Marcel Proust 5: Conflicted by Nature and Conflicted by Society, – but on the way to resolve what can be resolved!

An analysis of Marcel Proust’s “La Prisonnière” through the lens of a fellow descendant of the Celtic-Germanic Middle Kingdom of Lotharingia


Et pourtant, mes soupçons n’étaient-ils pas des antennes dirigées vers la vérité….
M. Proust: La Prisonnière, page 298

In our interpretation of Marcel Proust’s 4th volume of his 7-part series “In Search of Lost Time”, Noah denkt™ had proffered the theory that some family related trauma may well be at the heart of the serious “étouffements and “chagrins” which the narrator so intensely suffers from throughout his 7-volume existence.

Obviously, we recognize that it is a pretty daring undertaking in this conflicted Trump Presidency era to go public with an hypothesis that still lacks the smoking gun evidence which an emotionally seized and sequestered jury would probably need to open up to a prosecutorial Impeachment argument. The fact, however, that we are dealing here with an admittedly evolving take on a classical literature (as opposed to a back room quid-pro-quo bribery or misdemeanor allegation) gives us some confidence that the jury’s reaction in our case will be less adversarial than it would have been otherwise.

Having said this then, it seems to us as if Volume 5 (M. Proust: La Prisonnière, Gallimard, folio classique, 1988) does provide additional support for the earlier mentioned trauma hypothesis. In fact, we would argue that the specific nature of that trauma which haunts the narrator is sketchily communicating itself to him in the course of the 2nd Chapter of “La Prisonnière”.  After all,  it is here that an explicit reference to some sort of “cochonnerie” is being made which went on in the life of Mme de Villeparisis and her sisters and which likely, by way of parental relationships, also impacted the narrator’s psyche itself. We’ll get to the details of how that Villeparisis-abuse translated itself to the narrator’s soul later. At this point, Noah denkt™ would like to share with you the exact wording in which the startling Villeparisis revelation makes its way into the narrator’s account and understanding. (You will find the Gutenberg Project translation of this original French text into English in Footnote (1)).  On page 261/262 of our admittedly weird copy of La Prisonnière (printed with bar code and ISBN in 2016 in Laverne, TN, but without the name of the publishing house) Mr. Proust’s narrator sets the scene as follows
(Some words were put into bold by us for comprehension purposes):

Embarrassé, je fis dériver la conversation en m’emparant du nom de Mme de Villeparisis, et je cherchai à savoir de lui [M. de Charlus], si qualifié à tous égards, pour quelles raisons Mme de Villeparisis semblait tenue à l’écart par le monde aristocratique. Non seulement il ne me donna pas la solution de ce petit problème mondain, mais il ne me parut même pas le connaître. Je compris alors que la situation de Mme de Villeparisis, si elle devait plus tard paraître grande à la postérité, et même, du vivant de la marquise, à l’ignorance roture, n’avait pas paru moins grande tout à fait à l’autre extrémité du monde, à celle qui touchait Mme de Villeparisis, aux Guermantes. C’était leur tante, ils voyaient surtout la naissance, les alliances, l’importance gardée dans la famille par l’ascendant sur telle ou telle belle-sœur. Ils voyaient cela moins côté monde que côté famille. Or celui-ci était plus brillant pour Mme de Villeparisis que je n’avais cru. J’avais été frappé en apprenant que le nom de Villeparisis était faux.  Mais il est d’autres exemples de grandes dames ayant fait un mariage inégal et ayant gardé une situation prépondérante. M. de Charlus commença par m’apprendre que Mme de Villeparisis était la nièce de la fameuse duchesse de ***, la personne la plus célèbre de la grande aristocratie pendant la monarchie de Juillet, mais qui n’avait pas voulu fréquenter le Roi Citoyen et sa famille. J’avais tant désiré avoir des récits sur cette Duchesse ! Et Mme de Villeparisis, la bonne Mme de Villeparisis, aux joues qui me représentaient des joues de bourgeoise, Mme de Villeparisis qui m’envoyait tant de cadeaux et que j’aurais si facilement pu voir tous les jours, Mme de Villeparisis était sa nièce, élevée par elle, chez elle, à l’hôtel de ***. « Elle demandait au duc de Doudeauville, me dit M. de Charlus, en parlant des trois sœurs : «  Laquelle des trois sœurs préférez-vous ? » Et Doudeauville ayant dit : « Mme de Villeparisis », la duchesse de *** lui répondit :« Cochon ! »  
Marcel Proust : La Prisonnière, p. 261, 262

Obviously, the novel itself does not elaborate this little episode pertaining to Mme de Villeparisis further at this point. So, questions like the following loom large over this particular revelation:

Who is that Duchess de ***? Is she really “the most celebrated member” of high aristocracy as the English Gutenberg translation of “La Prisonnière” puts it (see footnote (1))? Or is she much rather the most famous, i.e. the most notorious person of/or to that July Monarchy nobility? And since the July Monarchy had its Citizen King no longer be the “Holy King of France” but rather the bourgeois “King of the French”, Noah denktcannot help but wonder whether that duchess who “did not want to frequent Louis-Philippe and his family” is in fact a real duchess? Or could it be that she is more the bourgeois, Odette de Crécy-sort of duchess, i.e. an “entremetteuse” (pimp) who fancifully calls herself a Duchess to give “éclat” to her prostitution business and service? After all, we know from Balzac’s “La Peau de Chagrin” (1831) what the laissez-faire-corruption of the July Monarchy was like: how it encouraged excess and moral debauchery and how it led beautiful women “sans cœur” like Fœdora to become ruthlessly materialistic creatures which tfake being a “Comtesse” in order to sell their body (but not their heart) to the most solvent society bidder of the day (for details see Footnote (2)). It is hence not entirely far-fetched to presume that subject Duchess in the aforementioned account is a shady character.

The most important “known unknown”, however, in the Villeparisis episode is: Who are the two sisters of Mme de Villeparisis, who apparently also grew up in the hôtel, or better the brothel of said duchess and who were probably just as much offered to the Dukes of Doudeauville for their “cochonneries” as Mme de Villeparisis was?

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Marcel Proust, No. 4: Waking up to the Reality of Abuse, or: The Incredible Reach of the Stockholm Hostage Syndrome

A two-in-one speculation on the weird love/hate-hex POTUS 45 is casting about himself in light of Marcel Proust’s “Sodom and Gomorrah”

It’s just disappointing to me that there isn’t somebody of some stature who’s willing to just say “this man is unfit,” because they all know it. They just all know it. You know they know it, and I don’t know what’s so hard about saying it. It’s obvious.I think if you want to go down in history as having served your country well, you should say that, so I just don’t get it. I don’t understand it. They just hope he just comes to pass. I mean, I understand early on you could say, “Well, let’s hope he gets better. Let’s see if we can work with him,” but we’ve seen so much now. It’s just …..
George Conway (husband of Kelly-Ann Conway): Diagnosing Trump on the Café/ Stay Tuned Podcast with Preet Bharara

Noah denkt™ would not do justice to its analytical calling if it weren’t to contemplate the psychological backdrop which could possibly explain the protracted and steadfast support that large parts of the GOP had been (and to some extent still are) providing to POTUS 45. And that despite the ample evidence available to them of the ethically dented, unhinged and unsavory nature of POTUS’ character. Clearly, it is an issue of major importance for the future survival of democracy to get to grips with the emotional complexity of this kowtowing enigma. After all, we are faced here with a surprisingly resilient pocket of irrationality which doesn’t just threaten the levelheadedness of individuals whose courage and democratic credentials used to be beyond all doubt but also menaces to do lasting damage to the faith in the feasibility of intellectual virtue and reason as such.

The Empathy/Fear – Paralysis

Now, just like most other observes, Noah denkt™ believed that the stubborn GOP resistance to obvious facts could be best explained as a variation of the Stockholm Hostage Syndrome. We presumed that Mr. Trump’s aggressive narcissism kept his staunchest supporters in a compassion-angst-paralysis which had them, on one hand, sympathize with the painful ailments of an already much loathed human being, and, on the other, fear the havoc which that individual’s narcissistic distortions could unleash if they were aggravated even more.

Of course, there are solid arguments to support this particular assessment:

Mr. Trump, has never made a name for himself as being a dispassionate, non-emotional student of the facts; reading analytical briefs is not his fortitude; long back-and-forth debates tend to bore him; instead he prefers to base his opinions on rapid-fire anecdotal takes; in his press statements he keeps harping about the need for signs of respect from others to him and the US (which in his mind is probably pretty much the same thing); he
resorts to aggressive name-calling of opponents; his touting of presumed personal policy successes is never complete without labeling them as “best ever” achievements in US history; his compromise with the truth and with honesty is sketchy at best; his business career has in large part been built on disproportionate legal threats to dissenters; mistakes can never be acknowledged, and his self-centered hurting in the face of criticism provides ample argument to fear the worst in case of a further falling out with him.

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How likely is it that POTUS 45 ends up in Russian Exile?

A wild (or perhaps not so wild) speculation about the long-term future of an Impeachment-beleaguered President

Obviously, it in the DNA of a project that carries a reference to the biblical Noah in its name (Noah denkt™, i.e. Noah reasons or speculates) to not shy away from going out on a limb with its contemplations. The reasoning, however, which we would like to proffer to you today is so unheard of that we had to muster all our dare-devil courage to throw it into the public arena. Here it is:

As the, closed-door Volcker-Hearing, yesterday, in the US Congress has produced additional text-message evidence that there was in deed a serious concern within the ranks of the US State Department that leading Trump administration officials might be pursuing an unethical “quid-pro-quo” arrangement with the new President of Ukraine in order to dig up dirt on a domestic political rival, it seems not entirely unlikely to us that POTUS 45, i.e. the man who made it so uniquely difficult for others to ask for asylum in his country, may eventually be tempted and, –  in his mind -, forced to ask for political asylum himself.  After all, it is hard to see now how POTUS 45 can still avoid a damaging Impeachment trial in the US Senate.

Of course, we entirely recognize that it is hard for a project like ours which is located outside of the US and hence has little exposure to the Stockholm Syndrome Variation which may have befallen the GOP and which probably explains the Republicans’ inability to emotionally disentangle itself from the fate of its current President to accurately predict the twist and turn of future events in another country.

Nevertheless, it seems quite reasonable to presume that government strategists in Moscow are now just as much speculating about a possible outcome to the Trump quid-pro-quo-quagmire as we ourselves do. In fact, it seems not at all far-fetched to us to believe that government leaders in Russia are now asking themselves whether it wouldn’t be in the Russian Federation’s national interest to provide political asylum to a beleaguered US President who not only shares Mr. Putin’s anti-internationalist, nation-state-driven world view , but who could also continue to ferment public disunion in the US much better from a luxury exile in Moscow than from a prison cell in the State of New York. Continue reading

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Marcel Proust: How not to despair given the many rivers to cross on this ancient battlefield?

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

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Virginia Woolf 2.0: Mrs. Dalloway hosts the PM, Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Redwood and others

A Meditation inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway on Upper Class Snobbery and its influence on economic competitiveness

“The Prime Minister”, said Peter Walsh. (…) One couldn’t laugh at him. He looked so ordinary. You might have stood him behind a counter and bought biscuits – poor chap, all rigged up in gold lace. And to be fair, as he went his rounds, first with Clarissa then with Richard escorting him, he did it very well. He tried to look somebody. It was amusing to watch. Nobody looked at him. They just went on talking, yet it was perfectly plain that they all knew, felt to the marrow of their bones, this majesty passing; this symbol of what they all stood for, English Society.    (…) Lord, lord, the snobbery of the English! thought Peter Walsh, standing in the corner. How they loved dressing up on gold lace and doing homage! 

Virginia Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway, Harcourt Publishing, 1953, p. 172

 

We swear to God, that it was neither Boris Johnson, nor Brexit, nor “The Crown” (a Netflix series) nor even the 100th anniversary of the Signing of Versailles Treaty that had us turn our attention to Virginia Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway.  It was the simple fact that the delivery (by regular mail) of the 3rd volume of Marcel Proust’s 7-part series “In Search of Lost Time” from one NAFTA-country to another took so ridiculously long (- 7 Weeks! Listen up Brexiteers! This is what you are in for once you have successfully pivoted your economy away from the EU towards the ominous, oh so fast growing Pacific-Rim countries! – ) that it felt like a good alternative to supplement our Proust study with a dash into the literary work of Mrs. Woolf. Little did we know that we would find in her yet another formidable, systemic risk researcher.  And, yes, little did we suspect that both, Mrs. Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway, would take us right back into the Brexit-/Boris Johnson- trap which we had originally planned to leave aside for a while.

But, alas, the topic of English snobbery and (male) portentousness is just as much at the heart of the novel as is the question of existential loneliness and despair as such.

Let us, however, advance our analysis step by step here.  Mrs. Dalloway was published in 1923, i.e. a mere 4 years after the signing of the Versailles Treaty.  So the novel naturally echoes the traumas which WWI left behind in brave war veterans like Septimus Warren Smith and in society at large as it proved painfully inapt in treating subject traumas adequately. (Supposedly our post-modern societies are better equipped to handle mental disorders and depressions now. One cannot help but wonder though whether the Sir Bradshaw’s of our time celebrate their expertise with a little less pomp and self-assuredness than they did in Mrs. Woolf’s days.) Mrs. Dalloway, nevertheless, does not contend itself with just denouncing the medical profession from back then. It also reflects on the growing emotional alienation, isolation and disconnect that people start to experience in the emerging modern society of the early 20s.  Clearly, this weird silence, this strange inability to have the brunt of one’s ruminations being echoed by others has always been an inevitable feature of social community. Just imagine what it would be like if this were otherwise. (Wouldn’t one then be eternally drowned in the incoherence of manifold human expressions that pop up here and there without any prior reflection whatsoever?)  Nevertheless, modernity with its globalization (Peter Walsh, for instance, is just coming back from Burma), its urbanization and its technological advances (airplanes, radio, telephone) is taking the disconnect between people to new heights. And if you add the decidedly decorum-oriented/stiff upper-lip culture of the post-Victorian age into the mix then you end up with a social reality that pretty much confirms Sally Seton’s observation according to which one “knows nothing (…) even of the people on lives with every day”. (Mrs. Dalloway, p. 192)

It is hence somewhat natural that the narrative stream-of-consciousness technique would have been pioneered in England and on the British Isles. After all, what else would there be to talk about other than what is not being talked about?         Continue reading

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Marcel Proust: The Poetry of Dozing, Waking and Awaking, and of Life and Death

An essay on the essence of Marcel Proust’s literary effort in “In Search of Lost Time”

Je me sentis parfaitement heureux, car par toutes les études qui étaient autour de moi, je sentais la possibilité de m’élever à une connaissance poétique, féconde en joies de maintes formes que je n’avais pas isolées jusque-là du spectacle total de la réalite.

Marcel Proust: À l’ombre des jeunes Filles en fleurs, Éditions Gallimards, 1987, p.398

 

When faced with the enormity of Marcel Proust’s seven volume masterpiece “À la Recherche du Temps Perdu” the question clearly poses itself when the time can possibly be right to venture into a soon to be published comment about the essence of his work. Is it when all seven volumes of his masterpiece have been diligently processed by the attentive reader? Is it when one has taken equal note of his other writings, including his equally vast personal correspondence? Or is it when one has duly studied the considerable amount of academic publications written about Marcel Proust and his work?

Noah denkt™ has done only a fraction of this. We have with great pleasure and focus read the first two volumes of his masterpiece.  We have taken a cursory look at the Proust-related pronouncements that are readily available to the general public on the Internet. And we have run what we understood from our reading of the first two volumes against the general philosophical, poetic and cultural knowledge which we have acquired over the years. In other words, just like any good Skipper sailing the High Seas we have not waited until we have reached the final destination of our journey before trying to figure out where we are at a given point and where exactly we are heading to from here but we have felt obliged and justified to do so right from the early stages of our voyage.

It is hence with a sense of dedication and urgency that we have explored a series of hypothesis in the hope of uncovering what “À la Recherche du Temps perdu“ is first and foremost about. These possible theories which we have entertained for a while and then discarded later on are as follows (The reason why we have discarded a particular hypothesis is added on each count in brackets):

Is his Masterpiece best understood as:

  1. an effort to record the massive social changes which the advent of mass society brought about at the turn of the 20th century? (Clearly it is more than this)
  2. a “Magic Mountain”- like effort to explore the depths and limits of antagonistic civilisatory and sociocultural value-systems/mindsets? In the Proust-case it would obviously not be the Eastern Authoritarian Thought vs Western Liberalism- juxtaposition Thomas Mann wrote about but the contrasting of Aristocratic Identity and Refinement vs the less self-complacent, yet often times vulgar, can-do approach of the Bourgeoisie instead. (Michel Houellebecq in his latest book “Serotonine” (Flammarion 2019) kind of floats the idea of a certain degree of symmetry between the two masterpieces.  Proust’s focus is however less theoretical and cerebral than that of Thomas Mann, – at least in our mind )
  3. a Heidegger-like attempt to bring the ontological question of Being and Perception back into the center of enlightened debate which otherwise seems to be in danger of getting high-jacked entirely by the warranted- assertibility-logic of the empirical-scientific school of thought? Is Proust’s work consequently a sort of anti-anti-A-Priori-philosophy and campaign?  (Kind of, but he is not campaigning; in fact he does not seem too care all that much for contributing to an academic, philosophical or even epistemological debate; his laid-back, occasionally little structured style speaks against that)
  4. a Bergson-inspired effort (similar to B) to demonstrate the validity of a theory that views Memory and Mind as imbued with a faculty which enables us to transcend the confines of our material existence? (Yes, this hypothesis is probably the most adequate call so far. However the Bergsonian approach to Memory exploration is in essence a philosophic debate contribution; Proust’s narrative style, however, flows very naturally and cares precious little about what others might make of it).
  5. an effort to revive the earlier Etienne Bonnot de Condillac-approach which is decidedly empirical, sensual and pre-intelligent-driven and which aims at harvesting the powerful and intense sensitivities of  early infancy instead of venturing into difficult to prove transcendence legitimizing theories? (No, Proust’s pre-intelligence references are not geared towards early infancy; in fact they show quite an interest in pointing towards the mystical/mysterious sources and depths of our perceptions, see Prof. Cottard’s mysterious healing wisdom)
  6. an Ubermensch-style (Nietzsche) attempt to break the spell of human ambiguity and ambivalence by comprehensively and intensively recording its different manifestations? (Nietzsche’s decidedly non-metaphysical nihilism is probably  too harsh for the Bergotte/Anatole France in Proust)
  7. a Schopenhauer-inspired attempt that is on its way to advocating a Buddhist-like abstention from pursuing your earthly ambitions, since there is no other way to resolve the diabolical challenge which the inevitable ambiguity and ambivalence of any human will and desire generates for the individual and society at large? After all, it is probably quite legitimate to maintain that even a well-thought preference for a philosophical approach (i.e. the Big Bang Sheldon mathematical/empirical one versus the poetic Hegel Weltgeist one) is seriously influenced by the degree in which the thinker’s values and aspirations are being supercharged or thwarted by his/her subconscious fears of rejection. In other words, is he/her operating from an establishment position in the market, or has he /she as yet not been accepted and recognized by the Albertines, the markets and the peers of this world? (On page 407ff of “À l’Ombre des jeunes filles” Proust, however, argues that the wholehearted pursuit and living out of your dreams is the only sane way to go. So Schopenhauer: No)
  8. a launch of a new Impressionist, Anti-realism Poetic Manifesto? (Hard to believe, given the seven-volume- explanation which that supposed Manifesto would then have. Manifestos are usually concise and to the point.)
  9. an argument in favor of liberalization and freedom from mind- and value sets entrenched in the philosophies of materialism and realism which prevent the poet from developing its full creative potential? Such reasoning would at a later stage in the civilizational process lead to Aldous Huxley’s and Timothy Leary’s experiments with LSD and other mind enhancing drugs which all aimed at the physical improvement of cerebral activity and offering an alternative healing avenue. (Yes, but Proust is much softer and subtler than any can-do drug therapy approach can even fathom)
  10. an elaborate defense of individualism, and an implicit call for the respect of LGBTT rights and the need for a theoretically well-defined Psychology that understands the importance of the individual’s fear of rejection for that individual’s evolution? (Okay, but what about the elaborate reflections on art literature and poetry then?)
  11. a Bildungsroman (coming-of-age story) in the tradition of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister and others, at the end of which the author not only discovers (or in the case of Wilhelm Meister abandons) his very own poetic calling but also acts on it? (Yes, but why then the extensive Swann-Odette-excursion, and why then the intense detailing of almost everything in the narrator’s life)

So there is quite a bit to be said in favor of almost each of the points mentioned above. But in the humble opinion of Noah denkt™ none of these hypothesis go straight to the heart of Marcel Proust’s literary effort and capture the essence of what his work it ultimately about.  Continue reading

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Charles Swann: The Kind of High Finance Player / Homme d’Esprit the World Desperately Needs!

A Meditation, perhaps un peu risquée, about Marcel Proust’s Charles Swann – character and Mr. Swann’s possible High Finance involvement

Mme Cottard: “Et à tout moment elle [Mlle Odette de Crécy] demandait: “Qu’est-ce qu’il [Charles Swann] peut faire en ce moment? Si seulement il travaillait un peu! C’est malheureux, un garçon si doué, qu’il soit si paresseux.” (Marcel Proust: Du Côté De Chez Swann, Librairie Générale Française, 1992, p. 423)

The Canon of Western literature has regaled us with a sizable collection of fictitious personalities who have either chosen the financial industry as their professional mainstay or who have supported their lavish life-style in large measure through the proceeds of (earlier or current) money market activities.  Balzac’s Baron de Nucingen is one of those characters, as is Flaubert’s M. Dambreuse, Zola’s Aristide Saccard, Dreiser’s Frank Cowperwood, Dicken’s Mr. Merdle, Trollop’s Augustus Melmotte, DeLillo’s Eric Packer, Tom Wolfe’s Sherman McCoy, Musil’s Leo Fischel, Bernhard’s Georg Murau and Easton Ellis’ Patrick Bateman to name perhaps the most important of them.

Usually these fictitious bankers/traders/financiers are not portrayed as very likeable human beings. Authors mostly prefer them to be consumed with desires for wealth, splendor, debauchery and extravagance. Dishonesty and deceit therefore are often times part of the standard tool set of these characters. And sometimes they do not even shy away from crime and murder in order to pursue their goals.

Not always though are these financier-personalities presented as appalling individuals. Occasionally they even serve as positive, inspirational role models both to the author and the hero of the literary piece itself. Thomas Bernhard’s Uncle Georg in “Ausloeschung” (Extinction) is a case in point here. Not only does that Uncle Georg muster the courage to physically, emotionally and intellectually distance himself from the loaded, crypto-fascist provinciality of his Austrian family background, but his very different, sophisticated investor life-style also helps his nephew Franz-Josef to realize that an intelligent approach to money market speculation may well constitute a viable basis for a life devoted to philosophical reflection and erudition.

Such uplifting examples of financial market personalities in literature are, however, far and few in between. Clearly, the finance industry itself is quite a bit to blame for the negative press it has received in the upper echelons of Western art. The abuses, the digressions and the mistakes it is responsible for, not just in the 19th and early 20th century but to this day (see, for instance, the bloated and misguided current Trump bubble and/or the earlier subprime travesty), are substantial and considerable.

Despite all the distortions though which have been produced by the likes of Wall Street, the moral track record of the industry has a few more shades to it than high Western fiction generally has us believe.  And thankfully enough some literary giants, sometimes against their original intentions, acknowledge this. Marcel Proust is one of them. His famous Charles Swann Jr. – character which is elaborated most prominently in the first volume (“Du Côté de chez Swann”) of Proust’s seven-part series “In Search of Lost Time” (1913 – 1927), isn’t just an example of a superbly refined, high-class intellectual, but he is also the archetype of a charming and cherished, world-savvy interlocutor/counselor to the high and mighty, the sort of which you usually only find (or used to find) in the most hand-picked circles of Diplomacy and High Finance. (Members of the distinguished aristocracy would clearly also qualify as being charming and superbly refined. Their above-market status, however, is a constant inconvenience to the realism of their judgments, particularly in international matters. (see WWI, for instance) Continue reading

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English gives you confidence, Hochdeutsch or High German, on the other hand, does just the opposite

An observation inspired by the British Parliament’s soul searching after Theresa May’s historic Brexit-vote defeat on Jan 15, 2019

Nun hats Preußen den Leuten in der Provinz nicht leicht gemacht. Dieser berliner Überlegenheitston, der die andern wie verständlich so maßlos reizt, diese törichte Attitüde, die sich aus Herrschergelüste, Überlegenheitsfimmel und Postenjägerei zusammensetzt, hat unendlich geschadet. Die Vormachtstellung Preußens muß fallen ….

Ignaz Wrobel (aka Kurt Tucholsky) : Berlin, Berlin; Die Weltbühne, 29.03.1927, Nr. 13, S. 499, https://tucholsky-gesellschaft.de/1927/03/29/ignaz-wrobel-berlin-berlin/

 

My dear native English speakers, we are terribly sorry to yet again have to clumsily hijack your fabulously versatile language here. But the post-Brexit-vote deliberations in the lobby of the British Parliament (which we happened to see on Sky News the other day) reminded us too much of the self-esteem travails our own “mother tongue” imposes on to us not to take the opportunity  to express our expatriate feelings to that effect one more time.

Obviously, it is quite remarkable that even in the moment of unprecedented national uncertainty British MPs still manage to express their thoughts on live TV without showing signs of distress, anguish or even panic. Watching their stellar performance we couldn’t help but ask ourselves if German MPs had kept a similar calm in the presence of international cameras, had it not been Britain’s fate that would be at stake here but Germany’s destiny instead. No doubt the mere fact that such interviews with German MPs would have had to be hesitantly translated into English by a faraway interpreter to make them intelligible for an international audience would have given the entire spectacle the flavor of a broadcast from Mongolia. In the British case, however, the coverage unfolded in a smooth and collected first-world manner. In fact, even the Right Honorable MP from East Antrim who laboriously pronounced his views in a heavy, tongue-tied Northern Irish accent still oozed so much natural confidence while speaking that we were quite sure that similar thoughts could never have been expressed with the same aplomb even in the most carefully crafted, subtly vocalized  “Hochdeutsch” (High German).

Of course, we recognize that it may not be clear to your average native English speaker from Kent or Sussex that language can have an impact on the self-esteem of any culturally sensitive debate participant. The towering importance which Britannia used to exude over the High Seas may stand in the way of that. For citizens from Clackmannanshire or Dumfries, though, the complicated psychological side effects of language are already somewhat tangible. For people from Noah denkt™’s neck of the woods, however, linguistic soul-searching, if not even dialect-due deference have become a full-blown way of life. Continue reading

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Oh no, Michel Houellebecq dons a Yellow Vest too!

Dialogue with the Alter Ego on the French writer’s Trump defense

Trump is pursuing and amplifying the policy of disengagement initiated by Obama; this is very good news for the rest of the world. (…) The Americans are no longer prepared to die for the freedom of the press. Besides, what freedom of the press? Ever since I was twelve years old, I’ve watched the range of opinions permissible in the press steadily shrinking.(…) Unlike free-market liberals (who are, in their way, as fanatical as communists), President Trump doesn’t consider global free trade the be-all and end-all of human progress. When free trade favors American interests, President Trump is in favor of free trade; in the contrary case, he finds old-fashioned protectionist measures entirely appropriate. (…) President Trump doesn’t like the European Union; he thinks we don’t have a lot in common, especially not “values”; and I call this fortunate, because, what values? “Human rights”? Seriously? (…) It’s my belief that we in Europe have neither a common language, nor common values, nor common interests, that, in a word, Europe doesn’t exist, and that it will never constitute a people or support a possible democracy (see the etymology of the term), simply because it doesn’t want to constitute a people. In short, Europe is just a dumb idea that has gradually turned into a bad dream, from which we shall eventually wake up. “

Michel Houellebecq: Donald Trump Is a Good President. Harper’s Magazine, December 20, 2018

Question by Alter Ego of Noah denkt™ (AE): We are aware that Noah denkt™ is reluctant to come out of its self-imposed retirement from public debate and speak out again despite all the “macro garbage” and “manufactroversy” (see Salman Rushdie : The Golden House, 2017 ) that is engulfing us. But Michel Houellebecq’s Harper’s Magazine statements (“Trump is a good President”, December 20, 2018) forces us to confront you again. You probably read the pertaining article, didn’t you?

Answer by Noah denkt™ (Nd): Yes, we did.

AE: To summarize Houellebecq’s position both in the Harper’s Magazine essay as well as in his literary work, it is probably fair to say that he is wary of the mass-market ignorance and hyperbole the post-modern civilization generates, that in his mind the opportunist free trade regime has a lot to do with this increasing absence of decency and refinement, and that a return to protectionist, nation-state policies might not be too big a mistake. Would Noah denkt™ agree with this characterization of Houellebecq’s views?

Nd: We would. The latter part, pertaining to the preferable return to protectionist, nation-state policies was nevertheless somewhat new to us. His novels so far did not explicitly suggest an anti-EU stance, for instance.

AE: So what does Noah denkt™ make of this latest, let’s call it, yellow-vest-evolution in Houellebecq’s thinking?

Nd: Well, it needs to be taken seriously. And that is true despite the lack of depth his views may exhibit in terms of historical perspective and economic analysis. If a fine, poetic French soul like his comes to these kinds of protectionist conclusions this clearly deserves attention. Obviously, there is no denying that liberalism, democracy and capitalism are in very dire straits at this point. Financial markets everywhere would crash if they weren’t being propped up by extremely blown-up central bank balance sheets. Companies more often than not have to push the legal limits in order to satisfy their investors’ revenue expectations (VW, Facebook, fiscal engineering etc.). Entrepreneurial can-do confidence usually receives VC funding only for dating, storing and “cornerjob” search applications. And voters by now are so tired of the usual set phrases repeated over and over again by their political class that they meanwhile prefer to vote for outright nutcases instead endorsing the same old rhetoric yet again. It is hence no wonder that people like Houellebecq ponder whether a fundamental switch away from UN/WTO internationalism might not bring some relief here?

AE: And what is Noah denkt™’s position in this? Obviously you have defended both the European Union and Houellebecq’s work in the past. Continue reading

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About Immature and Mature Artists : A Tale of two Wilhelms

Wilhelm Meister (J W Goethe) meets Wilhelm Adler (Saul Bellow) and others

Standing a little apart, Wilhelm began to cry. He cried at first softly and from sentiment, but soon from deeper feeling. He sobbed loudly and his face grew distorted and hot, and the tears stung his skin. A man—another human creature, was what first went through his thoughts, but other and different things were torn from him. What’ll I do? I’m stripped and kicked out . . . Oh, Father? What do I ask of you? What’ll I do about the kids—Tommy, Paul? My children. And Olive? My dear. Why, why, why—you must protect me against that devil who wants my life. (…)

The flowers and lights fused ecstatically in Wilhelm’s blind, wet eyes; the heavy sea-like music came up to his ears. It poured into him where he had hidden himself in the center of a crowd by the great and happy oblivion of tears. He heard it and sank deeper than sorrow, through torn sobs and cries toward the consummation of his heart’s ultimate need.

Saul Bellow, Seize the Day, 1956

 

You’ll get right away why the following story caught our attention and why we ran with it. After all, it’s a tale of two Bills, Wils or Wilhelms. Both of them dream of being famous. Both of them want to make in the art world. And both of them eventually leave the arts behind after having failed therein or having found it seriously wanting. We are talking here about Saul Bellow’s Wilhelm Adler, aka Tommy Wilhelm in Seize the Day (1956) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795-96). Obviously, there are serious differences between the two of them. Mr. Meister has a credible enthusiasm and interest in theater from Day 1 while Tommy gets into acting only after a fraudulent talent scout talks him into pursuing a screen actor’s career in Hollywood. And while Tommy fails in his Hollywood stint quite miserably, Mr. Meister does in fact have some noticeable success therein.

The bottom line however is that both protagonists enter the art world without having adequately reflected on themselves and without having had a serious immersion into the real world of labor before pursuing their artistic calling. In this they differ somewhat noticeably from Novalis’ Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1800 /1802) which was crafted at the time to be a stellar counter-piece to Wilhelm Meister. Novalis felt that Goethe had put the validity and legitimacy of the poetic profession in such serious doubt through the publication of the Wilhelm Meister story that it bordered on destroying it altogether.  Hence, Novalis’ attempt to rescue the dignity and indispensability of the poetic calling by offering an alternative pro-poetry piece to the Wilhelm Meister pitch. And there are in effect significant differences in the route that Mr. von Ofterdingen takes into the arts. He doesn’t jump into poetry right away. Instead he goes on a journey first which leads him to spend (albeit not enough) time in studying the military and commercial job reality before finally settling on becoming a writer. There is consequently a bit of a chance that Mr. von Ofterdingen will be exercising the poetic profession with a balanced mind and not fall victim therein of his own lofty and narcissistic needs.  The latter is however exactly what happens to both Tommy Wilhelm and Wilhelm Meister. They are both driven by some shiny and woolly ideas of fame and beauty. And they both realize eventually that neither of the two can be had by way of an escapist pursuit.

In fact, Bellow is very convincing when pointing out in his novel that an earth-shaking Jesus Christ-all-is-lost moment (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  Matthew 27.46) is pretty much indispensable for any artist, and perhaps for any human being, to reach the sort of personal that is indeed necessary to provide a meaningful original contribution. “A true soul”, he (Bellow) has the otherwise quite ambivalent Dr. Tamkin say, “is the one who must pay. It suffers and consumes itself, and realizes that a false soul cannot be loved. Because it is an imposture. A true soul likes the truth. And when a true soul is in that state it wants to kill the false soul. Love has turned into hatred. It is then when we become dangerous. We are capable of killing. We have to kill who cheats us.” (p.128)  And a few pages later Tamkin continues: “In reality, you have a deep personality and have great creative abilities, but you also have emotional disorders.” (p.130) (These quotes are our translation from a Spanish language edition of “Seize the Day”. See footnote *) In other words, Tommy, just like Mr. Meister, will first have to weed out and kill his “emotional disorders”, i.e. his narcissism in an “all-is-lost”-crisis before he can hope with some legitimacy that fate, reason and balance will ultimately be on his side.   Continue reading

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