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Proust - Swann's Way > Swann's Way - Overture and Combray

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments This is the thread to start discussing Swann's Way -- Overture (if your edition separates it out; not all do) and Combray. We will have two weeks for this section, so plenty of time to get your thoughts in.


toria (vikz writes) (victoriavikzwrites) | 186 comments I've read the first chapter 'overture' in bed last night and so the scenes of sleeping and night were really evocative. The description of those sleepless nights that we all endure at times are brilliant. So, are the descriptions of waking up suddenly and not knowing what the time is or were you are. His descriptions of childhood night terror really chimed for me. I love his descriptions of his family and their behaviour. He describes their characters so well. I am interested in his 'methodology', remembering through taste. This seems like one of the methods used by actors to get into character. I wonder if acting teachers, and those who designed their teaching techniques, were influenced by Proust.


message 3: by Dee (new)

Dee (deinonychus) | 291 comments I echo Vikz's comment. I read the first section last night as well, and found it tremendously evocative as well. I'm really looking forward to the rest now.


message 4: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments A line in a reader's guide I checked out this afternoon suggests that Proust very much sets up key characters and themes for his entire novel in these early pages.

I have enjoyed this reading much more than I did however many years ago I did it previously. I have been trying to figure out "why", but the words escape me, even though the feeling is present. Maybe just a different appreciation for "memory" and its role in living the "present."

One of the things to definitely watch is Proust's use of two narrative voices, one of the mature man observing and the other of the younger person/child.


message 5: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Vikz wrote: "...The description of those sleepless nights that we all endure at times are brilliant. So are the descriptions of waking up suddenly and not knowing what the time is or where you are...."

Quite agree. These are the spots where the novel becomes as much an expression for the self as for the character portrayed. Proust does the work of self-expression for us.

And this is certainly NOT true for many other passages.


message 6: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4508 comments Vikz wrote: "The description of those sleepless nights that we all endure at times are brilliant. So, are the descriptions of waking up suddenly and not knowing what the time is or were you are. "

I wonder if there is a connection between sleep and the loss of place and time that the narrator experiences, and the title: In Search of Lost Time. We know that the narrator is not a young boy, but we hear his voice as if he were that young boy again. Where did the time go? Is a memory of the past like waking up in a dream?

Later on he refuses to go to sleep until he gets his goodnight kiss. And then there is the matter of his great-aunt's "resting." Sleep seems to be a big motif here, and even though we're at the very beginning of the book I can't help wondering if Proust isn't using sleep as a symbol of lost time.


message 7: by Bill (last edited Nov 10, 2011 08:16AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments One interesting question is how the Combray recreated by the narrator is really the Combray of his childhood, and much of it's selective memory.

There's also the narrator's extreme sensitivity of feeling. I loved my mother also and was an affectionate child, but the throws of torment and satisfaction surrounding the goodnight kiss are extreme, and I'm not quite sure what to do with them.


message 8: by Lily (last edited Nov 10, 2011 07:39AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments I was quite amused by the passages of the sisters (not) thanking Swan for the wine.

I wonder how many of us have encountered work instructions and red flags sometimes delivered equally obtusely.


message 9: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Thomas wrote: "...Where did the time go?..."

Given that we are reading Proust, it was particularly fun to watch Nova's show on "Time" last night, which carried the viewpoint that earthly past is the present somewhere else in the universe. (A little analogous to our understanding that much of what our telescopes observe is "the past" of what is being observed, i.e., that the light reaching us left that star perhaps millions of years ago.) Some have characterized memory as "the past in the present" or more fully, "the past still recognized in the present" or "the past as reconstructed in the present".


message 10: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments I think it's literally true that memory is "past reconstructed in the present." I don't mean that logically, I mean that's how memory works from a variety of clues. Apparently, we don't record a 100% of information but specific fragments from which we reweave the experience. It's what trying to remember something is like -- a smell, a sound, a time, a place and then poof -- oh yes, I remember her. We met at a party, she was wearing a green dress, I had been talking with my cousin...

What has always interested me is misremembering. A mean one can understand forgetting. Somehow, the storage decays. But how do you get something wrong? That's quite interesting. But if you're constantly recreating the past, then the error is understandable.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Another point to keep in mind is that the term "temps perdu" in the title can refer to both lost time and wasted time.

The most surprising aspect of this first section for me was the humor in it. No one ever told me Proust was going to be funny!


message 12: by Evalyn (new)

Evalyn (eviejoy) | 93 comments His reveries of the many beds he has slept in in his life - are we to take these thoughts as literal or are they metaphorical? I was struck by the phrase on p.10 - about "the anesthesizing influence of habit." I'd never thought of habits in that way before. Are our habits anesthesizing? Do they help us sleep-walk our way through some parts of our lives?


message 13: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Bill wrote: "...What has always interested me is misremembering. A mean one can understand forgetting. Somehow, the storage decays. But how do you get something wrong? That's quite interesting. But if you're constantly recreating the past, then the error is understandable. ..."

There are some very interesting Nova films available these days on memory and recent advances in understanding of how it works. I suspect the Teaching Company lectures on memory are quite good, too, although I haven't looked at those. So much has been learned about the brain and its functions in the recent decades. I believe it was Charlie Rose who hosted a series on memory a couple of years ago with one of the leading investigators in the field.


message 14: by Bill (last edited Dec 07, 2011 07:44PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Evalyn,

Actually, our habits are what save time. You begin learning to tie a shoelace and then you're good at it, and then you do it quickly, while having a conversation, without thinking about it.

So in some ways, yes, they allows to go through life without thinking very much about these things.

No matter what art you hang in your house, you'll see it less and less, if you're like most people. It's hard to focus on the exceedingly familiar.

We no longer focus our attention on it because unless we attend, we won't see. We see what our attention is focused on. There a famous psych experiment in which students are asked to watch a video and count the number of passes made in a basketball game. After the experiment is over, they're asked if anyone saw anything unusual.

Many say they didn't. Then they're shown the video again. Only then do they notice that someone in a gorilla suit walks into the basketball game. :-)


message 15: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 180 comments Lily wrote: "Thomas wrote: "...Where did the time go?..."

Given that we are reading Proust, it was particularly fun to watch Nova's show on "Time" last night, which carried the viewpoint that earthly past is t..."

-------------

I didn't catch the Nova episode, but I did make the connection to the new Stephen King book, 11/22/63 In it the main character is able to go back in time and change history.

I've only read a few pages of Proust, I am sort of backed up in my reading. I hope to catch up soon.


message 16: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 180 comments Bill wrote: What has always interested me is misremembering. A mean one can understand forgetting. Somehow, the storage decays. But how do you get something wrong?
--------------------

We all have a blind spot.

"Most people (even many who work on the brain) assume that what you see is pretty much what your eye sees and reports to your brain. In fact, your brain adds very substantially to the report it gets from your eye, so that a lot of what you see is actually "made up" by the brain."
http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/blind...

So what we "remember" may not be "real".


message 17: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments I have Eric Kandel's book, but haven't read it yet. Interestingly, it's called, In Search of Memory, which might be an interesting read with In Search of Lost Time.

Interesting, about Julie Taymor's comment. As someone who was dancing in the 1960s, I'm curious.

Alias, thanks for the link -- but the kind of memory distortion is much grosser than the blind spot would suggest.


message 18: by Ibis3 (new)

Ibis3 | 53 comments Oh this all sounds so fascinating. I'm wasting time waiting for someone else to churn their experience of reading the book into a memory of having read it. Supposedly due back at the library on the fifteenth, so I may have to jump the gun and buy a copy this weekend.


message 19: by Casey (new)

Casey | 8 comments I've just begun Combray, and I'm already lost in the prose. I can't believe it's taken me so long to read anything by Proust. He perceived his inner world with such accuracy; I was amazed to find that his sleepless nights are so like mine. I've certainly experienced the feeling of disorientation upon waking, especially when I fall asleep in a strange position (usually when reading). Strangely enough, I'll be sleeping alone tonight, which tends to make me feel quite restless. I guess I'm experiencing Proust first hand.

I'm listening to the French audiobook, using the English book as a reference. I quite like the Lydia Davis translation so far, though I'm still on the first part. The French is so beautiful, but honestly, so is the English.

Bill wrote: "I think it's literally true that memory is "past reconstructed in the present." I don't mean that logically, I mean that's how memory works from a variety of clues. Apparently, we don't record a 10..."

This is true, and one of the more fascinating things about the mind. When we remember, we reconstruct our memories for the bits and pieces we've stored away, creating something different from what we experienced. What's more, we modify our memories when we access them, without even realizing it. And our memories aren't "tagged" in our brain in ways we expect them to be: the more we encode about the scene, the more pathways we have to retrieve this information later. The non-fiction book "Proust was a Neuroscientist" covers scientific aspects of modern writers, and while I can't recommend the book without mentioning that the scientific explanations are often simplified (and sometimes flat out incorrect), the Proust chapter really was fabulous. Full disclosure: I have a masters in Cognitive Science, and I'm working on my PhD in the subject, although my research focuses on language, not memory.


message 20: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1729 comments Is this supposed to be a novel? I have not yet detected a plot. Is it a memoir? A kind of long rambling essay?


message 21: by Thomas (last edited Nov 10, 2011 10:03PM) (new)

Thomas | 4508 comments Roger wrote: "Is this supposed to be a novel? I have not yet detected a plot. Is it a memoir? A kind of long rambling essay?"

After the first ten pages I started praying that the narrator would get out of bed and do something... but I'm starting to appreciate what he's doing now. I read somewhere that his writing method involved adding new material to each new draft, stuffing more and more detail into it as he went. Most writing benefits from the opposite operation -- editing out the unnecessary fluff. "You must kill your darlings" is how Faulkner put it. Proust has many darlings, and they seem to multiply on the page, one after the other.


message 22: by Dee (new)

Dee (deinonychus) | 291 comments I love the multi-layered aspect of Proust's narrative. He starts talking about something, and then it reminds him of something else, and he goes off on a digression talking about that, and then an other digression, and finally he comes back to his main point (by which time you, the reader, have forgotten what the main point was.)

It's a bit like an onion: one layer of narrative wrapped around another.


message 23: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 11, 2011 04:44AM) (new)

Roger wrote: "Is this supposed to be a novel? I have not yet detected a plot. Is it a memoir? A kind of long rambling essay?"

It's a novel, but don't forget that it's a 6-volume novel. For me it was only in retrospect, after reading the whole thing, that the "plot", or maybe in this case the structural underpinnings on which the whole edifice is built, became clear. Maybe I was extra-dense, but I had no clue when first reading Volume 1.

Casey said "I've just begun Combray, and I'm already lost in the prose. I can't believe it's taken me so long to read anything by Proust." That's exactly how I felt! It's like music by a great composer: you're blown away by the music of a symphony the first time you hear it even though you might not yet recognize the structure of the piece, or grasp how the parts all interrelate. The even greater beauty of it is revealed to you in stages, as you keep on listening.


message 24: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Roger,

Proust, along with many other great novelists, would have had a hard time in Fiction I. I think with some novels you need to slow down, adjust your expectations and enjoy the ride without worrying too much about what happens next.

Patrice,

Very interesting comment about the analogy of the cave, but I think Plato was interested in the abstract -- what was left after qualities were removed -- and Proust is very much involved with specifics, the concrete, the time machine that consists of a madeleine dunked in linden flower tea.

For Proust truth is found in subtleties of sensation. I think of him more and more connected to the dandyism of late 19th century more than Plato. Maybe A Rebours is the companion novel here. Another book I own and intend to read.

However, if anything in fiction suggests an Oedipus complex it's our narrator scheming for a goodnight kiss to the point where it was making everyone extremely nervous. :-)


message 25: by Lily (last edited Nov 11, 2011 07:06AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments This link says Illiers was the basic model for Combray. Not a lot of pictures here, the text is a bit self-reflective, as Proust induces in many of us, but do notice the closing line ending with "...the possibility of comfort." Those words alone from this writer anonymous to me will affect my reading of Proust.

http://www.chick.net/proust/combray.html

The impact of the church spire Proust describes in Combray reminds me of the spell cast by this one in New England, which has been described as the most photographed in NE after the one in Boston directing the ride of Paul Revere: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/48766495 or http://ulocal.wptz.com/_Stowe-Communi... or http://www.townofstowevt.org/history/... -- for three views of the impact of a spire on an area.

"Recent Proust scholarship, however, has argued that Proust's descriptions of Combray owe as much to his uncle's home in Auteuil as to Illiers." -- from the Wiki entry for Illiers.

I am still looking for an illustration of the church that in(spire)d Proust.

Ah, try here (Illiers-Combray): http://www.francebalade.com/chartres/...


message 26: by Lily (last edited Nov 11, 2011 08:05AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Patrice wrote: "...Did anyone else think of the analogy of the cave? Plato?..."

Patrice -- here is some more intertextuality to be on the outlook for: "Literary historians and critics have ascertained that, apart from Ruskin, Proust's chief literary influences included Saint-Simon, Montaigne, Stendhal, Flaubert, George Eliot, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Leo Tolstoy." Wiki entry for Proust

I was reading David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again this morning and was struck by the similarities with Proust, especially the close observations to which one could relate. My feelings are like what M describes about encountering a great piece of music before having any concept of what it is really.


message 27: by Lily (last edited Nov 11, 2011 08:06AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments M wrote: "Roger wrote: "Is this supposed to be a novel? I have not yet detected a plot. Is it a memoir? A kind of long rambling essay?"

It's a novel, but don't forget that it's a 6-volume novel. For me i..."


"His [Proust's] birth [1871] took place during the violence that surrounded the suppression of the Paris Commune, and his childhood corresponds with the consolidation of the French Third Republic. Much of In Search of Lost Time concerns the vast changes, most particularly the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the middle classes that occurred in France during the Third Republic and the fin de siècle." from Wiki on Proust


message 28: by Bill (last edited Nov 11, 2011 08:15AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Lily, Patrice,

"Apart from Ruskin", who was a major influence on the aesthetes, suggests Ruskin was a major influence on Proust.

But I'm always suspicious about such a laundry list of major writers. Who is really important -- or rather -- which connections are actually enlightening?


message 29: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4508 comments Patrice wrote: "Did anyone else think of the analogy of the cave? Plato? The flickering images and then the ascent, through memory (recollection) out of the abyss?"

I did too, but I think that says more about us than it does about Proust. :) In a lot of ways Proust seems like the polar opposite of Plato -- his observations come from the surfaces of things, the reflections and shadows and the subtleties of human behavior. This is something that does not concern Plato very much, which I think is one of the major weaknesses in his philosophy. It's why the "beautiful city" turns out to be not beautiful at all, certainly less beautiful than Combray anyway.


message 30: by Bill (last edited Nov 11, 2011 05:01PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments I don't think Proust is much of a Platonist -- although, honestly, he may have read The Republic and it may have lodged somewhere in his neurons. But as a practical matter, this knowing is so different from Plato's. I don't see Marcel as enamored of mathematics and the pleasures of forms deprived of sensual specificity.

I think the observation that we're all alike is true -- but the observation we're all different is true as well. Those are the poles of understanding. One can be mistaken both by reading too little of ourselves in someone else, by thinking someone hopelessly foreign. We can be equally mistaken by reading ourselves into others when their motives, enthusiasms, viewpoints are quite different. It can be lonely realizing how different others are -- but there it is.

I think insight lies in being able to discriminate between the two.

But that's what I think, who knows?


message 31: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Bill wrote: "...It can be lonely realizing how different others are -- but there it is...."

Also, frightening, and frightening when the reaction is fear.


message 32: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Bill wrote: "Lily, Patrice,

"Apart from Ruskin", who was a major influence on the aesthetes, suggests Ruskin was a major influence on Proust.

But I'm always suspicious about such a laundry list of major wri..."


Bill -- Patrice knows how much I pull her chain about finding Plato everywhere. (Or else I am being like the obtuse grateful sisters.) But, I do think certain major figures often are embedded in our unconscious, whether we have encountered them indirectly or directly. Since I pulled the quotation from Wiki, I don't know the depth of the scholarship alluded.

I did enjoy this today in Wallace: "...(plus you could see any town you were aimed at the very moment it came around the earth's curve, and the only part of Proust that really moved me in college was the early description of the kid's geometric relation to the distant church spire at Combray)..."

(Wallace rather wallows in mathematical and geometric allusions.)

Proust "translated" Ruskin -- the story is amusing in its detail, including the use of his mother's better command of English.


message 33: by Eliza (last edited Nov 11, 2011 04:30PM) (new)

Eliza (elizac) | 94 comments I just started this book and so far I think its amazing. However, it's hard to find longer stretches of time to read, and for me at least this book isn't one to be read little bits at a time. Hopefully this weekend I can make some real progress


message 34: by Bill (last edited Nov 11, 2011 05:45PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Lily -- I guess we all have our Platos as well all have our Shakespeares. Over 30 years ago I read all the dialogues through, I think, Theaetetus in the Huntington-Carnes edition. I did a senior thesis on Plato's, Gorgias, and wrote 100 or so pages on a 30 page dialogue. :-) It was a very interesting experience to do a dialogue line by line. I got a glimpse of how artfully he managed the dialog as a work of art, and I saw, felt very strongly what motivated Socrates as a moralist.

But my interest in Plato is not the Ideas or the idealism but it's Socrates as hero and his particular moral vision.

I just think reading Proust -- and I know a lot more about Plato than Proust -- as a Platonist is not much to the point.

With the laundry list, I thought it is perhaps true that there are parallels, but I wondered how illuminating they were. At first I thought -- Tolstoy? But then of course if we're talking about Tolstoy's Childhood and Tolstoy's recreation of his own childhood or the use of his childhood in creating the story -- sure. But does it illuminate anything?

I mean, I could write about the pleasure I had when my mother wore her seal coat and I buried my cheek in the fur and felt its soft luxury w. And it might or might not be interesting -- but it probably wouldn't have much to do with Proust. Or Tolstoy.

Or, looking at it another way, I am just cranky and need to be put down for a nap. I feel I haven't slept since July of 2010.

____

But I am curious about the connection of Proust and the Aesthetic movement, and the connoisseurship of sensation, as well an emotional life so devoted to emotional extravagance.

But I'm a Proust novice, I'm not rereading it, I'm reading for the first time. Whether I'm or not I'm searching for lost time, I am not sure.


message 35: by Alta (new)

Alta | 4 comments I read all A la Recherche many years ago in French and wrote my BA thesis on it. So I have to get my Lydia Davis translation and see how it sounds in English. I have also visited the "real" house in Combray (with some of the original furniture in it), which turned out to be a lot more modest and smaller than I imagined. The town (or the village) itself is small and sleepy. It is clear that Proust the adult transformed a rather banal environment into an ideal (or idealized) place because his childhood was transfigured--through the power of memory--into a sort of Paradise. "All Paradise is Paradise lost," he says.


message 36: by Andreea (new)

Andreea (andyyy) Bill wrote: "Lily, Patrice,

"Apart from Ruskin", who was a major influence on the aesthetes, suggests Ruskin was a major influence on Proust.

But I'm always suspicious about such a laundry list of major wri..."


Ruskin's influence on Proust goes deeper than that. If I remember it well, Proust was Ruskin's first French translator and he translated and worked towards (what he hoped would be) a major critical work on Ruskin (which never materialized) for about six or seven years.


message 37: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Andreea,

All I said was that I was comfortable with the idea that Ruskin was a major influence on Proust. I didn't know then that he translated Ruskin and was working on major critical work -- but that would still be a major influence. :-)


message 38: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4508 comments Patrice wrote: "I thought twice before posting about the allegory of the cave because I know I see Plato everywhere. But I really DO see him everywhere! "

Something else that made me think of Plato: When Francoise is sent to fetch the medical book and is found sobbing at the description of pain in the book. She cares little or nothing for the kitchen maid, "Giotto's Charity," who is actually experiencing the pain. But the idea, the "mental picture" of the pain, greatly affects her. Francoise isn't without empathy, but her empathy is for a disembodied idea rather than for an actual human being.


message 39: by Andreea (new)

Andreea (andyyy) Bill wrote: "Andreea,

All I said was that I was comfortable with the idea that Ruskin was a major influence on Proust. I didn't know then that he translated Ruskin and was working on major critical work -- but..."


I know, I just wanted to point out that Proust was deeply engaged with him as well as other writers. He wrote quite a lot of very good literary criticism, for example, he has an essay on the use of different times in Madame Bovary which was one of the first very thorough close readings of the novel and his insights into the novel's structure are still used/frequently cited today. I also remember reading an essay he wrote in response to Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies in which he explained his beliefs about the purpose of reading, I'll see if I can find it online.


message 40: by Bill (last edited Nov 12, 2011 05:11AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Thomas, that's an interesting point -- and it's odd, I think, like imagining one's the subject of what one is reading -- like the rivalry between monarchs.

but unless the pain suffered by Françoise was a merely a pale reflection of the Idea of pain I don't think it's Platonic. I don't all abstraction is an instance of Plato -- just abstraction as the fundamental ground of reality.


message 41: by Jim (new)

Jim Eliza wrote: "I just started this book and so far I think its amazing. However, it's hard to find longer stretches of time to read, and for me at least this book isn't one to be read little bits at a time. H..."

Yes and no... To get the full experience of the 'story', such as it is, it would be good to read full sections in one session. At the same time, I'm finding that some of the sections of a page or three, are like little 'portraits' or 'morsels' that can stand alone. I've been reading in bed at night before sleeping, and in that winding down frame of mind, I've been able to enjoy small bits at a time. That being said, I now want to go back and read longer sections to re-experience and re-digest the work. I can see that this book can be left on my night stand for the rest of my life to take sips from... although, sans madeleines, as I'm watching my weight...


message 42: by Bill (last edited Nov 12, 2011 07:20AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Andreea,

I have no trouble with notion that Proust was a great reader as well as a greater writer. A lot of writers are, it's what makes them want to write. I further accept that the impressions made on a writer by reading can exist as echoes within his work.

I also think people can come to similar strategies or word choices independently. But even if there is an echo in Proust of an earlier writer, I'm always curious how that knowledge affects our understanding and reading of the book.

Sometimes sources are necessary to understand just what's going on. I think The Great Gatsby -- which is a wonderful book, one of my faves -- is very difficult to "understand" -- as opposed to appreciate -- without some knowledge of key sources.

But that's me. I definitely appreciate what you have to say.


message 43: by toria (vikz writes) (last edited Nov 12, 2011 06:16AM) (new)

toria (vikz writes) (victoriavikzwrites) | 186 comments David wrote: "I love the multi-layered aspect of Proust's narrative. He starts talking about something, and then it reminds him of something else, and he goes off on a digression talking about that, and then an ..."

I agree. I like how he's actually structured the two chapters round his childhood day, following his daily pattern but then deviating off to other days. So, we get the feeling that his days merge into one. (As they do when we think of our childhood). I also liked how he, in the end of the Combray section, mirrors the ending of 'overture' before extending the narrative out again. This book seems on the surface to be very loose stream of conciousness writing but when you look closer it has a very interesting structure. Or, at least it has so far.


message 44: by Bill (last edited Nov 12, 2011 10:03AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Patrice,

To say Tolstoy must have been very difficult to live with is one of the great understatements of literary biography. You have NO idea. But it was more than his noticing details. He gave opinionated new meaning.

Tolstoy despised any opinions that weren't his own. He was not an apostle of free thought. He was an apostle of thinking like Tolstoy.

I don't know that I believe artists are tormented people. That's really a romantic notion that appears after the French Revolution. Proust believed in the value of suffering. But I don't think, for example, Shakespeare or Bach or Leonardo were particularly tormented. And it's hard to get more artistic than that. Everyone's lives are tormented to some extent, some more, some less. Byron blames Keats' death -- and I love Keats - on bad reviews but I rather think it was tuberculosis.

I think artists are likely to be more in touch with the pleasures of the senses and emotional life -- it's so often the stuff of art.

I read this about Proust this morning, It's from Proust by Edmund White in the Penguin Lives series which are short biographies (156 pp. !!!!)

http://amzn.to/ProustEdmundWhite

He was attentive to his friends to the point of seeming a flatterer, though he thought friendship was valueless and conversation represented the death of the mind, since he believed only passion and suffering could sharpen the powers of observation and the only word of any value was the written. He could stare transfixed at a rose -- or anything else or anyone who was on his peculiar wavelength -- but though he read everything and was deeply cultivated -- he had little interest in disembodied ideas. He applied his attention to flowers and people and paintings, but not to theories about botany nor to psychology nor aesthetics. He never read a word of Freud, for instance (nor did Freud ever read a word of his.)

Of course, Plato's writing is very much in favor of conversation, not writing (although Plato was writing) and argues for the existence of disembodied ideas.


message 45: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Patrice wrote: "He never read a word of Freud! wow!

Well, sometimes ideas are just in the air.


I don't think it was that he thought similarly to Freud. I think it was more that he was a case in point.


message 46: by Bill (last edited Nov 12, 2011 10:00AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments I can't just now. I've much to much to read, and I don't know how I'm going to get that done.

But maybe I can start it with volume 2 or 3.

And yes, Patrice, that was a Proustian moment. It also reminds me of something else, but I'm not sure what. Perhaps I should get a madeleine, dunk it in tea and get back to you.


message 47: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments @52 Bill wrote: "...I don't all abstraction is an instance of Plato -- just abstraction as the fundamental ground of reality..."

Ooookay, Bill! I don't want to derail Proust into Plato, but can you send us to an article (preferably online) that elaborates on your meaning here?

(On Francoise, from Marcel Proust's Search for Lost Time: A Reader's Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past by Patrick Alexander (view spoiler) I think I am being conservative in marking this as a spoiler, but I leave the risk to the reader here.)


message 48: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4508 comments Bill wrote: "...but unless the pain suffered by Françoise was a merely a pale reflection of the Idea of pain I don't think it's Platonic. I don't all abstraction is an instance of Plato -- just abstraction as the fundamental ground of reality.
"


I think it's her focus on the idea, the power of her imagination over the real person sitting right in front of her, that is extraordinary. I don't necessarily think that Proust is drawing on Plato here, but if he is, he is not alluding to the world of "ideas", he's aiming lower on the divided line, to the world of imagination.

We see all sorts of people in this book who live in their own minds rather than in the world around them -- instead of relating to people as they are, they relate to their ideas of who those people are or should be. This seems to be very much the way that Plato's cave dwellers live, judging by shadows. We the readers are cave dwellers as well, after all. We can relate. To some extent we're all looking at the images cast by the magic lantern of our consciousness.


message 49: by Alta (new)

Alta | 4 comments I agree (with "This book seems on the surface to be very loose stream of conciousness writing but when you look closer it has a very interesting structure. Or, at least it has so far.") I think the book's structure is, in a way, like the structure of Proust's sentences. In appearance, they seem to be going nowhere--like loose spaghetti--but, in fact, they are extremely rigorous. This may sound paradoxical, but one of the things I like most about Proust is his rigor. I read him in French, so I am not sure how this rigor translates into English, but from a grammatical point of view his sentences--huge as they are--are perfect. Also, they have a rhythm: often, the first half of the sentence goes up, and the second down.


message 50: by Bill (last edited Nov 12, 2011 01:07PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 365 comments Lily, I spent some time looking for an article on line and failed, miserably. I wasn't thrilled with the Wiki article. I studied this stuff a long time before the WWW was a glimmer in the mind of Tim Berners-Lee.

But it's the classic metaphysical problem of the "status of universals." I think you'd find it in any basic textbook on metaphysics.

The question what ARE universals exactly? Do they exist? Are they real? Or are they just names of things we see commonality in, like the various shades of a color. I can agree that there is a common name for all shades of red without thinking red is actually out there with an independent existence and that these individual shades participate or reflect an Idea of red.

"Red" is certainly an abstraction, but I don't think it has existence beyond its particular instances in the world.

I hope that helps.


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