A la recherche
Du Temps Perdu
WHAT IS GOOD ABOUT PROUST’S WRITING(On completing volume 1 of “A la Recherche”!)
1. He shows us love, psychologically acutely, in all its manifestations and contradictions: first passion(or self-deceit that that is what the protagonist, Swann, PERCEIVES he feels); jealousy; and dying love, and the way we cling on to it. He does this through a beautiful expanded musical metaphor, the phrase from the Vinteuil Sonata.
2. He WRITES in a way that people THINK, not talk, ie contrapuntally, in intertwined clauses, that mirror the complex conscious and subconscious tortured and parallel workings of the human mind and thought/feeling process. We should remember here to distinguish between unnecessarily prolix writing and difficulty in setting down this complex process; Proust does it fairly clearly, though not as clearly as Sebald, who uses similarly tortuous, sinuous and labarynthine multi-claused sentences but in a more translucent flowing way. But there is undoubtedly a”music” to Proust’s prose style.
3.He describes joyous epiphanies: for example,in the opening and closing pages of the first and final sections of Swanns Way, volume one, in relation to recalling Combray and Balbec. Here, INDIRECT, as labelled by society and convention, experience(referenced by paintings and the other arts) is seen as often MORE intense and transfiguring than the actual LIVED variety(though he can be unexpectedly voluptuous at times!); thus echoing Schopenhauer’s belief that the best way in which to deal with the “Will”(human sexual desire)is to re-direct it into art (or, in Proust, into nature too).Whether we agree with this or not,he can describe entering a church porch, or seeing hawthorns in an extended construction(though that suggests artifice, and that it is not)of prose of rich, detailed intensity that is unequalled in prose-writing(even when in translation).
4. He does not eschew (aiming to) the spiritual and metaphysical heights: hence,in the last section of volume one,”Place Names:the Name”, he writes of the mysterious, ineffable power of people’s and place names to evoke the person/place(or the name of the place where that person lives or passed through) they delineate; however indirectly; and so arouse powerful emotions. This is a kind of intensification of Saussure’s sign-signifier-signified. For instance, Swann, in the section “A Love Of Swann’s”, is aroused to the heights of exultation of his love, or perceived(some may argue) love, for Odette, by the very NAME of a street she visits, La Perouse; when his affair with her is dying, hearing this name gives him a simultaneously consoling yet decimating melancholy-“the forgotten refrains of happiness”.
If you want your life and loves mirrored back to you, in prose of scintillating , but complex and deep beauty, read at least(like me!) ONE volume of “A la recherche du Temps Perdu”!
Soon , I shall explore Proust on music and memory in reference to the Vinteuil Sonata