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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Proust Project

Proust is my Everest, my Northwest Passage, a project much attempted but never achieved. So here's the idea: I'll read ten pages a day (at least) and report on them here. Having exposed my ambitions to Internet eyes, I have more incentive not to fail. My French, never a deftly handled precision instrument, is a thing of rust, dust and cobwebs, so I'll be reading the new translations published in the United States by Viking, and switch to the Scott Moncrieff version for the last three volumes, since the new translations aren't available in the States until 2018. I hope it won't take me that long.

Swann's Way (translated by Lydia Davis), pp. 1-10.

The narrator reflects on sleeping and waking, and the momentary dislocations of time and space that occur when he does so.
A sleeping man holds in a circle around him the sequence of the hours, the order of the years and worlds. He consults them instinctively as he wakes and reads in a second the point on the earth he occupies, the time that has elapsed before his waking; but their ranks can be mixed up, broken.
His mind "hesitat[es] on the thresholds of times and shapes" as it surveys other beds and other rooms before he settles in the one in which he currently exists. At Combray, his mother and grandmother had set up a magic lantern "to distract me on the evenings when they found me looking too unhappy," but the images it projected on the walls, curtains and doors "destroyed the familiarity which my bedroom had acquired for me and which, except for the torment of going to bed, had made it tolerable to me." But the element in the description that I relish most is the humor, the inflated vocabulary with which Proust undercuts the neurasthenia of the narrator:
The body of Golo himself, in its essence as supernatural as that of his steed, accommodated every material obstacle, every hindersome object that he encountered by taking it as his skeleton and absorbing it into himself, even the doorknob he immediately adapted to and floated invincibly over with his red robe or his pale face as noble and as melancholy as ever, but revealing no disturbance at this transvertebration.
Somehow, I had never thought of Proust as funny, but this passage is like something out of Dickens.