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

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Proust Project, Day 55

Where this began
Day 54


In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (translated by James Grieve), pp. 340-359.

The narrator goes to two very different social events.

In the first, he accepts the Baron de Charlus's invitation to tea, and is puzzled by the baron's behavior, including his apparent refusal to acknowledge his arrival. Then he realizes "that his eyes, which never met those of the person with whom he was speaking, were in constant motion in all directions, like the eyes of some animals when frightened, or those of peddlers who, while they recite their patter and display their illicit wares, manage to study all the points of the compass without so much as looking around, in case the police are about." But he is more astonished when Charlus says to his grandmother, "how nice of you to think of dropping in like this!" when he has explicitly extended an invitation. When the narrator insists on asking the baron if he didn't invite them, he gets no reply -- only "the smile of the man who looks down from a great height on the characters and manners of lesser men." The narrator concludes "that it was his pride making him wish to avoid appearing to seek out people whom he despised, and that he therefore shrugged off onto them the idea that they should come to visit."

We learn a few more things about Charlus, including the fact that he wore "a faint dusting of powder" on his face, and that "he was as well disposed toward women ... as he was disgusted by men, and especially young men."
I gathered that the thing he disliked most about young men of today was their effeminacy.... But the life led by any man would have seemed effeminate compared with the kind of life he would have preferred to see men lead, ever more energetic and virile. ... He even disliked it if a man wore a ring on his finger.
And yet the narrator's grandmother "detected in M. de Charlus feminine sensitivity and intuitions." And the reader may wonder at the implications of this statement: "'But the most important thing in life is not whom one loves,' he declaimed in a voice that was authoritative, peremptory, almost cutting. 'The important thing is to love.... The limits we set to love are too restrictive and derive solely from our great ignorance of life.'" And then there's that "authoritative" voice, which
like certain contralto voices in which the middle register has been insufficiently trained and which, in song, sounds rather like an antiphonal duet between a young man and a woman, rose as he expressed these subtle insights to higher notes, took on an unexpected gentleness, and seemed to echo choirs of brids and loving sisters.... While he spoke, one could often hear their light laughter, the giggling of coquettes or schoolgirls full of pranks, mischief, and teasing talk.

When Charlus comments scornfully on the wealthy Jewish family, the Israels, who bought one of his family's estates, he "shrieked, 'Just think -- to have been the dwelling of the Guermantes and to be owned by the Israels!'" And, "noticing that his embroidered handkerchief was revealing part of its colored edging, he thrust it back into his pocket with a startled glance, like a prudish but not innocent woman concealing bodily charms that in her excessive modesty she sees as wanton."

And he thinks wearing a ring is effeminate?

Later that evening, Charlus surprises the narrator by coming to his room with a volume of Bergotte to lend him. He says, among other things, "you have youth, and youth is always irresistible," and comments about the narrator's affection for his grandmother, that it is "permissible mode of affection, I mean a requited love. There are so many other modes of affection of which one cannot say the same!" The next morning the narrator encounters Charlus on the beach where "he pinched me on the neck, with a most vulgar laugh and air of familiarity" and criticizes him for "wearing that bathing suit with anchors embroidered upon it."

The second social event is the dinner with Bloch's family, a section filled with allusions to literature and politics that are arcane to the modern reader (and heavily footnoted), but which reveals that Bloch and his father are very much alike.
So, set within my old school friend Bloch was Bloch senior, forty years behind the times of his son, who recounted stupid stories and laughs at them in the son's voice, as much as the real Bloch senior laughed at them in his own voice, since whenever he bayed with laughter and repeated the funny part several times, so that his audience would properly savor the point of each anecdote, the gales of the son's faithful guffaws would never fail to celebrate in unison with the father the latter's table talk.

The elder Bloch is an inveterate name-dropper and repeater of received opinions, whose "world was that of approximations, where greetings are half exchanged, where half-truths usurp the place of judgment. Inaccuracies and incompetence in no way reduce self-assurance." And yet Bloch senior is also acutely self-conscious, especially about being Jewish, and when his uncle, Nissim Bernard, makes a reference to Peter Schlemihl, he bristles because "the mentión of a word like 'Schlemihl,' though it belonged to the sort of semi-German, semi-Jewish dialect which delighted him within the family circle, he thought was vulgar and out of place when spoken in front of strangers."

As for Bernard, his nephew's insults offend him mainly because of "being treated rudely in the presence of the butler." Both Bernard and Bloch derive gratification "from their double satus of 'masters' and 'Jews.'" Bernard has his manservant bring him the newspapers in the dining room "so that the other guests could see he was a man who traveled with a manservant." Bernard is a poseur, who brags about acquaintances and possessions he doesn't really have, serves "mediocre sparkling wine, poured from a carafe" as Champagne, and invites the group to the theater and claims that all the boxes were booked so that he had to book the front stalls, which "turned out to be seats in the back stalls, half the price of the others" -- and the boxes turn out to be unoccupied.

Once the dinner and the theater are over, the younger Bloch walks the narrator and Saint-Loup home. Along the way, he makes fun of Charlus, to Saint-Loup's annoyance, and asks the narrator about the "beautiful creature" he had seen with him at the Zoo. "I had of course noticed at the time that the name of Bloch was unfamiliar to Mme Swann," the narrator comments. Bloch goes on, "I was sort of hoping you could let me have her address, and then I could pop round there a few times a week and share with her the joys of Eros, favorite of the gods."

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