Wednesday, June 21, 2006

SW, Chapter 3: Marcel and I are having some problems.

Okay, I know everyone's sick of this subject, but I never have the energy at night to write this in my journal, so I'm just going to keep venting here.

Okay, so, Further Reasons Why I Call Bullshit on Marcel:

First off, can we just take a moment to marvel at how nobody pointed out to him that he doesn't even follow the rules of his own conceit? I mean, let's break it down: Dude's telling us that he eats a cookie dunked in tea, and it brings back every last detail of his childhood summers in Combray. Okay, I'm with you so far. But he's remembering things he can't possibly have experienced! He's remembering whole conversations, verbatim, that his sickly aunt had with her maid, in said aunt's bedroom, when he wasn't there. Marcel, I call bullshit. I mean, at least with the old piano teacher and his daughter, he comes up with some lame-ass "oh yeah, I was just passing by and happened to peek in the window" pretense for how he managed to see such private moments. That I can accept (though dude had a confused notion of lesbianism, but then again, that's just a product of his era, so I'm not going to dock him points for that, either), but all these conversations between the aunt and the maid? What, they just never noticed little Marcel hanging out by the chiffonier?

And speaking of Le Petit Marcel: No, I do not believe any little kid, no matter how precocious, interprets his mother's grudging decision to spend the night in his room after he's had a tantrum as the first sign of her impending mortality. I'm sorry, but no. Kids that age (and here's another thing, how fucking old is he at any stage of the book? He never says. You can give me a stamen-by-stamen account of every goddamn flower you passed on the Meseglise Way, but you can't be bothered to tell me if you were 5 or 12 when you were screaming for your moms to kiss you goodnight? I'm going to guess you were 5, because otherwise, eeeeeeew.) do not even have the ability to conceive of death in any real way, much less imply it by a simple act of kindness. No, Marcel, encore I call bullshit.

Okay, and I'm going to stop soon, but can I just say? The endless use of metaphors and similes? Is KILLING me? Imagery is great, but it's not a meal, you know? It's like cayenne--used sparingly, it can really perk things up, but overuse can and will dull the palate and make the dish inedible.

See, that was my first simile in this whole piece, and it worked. And now I'm not going to use any more. Because I do not hate you. Whereas I'm not so sure about M. Proust. I really feel like he's punishing the reader at times, and I don't understand why. We signed on to read at least 440 pages--and a whole lot more, if we do the whole seven books--so why not make things just the slightest bit easy on us? Why not show you care about our comfort? Huh, Mr. Ibelievethelengthofmypenisisdirectlyproportionaltothatofmyparagraphs?

And yes, I know that all this bitching leads to an inevitable question: Why don't I just quit? But there are two reasons. The first is simply that I am very, very stubborn. I said I would read Swann's Way and god dammit, I'ma gonna read the motherfucker. I refuse to think my pants aren't as smart as anyone else's, and no dead self-obsessed Frenchman is going to prove me wrong.

And the other reason is that so much of his writing--despite the logistical lapses, despite the sadistic writing style, despite the maudlin nostalgia that rots my very molars--is really very beautiful. Every time I think of putting the book down and reading something less stressful, he gives me a line like "...and habit picked me up in its arms and carried me to bed," and I think, okay, well, maybe I won't stop just yet.

Still, I'm not sure I get what all the fuss is about. I mean, this thing is lauded as the greatest modern novel, and I wouldn't go that far in a million years. I was going to say it's a little like the first time I tasted foie gras, but I promised no more similes, and by gum, I keep my promises.


Blogger shutupproust said...

Jazzometer said:

Awww . . . c'mon now! You can't get all literal on Proust and cry "j'accuse -- il ne peut pas etre vrai!", for chrissakes -- it's like complaining Laurence Sterne has some passages which are actually coherent and linear. Isn't the fact he gives you all those goddamn flowers and not his age exactly it . . . . spurred by Freud, Saussure, and the rest of those monkeys of interiority, the man was reacting to the previous 250 years of ratiocination just like all those impressionists before him and crazed Dadaists afterwards -- I'm gonna tell you everything as I see it (and hows I sees it is detaildetaildetail!), and then imagine as I would've seen it (especially with chere Maman, hubba hubba!) even if it kills me (and it did), but that doesn't mean I'm gonna tell you how old I was -- I already know that, and who cares anyway -- why should I bother with that? That's the subjective -- what clues us all in to what's really behind all that damn, maddening, delicious detail that pretends to be real.

Is it great reading? -- to our modern, buzz-sawed eyes, probably not. But is it great? Certainment!!!

[okay . . I'm crawling back in my ivory tower now . . .]

Shutupproust said:

But I think you can expect him to be true to his own story. Look, I don't care what reality you give me. Magical realism? Sign me up. You want to populate your world with hobbitses and elves? I am right there with you. I will accept any internal logic you want to create for the world inside your book. All I ask is that you remain faithful to it. And Proust... just doesn't. Those detail-detail-detail descriptions? Sometimes they make no sense. Like I was reading one about Swann listening to a piece of music last night. And he takes pages to describe this piece. But in doing so, he calls it "melancholy," and "airy," and I think even "joyful." And he doesn't mention a violinist, just a pianist, but suddenly he's talking about the violin part. And that's... I'm sorry, but that's just sloppy. He's basically wanked off for three pages, and I've had to watch it, and at the end of it, despite all that description, I still have no idea what this piece of music sounds like.

But I get what you're saying about the historical context of his work. And one of the really interesting things for me about reading Swann's Way is how you can really see Proust struggling to create an almost entirely new form. It's almost inevitable that he flounders at times.

But here's the thing: If you're going to be lauded at The Great Modern Novelist, if there's going to be a whole cult surrounding your work, if that work becomes the cultural benchmark of the literary world--if, in short, you are going to be The Man--then you had best bring your A game to the court. And your A game can be flashy, it can be bold, it can show the crowd something they ain't never seen before. You want to dribble between your legs, just to demonstrate that you can, you go ahead and do it. But. You can't get caught traveling. You can't make any obvious fouls. You do that, and you're not a serious player. You're just a really talented Globe Trotter. And Proust, to my mind, is a Globe Trotter. And everyone's saying he's Michael Jordan. And that, essentially, is where my quarrel with him lies.

Jazzometer said:

I will accept any internal logic you want to create for the world inside your book. All I ask is that you remain faithful to it. And Proust... just doesn't.

Hmmm . . . . internal logic . . . another condition of modernity and its expressions that Proust delighted in screwing around with -- in a way he was refusing that desire of a modern reader (I know that reads as an apologist's cop out (nooooooo! -- it's supposed to be that way! . . . ), but it is in keeping with Proust's refusal of all these standard conventions . . .) --- but I agree, that doesn't mean it is fun to read for most modern readers, who have just these expectations of what appears between their covers . . .

6:43 AM  

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