Noah denkt™ - The Power of Balanced Reasoning
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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, first drafted on Aug. 27, published on Aug. 30, 2019
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    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 de 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 a
n artistic effort to recreate, to rearticulate 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 ones 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 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 well have felt
some unexpected pressure to keep the narration on 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 all the 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 also 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.

These scars of the past which may just as well serve as an indication to the author of what is still to come stem
from:  

  • the violent clashes between the Celtic tribes and the Romans in Gallia Celtica and Gallia Belgica (“La
    Recherche” conjures up the Celtic-Roman past by invoking King Arthur’s legendary Kingdom of Bertane
    in names like Gilberte, Robert, Albertine.)

  • the arrogant incursion of the Salian Franks into the Celtic-Roman territory (The then still non-Christian
    Salian Franks were at the time often labeled by the locals as “Saracens” as in the “Gormond
    (“Guermantes?”) et Isembart”-Saga.  Charlus’ first name “Palamède” also refers to the Saracen-element
    in Salian Franks invasion)

  • the permanent settlement of the Salian Franks in the area of Belgium’s Tournai and France’s Cambrai
    (“Combray”?) whose name obviously is of Celtic origin to begin with  

  • the conquests of Clovis I who is the son of Childeric I and Princess Basina of Thuringia (as in “Basin”, the
    first name of the duchess of Guermantes’ husband)

  • the eventual establishment of a united Franks-led kingdom and empire under Charlemagne (as in
    “Charlus” and Charles Swann)

  • the then splitting-up of the Charlemagne empire with Cambrai (“Combray”) being first under German rule
    and coming under French rule later in 1675. (In “Le Côté”, Oriane de Guermantes, wonders why they are
    not also carrying the title of “Duc de Brabante”). The Coat of Arms of Cambrai, by the way, is a double-
    headed eagle that looks toward east and west at the same time (just as the walkabouts in “Du Côté de
    chez Swann” force you to choose either to pass by the Swann estate (i.e. going and looking east?) or to
    pass by Méséglise (going and looking west?)

  • the continued subcutaneous and sometimes open hostility between the French Kings and the Holy
    Roman German Emperor (echoed in “Le Côté de Guermantes” by the jokes about the Princess of
    Luxembourg and the presence of the Princess of Parma in the Guermantes Salon)

  • the hyper-fast and tumultuous rise of Prussia (echoed in “La Recherche” among others by the
    mentioning of the Princess of Sagan)

  • the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 with among others the battle of Sedan, which is just 150 km south
    of Cambrai (Bismarck is repeatedly mentioned by lhe Marquis de Norpois and the military strategy
    excursion during the Doncières - visit (in the first part of the 3rd volume) speaks for itself)

  • the hostilities related to Morocco (see Robert de Saint-Loup’s military transfer there)

  • the later 1917 Battle of Cambrai during WWI;

The amount of residual memories and psychological side-effects which this long history of often times violent
military clashes has produced and which the Combrai/
Combray region stands for is clearly towering. If you add
to that the 18th,19th and 20th century philosophical rift between religion and science (
Mme Villeparisis’
observations on Mme. de Sévigné vs M. Stendhal
), the political adversary between feudalism and capitalism
(
Saint-Simon (the uncle) vs. Saint-Simon (the productivity fan/nephew) or  Mme. de Villeparisis’ benevolence  
versus the hotel owner’s intimidating authoritarianism  in Balbec
), the snobbish patrician/aristocrat - plebeian/
vulgarité” spread, the anti-Semitic Dreyfus outrage (“Bloch, Rachel…” etc.), the pent-up homosexual-
heterosexual tension (“
Charlus, Julien”) and one understands why the young narrator of “La Recherche
has the hardest time to freely breath the loaded air in Combray, Paris or Illiers, and why he cannot
help but be consumed with his anxieties.

In other words, it is no wonder that an artistically talented, sensitive human being who grows u somewhere in
the region between the Seine (Somme/Scheldt/Meuse) and Rhine river would have a tendency to be frail and
cry a lot. Inspiring, gap-bridging spiritual advisers like Archbishop Fénelon of Cambrai, also known as the Swan
of Cambrai (as in
Charles Swann) or Saint Hilaire who won sainthood through his efforts to increase the mutual
understanding between Eastern and Western Christian Theology are, therefore, even more urgently needed in
post-Gallia Belgica, post-Gallia Celtica and post-Germania Inferior than they are needed elsewhere. And
we have to be grateful to Mr. Proust for pointing that out to us.

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Foonote *: We have to acknowledge that Prof. Allan H. Pascos explanations and his idea of the “paramorphic” post-1871 French
novel and storytelling have helped us a lot to decipher the supreme importance of the highly crafted and well planned names, Mr.
Proust picks throughout “
La Recherche”.
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Keywords:

Historical References in Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, Presence of ancient history and memory in
Remembrance of Things Past, the symbolism of names Marcel Proust's work, Interpretation of "Le Côté de
Guermantes", Marcel Proust's Combray versus Cambrai in Hauts-de-France,.Combray/Illiers or Cambrai