A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Proust Project, Day 39

Where this began
Day 38

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (translated by James Grieve), pp. 119-138.

The narrator's intimacy with the Swanns continues, to the point that Odette sometimes in restaurants confides things to him in English that she doesn't want others to hear. The problem, he notes, is that "everybody could speak English -- except me," so that remarks about other people, including the waiters, that even he "could tell were insulting" were "lost on me, if not on the people insulted."

His adulation of the Swanns even causes friction with Gilberte, who quarrels with her father because she wants to go to theater. Swann opposes her doing so because it is the anniversary of his father's death, but lets her have her way. When the narrator suggests to her that it might look odd to others if they went to the theater on a day of mourning, she retorts, "Look, what do I care about what other people think! I think it's preposterous to worry about other people when feelings are involved. You feel things for yourself, not for an audience." And when he sugests that it would please her father if she stayed home, "'Don't you start!' she snapped, snatching her arm away."

And then comes a big surprise: Odette invites him to a luncheon at which his idol Bergotte, so recently criticized by the Marquis de Norpois, is present. And characteristically, the narrator is initially disillusioned:

I saw a stocky, coarse, thickset, shortsighted man, quite young, with a red bottle-nose and a black goatee. I was heartbroken: it was not only that my gentle old man had just crumbled to dust and disappeared, it was also that for those things of beauty, his wonderful works, which I had once contrived to fit into that infirm and sacred frame, that dwelling I had lovingly constructed like a temple expressly designed to hold them, there was no room in this thick-bodied little man standing in front of me, with all his blood vessels, his bones, his glands, his snub nose, and his little beard.

But as usual, his disillusionment is temporary, and pages of analysis of the voice and style of the "real" Bergotte follow. Bergotte, he observes, can be distinguished from the many

insipid imitators who kept touching up their prose, in newspapers and books, with pseudo-Bergottisms in imagery and ideas. This difference in style came from the fact that the real thing was first and foremost some precious, genuine element lying concealed within each object, waiting to be drawn out by the great writer with his genius; and it was this drawing out that was the aim of the soft-voiced Bard, not to toss off a page or two in the manner of Bergotte. ... [E]ach new touch of beauty in his work was the particle of Bergotte hidden inside a thing, which he had drawn out of it. ... All the great writers are like that: the beauty of their sentences, like the beauty of a woman one has not yet met, is unforeseeable; it is a creation, since its object is an external thing rather than themselves, something in their minds but not yet put into words.

So the artist not only searches for the essence of the thing, he also finds some "particle" of himself within it. Even Bergotte's conversation betrays this search: "the reason why there was something too matter-of-fact and overrich in his speech was that he applied his mind with precision to any aspect of reality that pleased him." Avoiding clichés and stereotypes can be fatiguing to the listener who wishes "for the firmer footing of something more concrete, by which one meant something one was more used to."

But Bergotte's style has its limitations:

In his urge never to write anything of which he could not say, "It's smooth," there was a kind of strictness of taste which, though it had caused him to be seen for so many years as an artist of sterile preciosity, a finicking minimalist, was actually the secret of his strength.

All of the long disquisition on Bergotte is in the voice of the mature narrator, and the reader is probably glad when the point of view of the young and naive narrator returns to talk with Bergotte about his recent experience of watching La Berma in Phèdre. When Bergotte issues some exquisite praise of a gesture made the actress, the narrator comments, "The trouble was, I thought, that these assurances could have convinced me of the beauty of La Berma's gesture only if Bergotte had primed me with them before the performance." He still retains his sense of inadequacy in judging the artistry himself.

And yet he's not abashed when he mentions a stage effect he particularly admired and discovers that Bergotte disagrees: "When Bergotte's view on something differed in this way from my own, it never reduced me to silence, or deprived me of a possible rejoinder as M. de Norpois's opinion would have done. ... The arguments advanced by M. de Norpois (on questions of art) were indisputable because they were devoid of reality." So the narrator mentions de Norpois, whom Bergotte dismisses as "an old parrot." Odette interjects that he's "a dreadful old bore," but Swann, "whose job at home was to be the man of sound common sense" says that Bergotte and Odette "are being rather hard on M. de Norpois."

In defending de Norpois, however, Swann confides in the narrator about the ambassador's mistresses, leading to a moment of embarrassment:

"High-strung people should always choose objects of their affections who are 'beneath them,' as the saying goes, so that the self-interest of the woman one loves ensures that she will always be available." At that moment, Swann realized the connection I might make between this verity and his own love for Odette.

Then, recovering from his irritation at having said too much to the narrator,

Swann ... rounded off his idea in words that I later come to remember as a prophecy, a warning I would be unable to heed: "But the danger of such liaisons is that, though the subjection of the woman may briefly allay the jealousy of the man, it eventually makes it even more demanding. He reaches the point of treating his mistress like one of those prisoners who are so closely guarded that the light in their cell is never turned off. The sort of thing that usually ends in alarums and excursions."

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