A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sound and Fury

In addition to multiplying the number of commentators, cable news channels restricted the scope of commentary to two subjects: immediate reactions to breaking news, and "who's up, who's down in the polls" handicapping. In this age of narrowcasting, the news junkies who follow cable TV and the blogs define politics as partisan gamesmanship. They don't want to know whether the healthcare plan makes sense or not. They want to know whether its passage will help or hurt Democrats in November. For these viewers, politics is a game, as the stock market is for the viewers of Bloomberg and CNBC.

In this new media universe, where cable news channels are forced to fill up an entire day of programming with talking heads between news segments, the producers and bookers naturally turn to experts in daily polling — the dreary, interchangeable "Democratic strategists" and "Republican strategists" who populate cable news and the equivalent blogs. I don't blame the producers. They are trying to make money for their corporations in a battered and declining industry. Having lost the general audience of yesteryear, they are feeding their smaller, more homogeneous audience of political junkies the drugs that the junkies want.

For economic reasons, then, genuine public intellectuals like Buckley and Galbraith probably could not get on TV today. Bill Buckley was fond of quoting the philosopher Eric Voegelin to the effect that liberals were trying to "immanentize the eschaton." Use six-dollar words like those on TV today, and you'll never be invited back. And I can only imagine the icy silence that would have followed, if a chirpy news anchor had asked Professor Galbraith what he thought of the latest poll in the Massachusetts Senate race.

The Proust Project, Day 61

Where this began
Day 60

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (translated by James Grieve), pp. 416-427.

From "At the hotel in Balbec ..." to "... it might lend some of itself to me, in their eyes."


Viewing Elstir's work inspires the narrator to musings on Impressionism. (Commenters on Proust often identify Elstir with -- among others -- Monet.)

Those infrequent moments when we perceive nature as it is, poetically, were what Elstir's work was made of. One of the metaphors that recurred most often in the sea pictures surrounding him then was one that compares the land to the sea, blurring all distinction between them....

On the beach in the foreground, the painter had accustomed the eye to distinguish no clear fontier, no line of demarcation, between the land and the ocean....

Though the whole painting gave the impression of seaports where the waves advance into the land, where the land almost belongs to the sea, and the population is amphibious, the power of the marine element was everywhere manifest....

Elstir's intent, not to show things as he knew them to be, but in accordance with the optical illusions that our first sight of things is made of, had led him to isolate some of these laws of perspective, which were more striking in his day, art having been first to discover them....

The effort made by Elstir, when seeing reality, to rid himself of all the ideas the mind contains, to make himself ignorant in order to paint, to forget everything for the sake of his own integrity (since the things one knows are not one's own), was especially admirable in a man whose own mind was exceptionally cultivated.
And so on. 

Elstir also takes it upon himself to correct the narrator's first disappointed experience of the church of Balbec. And he disagrees with Legrandin's comment to the narrator that Brittany was "bad for someone inclined to wistfulness."
"Not at all," he replied. "When the soul of a man inclines to the wistful, he mustn't be kept away from it, he mustn't have it rationed. If you keep your mind off it, your mind will never know what's in it. And you'll be the plaything of all sorts of appearances, because you'll never have managed to understand the nature of them. If a little wistfulness is a dangerous thing, what cures a man of it is not less of it, it's more of it, it's all of it! Whatever dreams one may have, it is important to have a thorough acquaintance with them, so as to have done with suffering from them."
"Wistfulness" is not a word we use much anymore, and in this context I'd like to know what the original word in French was. The dictionary gives, as translations for "wistfulness," nostalgie, mélancolie and tristesse. But "nostalgia" and "melancholy," though the narrator is certainly given to both, seem to narrow the focus to, on the one hand, a longing for the past, and on the other, a generalized feeling of the blues. "Wistfulness" suggests dreaminess and longing, and I think Grieve must have hit on the right word to characterize the narrator. Certainly no one ever put more effort into getting to know his dreams, his longings, his nostalgia and his melancholy than the narrator does. 

And then a surprise: "the young cyclist from the little group of girls came tripping along the lane, with her black hair, and her toque pulled down, her plump cheeks, and her cheerful, rather insistent eyes." She greets Elstir, and he tells the narrator that her name is Albertine Simonet. 
"There's hardly a day," Elstir said, "when one or another of [the gang of girls] doesn't come down the lane and drop in to pay me a little visit," a statement that reduced me to despair -- if I had gone to see him as soon as my grandmother had suggested it, I might well have made the acquaintance of Albertine long since!