Another meditation on “In Search of Lost Time” and what it means to come to life in post-Gallia Belgica, post-Gallia Celtica and post-Germania Inferior
Il [mon père] me regarda un instant d’un air étonné et fâché puis dès que maman lui eut expliquée en quelques mots embarrassés ce qui était arrivé, il lui dit : « Mais va donc avec lui, puisque tu disais justement que tu n’as pas envie de dormir, reste un peu dans sa chambre, moi je n’ai besoin de rien. – Mais, mon ami, répondit timidement ma mère, que j’ai envie ou non de dormir, ne change rien à la chose, on ne peut pas habituer cet enfant… – Mais il ne s’agit pas d’habituer, dit mon père en haussant les épaules, tu vois bien que ce petit a du chagrin, il a l’air désolé, cet enfant ; (…)
Ainsi pour la première fois, ma tristesse n’était plus considérée comme une faute punissable mais comme un mal involontaire qu’on venait de reconnaître officiellement, comme un état nerveux dont je n’étais pas responsable ; …
Marcel Proust : Du côté du chez Swann, Librairie Générale Française, 1992, p. 79 -81)
… depuis peu de temps, je recommence à très bien percevoir si je prête l’oreille, les sanglots que j’eus la force de contenir devant mon père et qui n’éclatèrent quand je me retrouvai seul avec maman. En réalité ils n’ont jamais cessé ; et c’est seulement parce que la vie se tait maintenant davantage autour de moi que je les entends de nouveau…
Marcel Proust, Du Côté de chez Swann, p. 80f
This is again your Captain speaking. We are still very much on the High Seas of Proustian Literature. We have just passed and taken in “Le Côté de Guermantes” (Éditions Gallimard, folio classique, 1988), the 3rd volume of Mr. Proust’s monumental 7-part series “Remembrance of Things Past”. “Contre Sainte-Beuve” still lies ahead of us and we are about to enter the territorial waters of “Sodome et Gomorrhe” (the 4th volume) now. We hope you have enjoyed the trip so far and we trust that you continue to confide in our ability to take you to where Mr. Proust himself ultimately wanted you to get once you embarked on this voyage through his universe.
In an earlier mapping attempt to get to the essence of “La Recherche” we had ventured to proffer the idea that his literary work is fundamentally an artistic effort to recreate, to re-articulate and to recapture the totality of the narrator’s life in more or less the same way, that he, the narrator, might have experienced subject totality on the occasion of a near-death-triggered review of it all. Noah denkt™ still stands by that interpretation although we have to admit that parts of the 3rd volume, in particular the parts pertaining to the Guermantes salon conversations and the ensuing Charlus interaction (i.e. the last quarter of the 2nd chapter of “Le Côte de Guermantes II”) appear to be a little more construed, crafted and conscientiously worked than this was the case in the earlier volumes. Perhaps this slight twist in “Le Côté “ is in part due to the critical success which the 2nd volume (“À l’ombre de jeunes filles en fleurs”) had enjoyed earlier (Prix Goncourt 1919). The author may have felt some unexpected pressure to keep the narration on the same level of poetic intensity as before.
Be that as it may, “Le Côté de Guermantes”, clearly helps us to understand that reviewing the totality of one’s life in a near-death situation not only refers to reliving the totality of events experienced during lifetime but includes also the reviewing of the interpretations and conclusions arrived at when processing subject events in a contemporary (Berger/Luckman) everyday reality. In other words, the near-death reliving of the totality of one’s life will probably unfold just as much on the immediate experience level as it does on the intellectual processing-level.
It seems, as if it is this meta-intellectual processing level which Mr. Proust is invoking ever more in this 3rd volume of his series. The narration is now turning more explicitly towards the larger historic, geopolitical and cultural context in which the narrator’s quest for uncovering his artistic calling is unfolding. And the author does this by making it even harder than before not to notice the extravagantly unusual names he tends to choose for his characters and his geographic settings. (see footnote*) Obviously, these names tell their own story of a past which is rife with memories of many, many military, ethnic, religious, political clashes that have left their marks on society to this day and which continue to affect the narrator’s coming of age just as much as his immediate personal circumstances do.
The mere symbolism of these names is hence important to understand that “le chagrin”, i.e. the anxiety which the narrator experiences very early on in his life in Combray (see quote above) isn’t a sign of an infantile, egocentric narcissism but a justified expression of the young mind’s early intuitive anticipation of the daunting task it will be to process and come to terms with the many serious traumas and wounds which future conflicts may well generate and which little resolved past conflicts still continue to germinate. Let us not forget that the narration of “La Recherche” takes place on the eve of the most devastating war known to mankind up until then which will eventually enter history under the “The Great War”- or “World War I”-label. And let us equally not forget that the scars and wounds which past conflicts have left behind in the narrator’s home territory aren’t to be underestimated either. Continue reading