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, February 14, 2010

Poem of the Day: William Shakespeare

Sonnet XXX

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought 
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought, 
And with old woes new wail my dear Time's waste. 
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow, 
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night, 
And weep afresh love's long since canceled woe, 
And moan th' expense of many a vanished sight;
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone, 
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er 
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan, 
Which I new pay as if not paid before. 
   But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, 
   All losses are restored and sorrows end.
-- William Shakespeare

Not my favorite Shakespeare sonnet. It's one of those in which the final couplet too abruptly cancels out the rest of the poem. Still, it's full of wonderful soundplay, from the sibilants of the opening lines (sessions ... sweet silent ... summon ... remembrance ... things past) to the grieving open vowels of the later lines (moan ... foregone ... woe ... woe ... o'er ... fore-bemoanèd moan ... before). 

But I really chose this one because of remembrance of things Proust. This was the sonnet that Scott Moncrief chose to allude to when he went to translate the title À la recherche du temps perdu. Or rather, to mistranslate it. For Shakespeare is writing about what Proust called "voluntary memory" -- the effort to summon up things past -- whereas Proust is equally concerned with "involuntary memory," the way the past looms up unbidden when invoked by some sensory nexus -- a smell, a taste, a sound. True, Proust's narrator goes "in search of lost time" (the currently preferred translation of the title), but he succeeds only when conditions (most famously, the taste of a cookie crumb in a spoonful of tea) favor it. 

Still, you can see how the sonnet might have appealed to Scott Moncrief, for not only is "remembrance of things past" a classier sounding title in English than "in search of lost time," the sonnet itself is concerned with many of the things that troubled Proust's narrator: dead friends, old lovers, obliterated landmarks. But Proust's novel doesn't have a tacked-on couplet or coda to cancel out the sadness of those memories.  

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