Now this post comes as a kind of confession: I’ve been reading Swann’s Way voraciously of late (happily turning pages in the doctor’s office this morning and enjoying the two hour wait, or picking it up everytime my girlfriend goes to answer the phone, or my mother parks the car outside the bank to run in, or I go to the bathroom (my favorite place to read as a child, and still a place of nostalgia) or any other chance I get), and I am feel myself being sublimated into Proust’s luminous prose.
Ah, to read his descriptions of banks of daffodils, the glorious hawthorne arbors, the delights that stream forth from the kitchen, the world of books, the complex and petty and thoroughly wonderful interplay between Aunt Leonie, Francoise and Eulalie. The narrator considers a stain on the floor and I am in paroxysms of delight. The narrator considers going outside and I delight in the images that will ensue.
I smile, I stretch, I set the book aside, consider writing some words in the Proust blog, and freeze. How am I to use words to describe such a master? How am I to have the sheer temerity to try and encapsulate Proust with his own tools? I begin, and already my voice begins to sound tinny. I write a sentance, and it feels like a line of lumpish mud bricks, slovenly and sullen, bland and wholly unremarkable. I try to describe the heights to which he soars and feel like some austropithacus attempting to emulate the birds by flapping his stunted hands.
(But ah, the secret delight in glorifying Proust, on placing him on that porphry pedastle, on declaring him an authority absolute on nature, on love, on human nature and what it means to live. To ignore the flaws, to wade and swim in his prose, to delectate in his descriptions of petals and clouds, poster bills and tisanes, courtesans and servants and steeples and church floors that have deliquesced and begun to run like warm butter. Proust can do no wrong, one cries, willfully shutting one’s ears against the criticisms and nay sayers who wag their mouths and pull at their witchy noses while complaining that he’s too long winded, there’s no plot, the narrator is a brat, precocious sure but such a whiney little spoiled brat that they can’t understand or empathize with him! To them I say: get behind me, Satan! To them I say: appreciate the the idylls of this author like honey dripping from a comb into your open mouth, savor it and luxuriate in the effortless and ever flowing mastery of the language! I look, but Proust sees, and in reading, I come to see as well. To delight in the quotidian, to learn that the quotidian is but a superficial mask that hides beauty unlimited if one has but the eyes to see and the sensitivity to appreciate! A cup of tea, a passing train, clouds drifting errantly before a sun sunk into the sky like a dying coal melting deeper into the snow – ah ah ah! Proust, an endless illustration of life and color and sensation, swirling and whirling and delving and dipping and rising and soaring and curling and furling back and forth from subject to subject, from image to setting to character to love to time to living itself! Proust!)
So I sit there, fingers stiff, mouth agape, eyes unfocused, trying to set down some pithy words, some insightful comment, but instead generate such gems as, “Man, this dude writes some pretty cool shit! Did you read that description of the smells in his Aunt’s room? I mean, hot damn!”
Proust is like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn, leading me forth from the small provincial town in which I have always lived, eyes to the ground, nose running and clad in rags, into the glorious world of faerie through the crack in the cliff, into the land of luminous color and subtle textures, a world roseate when seen through his gaze, a land in which we delight for as long as we hold his book in our hands, and who’s influence tinctures our gaze even after we have moved on!