Monday, December 10, 2012

Eternal Duration Is Promised No More To Men's Works Than To Men

Take a deep breath.

Today, I finished reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past for the first time. Hopefully, it is not the last time. I tend to re-read books I have loved and, decidedly, I can say with full confidence and conviction that if there has ever been a book I truly loved, this is the one.

As I read the last pages today, I began to feel a mourning. Much as I do at the end of any novel I've enjoyed the process of reading, I feel a very real loss at finishing this book. The narrator has become, in some ways, a part of my own internal monologue and, in reflecting upon my own life through the lens of his observations and insights, a part of myself. Thus, in saying goodbye to him, at once a part of myself is departing, while a new part arrives. From today forward, there is an element within me forever altered by the words I have read, a new part of myself or, more Proustian to say: a new "I" has been born upon the death of this former version.

It would be challenging, or rather, impossible to quantify what I have discovered, what I have seen, as a result of reading this book. The process and the destination, in this case, being equally vital to the weight of the experience, I will instead share a quote from the last few pages of the final book, rather than attempt to make any effort at a serious explanation of the effects of this novel in a large scale way in regards to myself and my life.

I may post again when I can make some kind of concise statement, some kind of understandable offering about the multitude of layers of color and shades of meaning present in these 3,000-odd pages. Until then; it's been real.

" would be my book, but with its help I would furnish them with the means of reading what lay inside themselves." (Proust, 1089)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Everything That Seems To Us Imperishable Tends Towards Decay

I've said before that I'm "in the home stretch," or that I've got "less to come than there is behind." I can say firmly, today, that I truly am in the home stretch. As of this moment, I have 381 pages remaining to read. When considering the total length of this work, 381 pages seems rather like a footnote or an epilogue. Such a short bit left to approach, and yet, as Proust would have it, there does not seem to be a plot related snowball rolling down the hill. With such, proportionally, few pages to go, in contemporary works, there would be a veritable stampede of plot elements rushing downhill towards the end of the novel. But here, Proust again shows his characteristic reserve and control.

It is early for reflections back upon the project and upon the work. I'm going to keep today's post brief (despite the shrinking number of posts as I have neared the end of this; largely, this is due to my desire to avoid repetition and "posts for posting's sake") in favor of posting not only on my last day of reading, but likely some days after finishing and digesting the book. I will, however, share a quote with you that seems extremely relevant to what I've been doing:

"'Never mind...that can wait for another year, if I don't die in the meanwhile,' seeing no other possible obstacle but my own death..." (Proust, 726)

Reading these books was on my list of "things I must do before I die." The list has, thankfully, grown much shorter in the past two years. I decided about two years ago to begin approaching these items, in case I should read the finish line before I anticipated. Not to be morbid; rather, I feel that the sooner I accomplish these goals, the sooner I'll make more. And truthfully, I have lived more in carrying out these dreams than I did thinking about doing them.

After finishing these books, I'm going to buy a motorcycle. Then, it's time for a new list. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Let Us Leave Pretty Women To Men With No Imagination

Most people, at some point in their lives or another, have been "many things to many people." It's a common thing to be in a world with such varied avenues to digesting the essence of the people we interact with on a daily basis. Of course, as the digital realm expands and the funnel through which we deliver ourselves widens at the bottom (or narrows, depending on how consistent one's delivery of themselves is across platforms), this would become more (or less, respectively) true today than ever before.

To the same effect, there is the expression that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." This precursor to the above idea, that the visual representation of a person is of different levels of allure to different people, was touched upon in my reading today. Here, Proust ends up tying both of these concepts together:

"So the difference in optics extends not only to people's physical appearance but to their character, and to their individual importance. It is more likely than not that the woman who is causing the man who loves her to suffer has always behaved good-naturedly towards someone who was indifferent to her, as Odette, who was so cruel to Swann, had been the kind, attentive 'lady in pink' to my great uncle," (Proust, 447)

I re-read this passage a few times, along with the paragraphs prior to and following it, when it stumbled upon it. In context, it illuminates some of the finer details of life for people in Proust's circles at the time that had been touched upon but never quite spelled out prior. As some people are kind, polite, or doting to person x or y in certain social situations, they can be wholly different to other people (or even the same person x or y) in a different social setting or situation. This occurs where Proust overhears St. Loup discussing unkind actions to take towards a helpless person later in the chapter. However, the provided example in the passage of Odette and her behaviors towards Swann and Proust's great uncle, is quite clear. 

Much like Odette's behaviors towards those two men were drastically different due to what position they occupied in her life, so do the behaviors and temperaments of many people throughout the novels differ based on the receiver of the actions or temperaments. This reality has not changed today, I suspect, as there are people I have met (and this observation is largely only possible due to my recent move to an area where I really did not know many people, nor did I know the reputations of the people I did not know when I arrived) who play largely different roles in their interactions with me than they do in their interactions with other people .

While this is, of course, not a shocking revelation to most people, I found it very interesting to see it remarked upon so clearly. Of course, the difference in behavior of a prostitute to a customer compared to a man who loves her is not exactly parallel to those differences in behavior I find in people I meet today, but the use of such a simplified example made the realities of my daily life much more vivid. Sometimes, all it takes is comparing your friends to a scheming, selfish prostitute to figure out just how they fit into the picture they share with yourself and those around you.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Sea Breeze No Longer Puffed Out Her Skirts

Closer by the day. Today, I finished The Captive. With that, I can say, decidedly, that what remains is no more a "project" by any standard than reading any other novel I have approached in the past year or so. With a mere seven hundred pages and two installments / novels to go, this experience of mine is decidedly in its tail end. As I approach this final stage, I find myself approaching the reading differently. While it is true that several times as of late I have thought to myself that I must "get this done with," I also no longer feel the weight attached to reading that I had before.

Perhaps this is due to missing my initial deadline, or to the ever diminishing number of pages left to read, or to my growing familiarity with the social structure of Proust's society and my growing understanding of the style Proust approaches narrative from; regardless of which, if not all, of those reasons is the cause, I am finding reading in these final days to be positively free of any kind of subtext. It is simply reading for, strictly, pleasure! At last!

In these last books, I am finding much to consider. Tonight, it is hard to quantify my findings in the last pages of The Captive. I am beginning to see Proust's narrator as a "normal person" more than ever before. His mythic luster, beginning at last to fade, is revealing a very flawed, very human writer expressing sentiments and findings from a life lived in a most peculiar way. Throughout most of the books, I have felt that the scale of artistic creation that this book entailed entitled Proust (and his narrator, being quite autobiographical) to a superhuman status. However, as I read his internal monologue relating to the failings and troubles cropping up in these final books, it is impossible to ignore his regular-ness.

I suspect with this dawning understanding of the man behind these pages, the insights once powerful will only grow more-so, and the places where I have missed the point will become much clearer. Understanding that an artist is a real human has a strange effect on my comprehension of that artist's work; at first, it seems less magical, but gradually, it becomes infinitely more layered in its meanings and implications for me.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Delirious With Joy

Musicians, as a whole, tend to have a fairly distinct voice of their own. This applies to their personal compositions more than their renditions of songs written by others, though certain musicians cannot escape the tone of their own voices even in those situations. It's an interesting thought, how each person, via their personal listening history, knowledge of music theory or lack thereof, preferences in timbre, has a voice much unlike anyone else. Of course, there are plenty of examples of Strat-slinging bluesguys in bars across this country who sound pretty similar to each other in that they all sound a lot like SRV, or examples of helicopter guitarists sweeping through arpeggios with as much gain on their amps as they can dial in who also may seem a bit indistinguishable from each other, but in the cases of those musicians who do not place the conventions of a certain player or genre above their creative impulses, it is rare to find two musicians with voices similar enough to confuse them.

Many bands and partnerships have been formed due to the spirit of a passage I found today, while Proust's narrator was absorbing a performance of the oft-mentioned sonata by Vinteuil that Swann himself was so enamored by in part one. Here, Proust reflects on the very nature of the above mentioned reality:

"Each artist seems thus to be the native of an unknown country, which he himself has forgotten, and which is different from that whence another great artist, setting sail for the earth, will eventually emerge. Certain it was that Vinteuil, in his latest works, seemed to have drawn nearer to that unknown country." (Proust, 258)

There is an additional insight here that I had not really thought of until reading today. Proust mentions that, as Vinteuil reached his latter works, he appeared to be getting closer to the language of his native, creative land. This is a sentiment that all artists of all kinds can likely relate to, whether they had thought of it outright or not. Throughout an artist's creative life, one strives to create their best work, work that expresses their vision clearest and most effectively. It could be said, then, that this journey through one's life as an artist is truly a journey back to an understanding of this native tongue. 

All of this seems quite serendipitous in timing. This past weekend I spent some hours playing music with two close friends, and for the first time in many months, felt like I was "getting it" compositionally. I felt as though I had pulled back the fog from in front of something I had been trying to see clearly, and at last made a connection I had been struggling to make. Some days, it seems like any delay I've faced in this project has been cosmically deliberate, leading me to certain insights on certain days, after certain events. Largely, though, I feel that I can merely stop at thanking Proust for the scale of his work and for the depths of his insights. It is unlikely I'd have come away from that passage without something to be greatful for no matter what day in this process I'd read it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pure Buffooneries

So, is this it? Is this that final, breathless sprint through the tape at the finish line? Have we come, fellow travelers, to the end of our road? No, no we haven't yet. Yes, this means that I am not on my original schedule. I fell behind. I also miscalculated (see: did not check how many pages my edition has in it- about 3,350) how many days would be required, at 100 pages read per day, to finish this series of novels. I fell behind about 4 days due to some extenuating circumstances at work that led to a few days of 10+ hours that left me with, upon arrival home, time either for a shower or a mere ten to fifteen pages read. These days I opted for showers, and in those days, fell some four hundred pages behind. Coupled with the 350 pages I failed to account for, I am about one week out to the end. I hope you'll stick around with me for these last few days!

Now that I've gotten the excuses out of the way, I'd like to reflect a little on something I came across while reading today:

"No doubt to every man the life of every other extends along shadowy paths of which he has no inkling. Lying, though it is so often deceptive and is the basis of all conversation, conceals less thoroughly a feeling of hostility, or of self-interest, or a visit which one wants to appear not to have paid, or a short-lived escapade with a mistress which one is anxious to keep from one's wife, than a good reputation covers up-to the extent of not letting its existence be guessed-sexual depravity." (Proust, 203)

There's rather a lot to consider in that passage. I'm going to give you a second to chew and swallow.

First off, the first line is fascinating and quite true. Much like I discussed in my last post, the mystery of the three dimensional-ness of the lives of others is remarkable. But, I spent plenty of time blabbering my way through that already, so onto that next section. 

Proust remarks that lying "is the basis of all conversation," which has a rather telling implication in regards to Proust's understanding of the world. Much like later in this chapter where Proust remarks upon the reality of hidden homosexuality, Proust is basing much of his views on social interactions of all kinds on the assumption that most people are almost always being dishonest with either themselves or those they are involved with. Especially, he seems preoccupied with the realities of closeted homosexuality. His obsession with dishonesty, in both sexuality and in conversation, is touched upon throughout all the books, though has grown more frequent in mention as the books have gone on. 

The power of his observations regarding dishonesty has left me in a troublesome place regarding his narrative: how much of what he has said so far has been a lie to me, his reader? Then again, how much would it matter if it had been true, if the narrative has had its intended effect? Something to ponder...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Amorous Rage Of An Infuriated Animal

There have been moments during this project that made me at once feel a sense of solidarity with Proust, and then a sense of shame for myself; my character, I have found, is not what I often tell myself it is. Throughout my life, I have tried to uphold a sort of "minimum standard" that I set, which, according to some people close to me, is excessively high. This goes for how I treat others versus my expectation for how I am going to be  treated, my work ethic, and what I expect of myself artistically and intellectually.

Tonight, I found a quote that immediately jumped off the page. These novels are, partly, a treatise on the human mechanics of loving and being loved. They detail one man's experiences and insights on a topic that interconnects us all. His insights, in some cases, have struck extraordinarily close to home. This brings me back to my opening sentence, and to this quote, which was spoken by the narrator in regards to his desire of a beautiful woman, contrasted to his feelings when he suspects his lover, Albertine, desires a woman herself:

"We consider it innocent to desire, and heinous that the other person should do so." (Proust, 168)

I will admit that in the scope of offerings Proust made to me today and yesterday, this was not the pinnacle of his investigations or his findings. This was not the most profound passage I found. Far from either, it was a passing remark made about a topic that he has been addressing over the span of two separate novels. However, it was impossible to ignore, for me, the parallelism to my own life, and specifically, to the singular relationship that these books have given me so much perspective on. Equally, it has turned around that first sentence of this post in such a way that this post ties into my previous in regards to misassigned guilt. 

There is a feeling, and I will say that this is a universal one, of desire that no human can entirely dismiss on random days, for random people that we will never even know the name of passing in the street. This desire may be totally misguided; a non-existent version of a passerby seen from the corner of our eye evincing something that could never be true and would never cause us to think twice, for example. Regardless, it exists, and we know it to be entirely harmless. To have that fleeting feeling of attraction is a natural human function and, without it, we would likely miss the details of a beautiful person, which would make the world a much less colorful place. There is a difference, again, universal, between a passing, second-long attraction to a stranger we see once, and carrying out behaviors based on some longer term attraction. The latter, of course, being typically understood as immoral in our society (this is a sentiment with which I agree).

As a monogamous person, one who has spent the bulk of his young adult life in monogamous involvements, I know that I do not ascribe importance to this moments in my life. I know they are as a breeze and thus, of no real matter. I am guilty, however, as many of us likely are, of putting a weight upon this same reality when it exists in the mind and eyes of the one I love or ones I have loved. It has often been, in my mind, hard to bear when a significant other has found another person attractive, even in passing. Perhaps this speaks volumes about my character (it does) much like it does for Proust as he represents himself in his narrator. Both of us have self-doubt to conquer that makes any person a possible threat to our happiness. 

Having this spelled out for me, however, and thinking to myself how crooked it is of Proust to think such a thing only to realize that I have many times felt the same way without verbally expressing it, has turned my mind. It was at the moment I read that passage that it became apparent to me that on the sliding scale of consciousness, we are all in a very similar place. We all experience similar emotional triggers and responses, with similar sets of stimuli and in similar settings. I am not so different from the people I have struggled to understand throughout much of my life, and they are not so different from me. 

We are all equally at fault and equally innocent in matters of the heart in a grander scheme by the end of our time. To assume I have been more wronged than I have wronged others is, I see now, incredibly strange.

To bring this home, I offer a quote that may summarize my thoughts more clearly. Thank you, Jannell, for posting this tonight, at exactly the moment I was writing about this exact topic:

"‎Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of. Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: There is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real — you get the idea. But please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called “virtues.” This is not a matter of virtue — it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.
People who can adjust their natural default-setting this way are often described as being “well adjusted,” which I suggest to you is not an accidental term." -David Foster Wallace