A blog 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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Proust Project, Day 37

Where this began
Day 36

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (translated by James Grieve), pp. 93-107.

Swann's marriage to Odette is built on denial -- on both sides. He "was blind not only to the gaps in Odette's education, but also to her poverty of mind." For her part, her "inveterate way was to lend a perfunctory ear, bored or impatient, to anything subtle or even profound that he might say." It's a marriage of "subservience of the outstanding to the vulgar."

Except that Swann has indulged his own vulgar streak, setting up "experiments in the sociology of entertainment" in which he brings together "people from very different backgrounds." When he announces that he's going to have the Cottards come to dinner with the Duchesse de Vendôme, he looked "like a gourmet whose mouth waters at the novel undertaking of adding cayenne pepper to a particular sauce instead of the usual cloves." But by doing so he annoys Mme. Bontemps, who has recently been introduced to the Duchesse and is upset that someone else of her acquaintance also has that privilege.

(Here there seems to be a typographical error: "Would she even have the heart to tell her husband that Professor Cottard and his wife were not to partake of the very pleasure that she had assured him was unique to themselves?" The
not [my italics] in that sentence contracts its apparent meaning -- that the Cottards were going to partake of the same pleasure. I think the intended word must be now. Unfortunately, I don't have another text handy to cross-check.)

We also learn that Swann is no longer jealous of Odette, that he was "now almost indifferent to whether she had someone with her or whether she had gone out somewhere." He realizes that when he was jealous in the past, he fell into another kind of denial, determined to believe "that Odette's daily doings were quite innocent." Now he realizes that "she had ... been much more often unfaithful to him than he had liked to believe." And now he is carrying on an affair of his own, with
a woman who, though she gave him no grounds for jealousy, made him jealous all the same, since in his inability to find new ways of loving he put to use again with the other woman the way that had once served him with Odette.... And the Swann who, when he suffered because of Odette, had wished for the day when he might let her see him in love with someone else, took ingenious precautions, now that this was possible, to keep his wife in ignorance of his new affair.
Proust also slips one of his foreshadowings in here, telling us that "the pain of jealousy, as a cruel counterdemonstration will show in a later part of this book, is proof even against death."

At the Swanns' the narrator gets -- though he's unaware of it at this time -- another link to the couple's past, when he hears Odette play the theme from the Vinteuil sonata that used to be their theme song. The music allows the narrator to reflect on the interlocked nature of time, memory, and music:
Listening for the first time to music that is even a little complicated, one can often hear nothing in it. And yet, later in life, when I had heard the whole piece two or three times, I found I was thoroughly familiar with it. ... What is missing the first time is probably not understanding but memory.... This length of time that it takes someone to penetrate a work of some depth, as it took me with the Vinteuil sonata, is only a foreshortening, and as it were a symbol, of all the years, or even centuries perhaps, which must pass before the public can come to love a masterpiece that is really new.... Which is why the artist who wishes his work to find its own way must do what Vinteuil had done, and launch it as far as possible toward the unknown depths of the distant future.

This is the shrewd comment of the mature narrator, of course, and not of the young narrator who is willing to capitulate to received opinion rather than to trust his own disappointment at the performance of La Berma. Of course, he also adds, "It is possible that even a genius may have disbelieved that railways or airplanes had a future, and it is possible to be an acute psychologist yet disbelieve in the infidelity of a mistress or the deceit of a friend, whose betrayals can be foreseen by someone much less gifted."

Is the narrator, who has already demonstrated himself to be "an acute psychologist," talking about himself here?