A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Proust Project, Day 59

Where this began
Day 58


In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (translated by James Grieve), pp. 391-404.


The narrator gets drunk at Rivebelle and gives us a tipsy view of the dining room with its waiters dashing about, at first seemingly chaotically but then, as he mellows, "turning into something nobler and calmer" with "a soothing harmony." He sees the tables as little planets "as depicted in allegorical paintings from earlier times," or as a "planetary system, designed in accordance with the science of the Middle Ages." There is something in the passage reminiscent of Dickens or Twain when they adopt the Martian view of a familiar setting. 
I felt rather sorry for the diners, because I sensed that for them the round tables were not planets, and that they were unpracticed in the art of of cross-sectioning things so as to rid them of their customary appearance and enable us to see analogies.
But what follows is unmistakably Proustian, an analysis of the effect of music on his intoxicated mind: "each musical phrase, though as individual as a particular woman, limited the secret of its sensual thrills not to a single privileged person, as she would have done -- it offered them to me, it ogled me, it accosted me, it toyed with me in seductively whimsical or vulgar ways, it caressed me, as though I had suddenly become more attractive, powerful, or wealthy.... I felt endowed with a power that seemed to make me almost irresistible."


Moreover, the alcohol liberates him from past and future: "I was trapped in the present, as heroes are, or drunkards." It makes him reckless: 
In fact, what I was doing was condensing into one evening the unconcern that others dilute in their whole existence: every day they take the needless risk of a sea voyage, a ride in an airplane, a drive in a motorcar, when the person who would be stricken by grief if they were to die sits waiting for them at home, when the book, as yet unrevealed to the world, in which they see the point of their whole life, still lives only within their fragile brain.
For the moment, even the quest for Mlle. Simonet seems "a matter of indifference, since nothing but my present sensation, because of the extraordinary power of it, the euphoria afforded by its slightest varations, and even by the mere continuity of it, had any imporance.... [D]runkenness brings about, for the space of a few hours, subjective idealism, pure phenomenalism; all things become mere appearances, and exist only as a function of our sublime selves." 


When he gets back to the hotel, he crashes into a sleep that lasts until the afternoon, and is filled with dreams. "The difficulty of digesting the Rivebelle dinner meant that it was in a more fitful light that I visited, in incoherent succession, the darkened zones of my past life, and that I became a creature for whom supreme happiness would have been to meet Legrandin, with whom I had just had a dream conversation." Awake he remembers a woman he had seen the night before: "the young blonde with the wistful look who had glanced at me at Rivebelle. During the evening at the restaurant, many other women had seemed just as nice, yet she was the one who now stood alone in my memory."

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