist describing family rivalries doesn't marry into one of the factions, and a good psychologist doesn't have an affair with a patient. The narrator is way beyond the level of appropriate behavior for someone studying a group. Or rather, it would fit better to say that a psychologist doesn't provided therapy to his friends and an anthropologist doesn't study his own family. The narrator began his relationship with the aristocracy as someone in love with its women and intensely interested in its artistic tastes. He's deeply involved (as was from the beginning) and his emotional involvement would be difficult or impossible to divorce from his analysis.

Even so, I agree that at this point he's interested in studying the aristocracy. That's where their value lies now. It brings up all sorts of questions about his reliability and his relationship with the aristocracy. The psychoanalysis of characters is a fad that's long past and one that doesn't usually interest me. This is one of those rare exceptions since the entire novel is based on the subjectivity of the narrator. What's more, I think it's a level of complexity that was intended by Proust.


message 8: by Simon (new)

Simon (sorcerer88) | 176 comments Ah, that's a good point, the narrator is really more involved than an anthropologist or therapist should be.
This also reminds me again of the passage where the narrator speculated that the people in a saloon meeting would probably behave and talk very differently were he not there, that his presence inhibits their usual behaviour, which he'd love to witness instead, but which he can't, similar to the anthropologist, maybe to a lesser degree.


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