Monday, January 29, 2007

ISYGF, Chpt. 2: This charming man.

I know what you’re all thinking: Screw Proust, did she go roller-skating on Thursday again? The answer, my friends, is that yes, I did, and I only fell down once, so good for me. Then on Friday night I went bowling for a friend’s birthday party. Saturday, I followed the natural progression of such a weekend to its inevitable conclusion, i.e.: roller-skating, bowling, Smiths cover band.

You know, I never really got into the Smiths. I mean, I can sing along to “How Soon is Now,” and I like it all right, but their music never really spoke to me the way it did to so many of my peers. In high school, I was too Top 40 to appreciate them; then, someone introduced me to punk rock, and I’d truly found my musical medium. My adolescent anger could not fit comfortably within Mo’s elegant phrasing; it played best with the amp turned up to 11. I always felt like Morrissey was sneering at my confusion and pain, whereas the Ramones were right there in the mess with me, ready to blow shit up. Or, to put it another way: The pinky was not the finger I felt the need to raise during my teens and early twenties.

So I wouldn’t normally have gone to this show, but my friends were all going to be there and, you know, I had that natural progression to maintain. The band was really very good—the lead singer was the spitting aural image of Mo, and I have to respect anyone who’s willing to commit to the haircut, glasses, and Byronian shirtsleeves that go with the persona. The crowd was completely into it, too, which always helps. Given all this, it was almost as if I was being reintroduced to the Smiths all over again, and this time I loved what I heard. Admittedly, it probably helps that that scream-till-you’re-hoarse adolescent rage is all (well, mostly) burned out at this point, and leaving the club on my own no longer makes me want to die, so whoever’s pain it is that Morrissey might be mocking, it isn’t mine. Plus, you have to admit that those pop hooks are catchy as hell.

It was during “Every Day is Like Sunday” (which triggered thoughts of Balbec, the yet-unseen seaside resort that figures so heavily in Proust’s work so far) that it occurred to me that the Smiths were the band equivalent of Marcel Proust: erudite, mannered, ruthlessly bitchy, and possessed of a cultlike following that made it difficult to take them seriously. (Not-so-coincidentally, little Stevie M. also holed himself up alone to do much of his writing, with just his mum for company.) But here I was, enjoying the snotty British bejeezus out of them, and if I could learn to love the Smiths on the second go round, maybe there was hope for me and Marcel, too.

I’d been getting pretty discouraged with Young Girls, because it seemed to have become bogged down in satirizing what were then current politics. For all I know, this stuff could be a laugh a minute, but since the sum of my knowledge of French politics consists of a general impression that someone is always on strike there, I’m not getting the jokes. But thanks to the magic of a fake Morrissey, I decided to give the old French bastard another shot.

Well, readers (I’m being optimistic with that plural, aren’t I?), I’m happy to say that miracles really do happen, and good faith really can be rewarded. I opened up the book when I got home (and when I look back on my life, I hope the fact that I once sat in bed reading Proust at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night does not figure prominently in the highlight reel) and was not more than a couple pages into it, when Marcel, in a seemingly reciprocal gesture of goodwill, gave me something I thought he would never deign to give: a precise age.

Oh, not the age of Marcel himself—no, that would be asking too much. But M. de Norpois refers to Gilberte as a young woman of “14 or 15.” Now, by the math I worked out before, that puts young Marcel at 20, if not older. But I’m feeling so charitable toward Morri—er, Proust, that I’m willing to use math a la Marcel and guess that his fictional alter ego is, like, somewhere between 16 and 18. Which would fit the context of the story so far.

So I’m feeling more optimistic about my project now, and am actually looking forward to settling in for a good read sometime soon. You know, if I can squeeze one in between my next series of horseshoes, Yahtzee, and punk-rock jello wrestling.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

ISYGF, Chapter 1: Well, that didn't take long (again).

I'm on the second page of the first paragraph when I come across the book's first blatantly anti-Semitic statement.

Oh yeah, this is gonna go great.

Friday, January 19, 2007

ISYGF: INTRODUCTION: She needs no introduction.

I was planning on starting up Young Girls (heh) last night, but then I wound up going roller skating.

Yes, roller skating, and I’m just as baffled as you are. If you had told me a year ago that one night I was going find myself trying to choose between roller skating and reading Proust, I would have told you to stop bogarting whatever the hell it was you were smoking, because obviously it was some really good shit. And if you had gone on to tell me that I would opt for the roller skating, I… I’m not sure how I would have reacted, but I doubt I would have believed you. And yet, here we are, and I haven’t read a damn word of Le Chèr Marcel, but I’ve got Rapper’s Delight lodged permanently in my head. Which is awesome.

The reason I’m kicking holes in the fourth wall here is not to tell you all about my oh-so-fascinating life, but to explain why instead of a fresh tirade about what I’ve just read, I’ve decided to talk about what I’m not going to read—namely, the introduction.

Oh, I know. Introductions give you Important Insight into the mind of the author, and of the translator, and without them you are just a lost little lamb in the literary woods, ready to fall down a well of a paragraph, never to be seen again. (Side note: Did you know that sheep will perish if forced to live alone? Well, they will. When researchers do experiments on a sheep that require it to be sequestered, they have to put a mirror in its stall so it will think it has another sheep in there with it, because along with being herd animals, sheep are evidently extraordinarily stupid. There is probably an important lesson to be gleaned from all of this, but I’m pretty sure I have a point I need to get back to.) But this is the thing about introductions: They’re chock full of spoilers. (See? There’s the point.)

I know, I know: A novel is not a movie. But see, before any of these works became Great Literature, before they became studied and discussed and held up as examples of an artistic movement, they were just… books. Books that you picked up, for whatever reason, and read. That’s how they became Great Works. Enough people picked up those books, and read them for the first time, and were bowled over by what they discovered from one page to the next. No one told them what to think about the book (well, okay, that’s a wild oversimplification, we all know that), no one explained to them why this book was worth reading. It was worth reading simply because they were reading it, and something about what they found within that story, those words, made it impossible to stop.

What I’m saying is that I want to be able to enter and traverse a book like that—like the first pioneers to a land, wandering through it mapless and stumbling randomly upon a fifty-foot waterfall. I don’t want to be the diligent tourist who comes later, treading a well-worn path as she checks Scenic Waterfall off her list of Things To See While Visiting Proustland. I don’t want to know what’s around the next bend. I want to be allowed the joy of discovering that myself.

This all became very clear to me when I was reading Crime and Punishment last summer. Now, I have a long and tortured past with Dostoevsky. I swear to gawd every boy I had a crush on in college, when we talked about our favorite books (and because of the kind of girl I was and the kind of guys I liked—still like, if I’m to be honest—talking about our favorite books was an unavoidable part of the courtship ritual), inevitably they’d be all, “Brothers Karamazov. Very deep.” And so I’d try to read the damn thing again, and every single time I’d make it to about page 75 before throwing it across my dorm room, because what the hell? It made no sense to me—or rather, I hated the kind of sense it made. Just a bunch of guys sitting around discussing the existence of God, when that’s not really what they cared about at all. What they cared about was that they all wanted to bang the same woman. But they couldn’t just come out and say that—no, they had to sit around rationalizing it and turning it into a Big Philosophical Deal and urrrrrrrgh just say what you mean already, fellas!

So I never got too far with Dostoevsky (nor, when it comes to that, with most of those Very Deep boys, which was probably a mercy in the long run). But I was older now, and more tolerant of wacky men and their wacky rationalizations than I was back then, and I saw C&P at a yard sale and picked it up. And then, being the good, diligent little nerdlette that I am, I started in on the introduction. Which related every single plot point in the whole goddamn book. Thank heavens I started to clue into this, because I quickly flipped past the rest of it and started in on the actual book. Which was fine—not my favoritest book ever, and I still think the Big D. moves his characters around like chess pieces without any honest respect for their internal logic, but I liked it and it was cool to finally discover that Fyodor himself, if you let him yarn long enough, eventually comes to the same conclusion I did all those years ago: that all the fancy talk in the world can’t justify deeds, if the deeds are stupid and/or wicked. But the book would have been even better if I hadn’t spent the first several chapters saying to myself, “Okay, I know there’s a murder coming—when the hell is it? And then he hides the money, right? I remember they said he hid some money.”

My point here is that I was trying. I was willing to re-engage with an author whose work had brought me nothing but frustration in the past, and I was doing so gamely, and that introduction almost quashed the whole deal because it took away the one thing that made the book enjoyable for me—that sense of discovery, the thrill of meeting a new character, the curiosity to find out what lay around the next bend.

Fortunately, though, a couple chapters after the murder I was past the point I’d read in the introduction, and I got to stumble along with poor Rasky as he went and fucked up his and everyone else’s life as much as one person possibly could, the stupid little pissant. It was fun, it was full of surprises, it had a clever detective. And then I read the intro, and it was like if I’d gotten back to the bar after a long hike and started raving about that waterfall I’d seen, and the bartender said, “Oh yeah, Fyodor Falls, let me tell you a story about that place.”

I don’t want to get told about Proust Falls until I’ve hiked up to them, marveled at them, and stripped off my clothes and run around naked under them. Until then, the bartender can stay right where he is, at the head of the trail. He’ll still be there when I get back. And beer tastes better after a hike.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Awwwwwww yeeeaaaah, bitches!

It is ON!!!