Day One Hundred Seventy-Five: Finding Time Again, pp. 171-191

From "The Duchesse de Létourville, who was not going to the Princesse de Guermantes's party ..." through "... than that sort of cinematographic approach."
Jupien and the narrator leave the Baron sitting on a bench to rest while they go for a stroll and talk about Charlus and his state of health. Jupien confides that he can't leave the Baron alone for long because "he's still as randy as a young man" and he's so generous that he keeps giving away "everything he's got to other people." The Baron was temporarily blind, and during this period of sightlessness Jupien once left him alone in a room at "the Temple of Shamelessness," as he calls his brothel, and returned to find Charlus with "a child who wasn't even ten years old." Charlus also tends to cause trouble because of his pro-German sympathies, which he is not shy about voicing loudly:
Even though the war was long over, he would groan about the defeat of the Germans, among whom he counted himself, and say with pride: "And yet there is no doubt but that we shall have our revenge, for we have proved that it is we who are capable of the greater resistance and who have the better organisation." 
Considering the date of Finding Lost Time, Proust is being chillingly prophetic here.

Jupien parts with the narrator: "Look, he's already managed to get into conversation with a gardener's boy.... I can't leave my invalid alone for a second, he's nothing but a great baby." The narrator continues on his way, reflecting that the change from his usual routine is doing him some good, though "The pleasure today seemed to me to be a purely frivolous one, that of going out to an afternoon party at the house of the Princesse de Guermantes." He reflects once again on his lost vocation: "I now had proof that I was no longer good for anything, that literature could no longer bring me any joy, whether through my own fault, because I was not talented enough, or through the fault of literature, if it was indeed less pregnant with reality than I had thought."

And then, entering the courtyard to the Guermantes's house, he dodges an approaching car and steps on some uneven paving stones, triggering the first of a series of epiphanies:
But at the moment when, regaining my balance, I set my foot down on a stone which was slightly lower than the one next to it, all my discouragement vanished in the face of the same happiness that, at different points in my life, had given me the sight of trees I had thought I recognized when I was taking a drive around Balbec, the sight of the steeples of Martinville, the taste of a madeleine dipped in herb tea, and all the other sensations I have spoken about, and which the last works of Vinteuil had seemed to me to synthesize. Just as at the moment when I tasted the madeleine, all uneasiness about the future and all intellectual doubt were gone. Those that had assailed me a moment earlier about the reality of my intellectual talent, even the reality of literature, were lifted as if by enchantment.
He realizes that the paving stones had triggered a memory of similarly "uneven flagstones in the baptistery of St Mark's" in Venice, just as "the taste of the little madeleine had reminded me of Combray. But why had the images of Combray and Venice given me at these two separate moments a joy akin to certainty and sufficient, without any other proofs, to make death a matter of indifference to me?"

Then, while he is waiting in a sitting room for the conclusion of a piece of music that his hostess wishes not to be interrupted, it happens again: a servant knocks a spoon against a plate, which triggers his memory of a hammer striking the wheel of the train he had recently sat in, feeling indifferent to the beauty of the countryside. And again, a butler gives him a plate of petits fours and a glass of orangeade, and when he wipes his mouth with the napkin, the texture of it recalls a similar sensation while he was looking out to sea at Balbec. Each instant of involuntary memory -- connections between past and present triggered by the madeleine, the paving stones, the sound of the spoon, the texture of the napkin -- "suddenly makes us breathe a new air, new precisely because it is air we have breathed before, this purer air which the poets have tried in vain to make reign in paradise and which could not provide this profound feeling of renewal if it had not already been breathed, for the only true paradise is a paradise that we have lost."

The narrator perceives in these moments in which "the past was made to encroach upon the present and make me uncertain about which of the two I was in" something he calls "extra-temporal." When he tasted the madeleine, "at that very moment the being that I had been was an extra-temporal being."
This being had only ever come to me, only ever manifested itself to me on the occasions, outside of action and immediate pleasure, when the miracle of an analogy had made me escape from the present. It alone had the power to make me find the old days again, the lost time, in the face of which the efforts of my memory and my intellect always failed.
He believes he has experienced "a little bit of time in its pure state." This perception of "the essence of things"
languishes in the observation of the present where the senses cannot bring this to it, in the consideration of a past where the intelligence desiccates it, and in the expectation of a future which the will constructs out of fragments of the present and the past from which it extracts even more of their reality without retaining any more than is useful for the narrowly human, utilitarian ends that it assigns to them. 
"I knew that places were not the same as the pictures conjured up by their names" -- an observation that takes us back to the concluding sections of Swann's Way ("Place-Names: The Name") and In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower ("Place-Names: The Place"). He recalls the disillusionments at Balbec, the fact that he did not experience its beauty when he was there as much as he did in remembering it, and that he was unable to recapture that beauty when he went back for a second visit.
Impressions of the sort that I was trying to stabilize would simply evaporate if they came in contact with a direct pleasure which was powerless to bring them into being. The only way to continue to appreciate them was to try to understand them more completely just as they were, that is to say within myself, to make them transparent enough to see right down into their depths.
This is a vindication of the narrative strategy of In Search of Lost Time, the endless analysis of relationships (Swann-Odette, narrator-Gilberte, narrator-Albertine), the attempt to understand the emotional intricacies of a life.

It is also an attempt to give coherence to one's own existence:
I remembered with pleasure, because it showed me that I was already the same then and gave me back something that was fundamental to my nature, but also with sadness when I thought that I had not progressed since then, that in Combray already I used attentively to fix before my mind's eye some image which had impelled me to look at it. 
He has been trying to decipher "impressions such as that made on my by the sight of the steeples of Martinville" and other epiphanic moments. And he concludes
I had to try to interpret the sensations as the signs of so many laws and ideas, at the same time as trying to think, that is to draw out from the penumbra what I had felt, and convert it into a spiritual equivalent. And what was this method, which seemed to me to be the only one, but the making of a work of art? 

The "primary character" of these epiphanies, the thing that gives them their authenticity for the narrator (and hence for the reader), "was that I was not free to choose them." They are not subject to logical analysis. "The ideas formed by pure intelligence contain no more than a logical truth, a possible truth; their choice is arbitrary." Whereas the spontaneous impression contains its own truth, and demands an elucidation that "can bring the mind to a more perfected state, and give it pure happiness. An impression is for the writer what an experiment is for the scientist, except that for the scientist the work of the intelligence precedes it, and for the writer it comes afterwards."

Art, then, is a process of discovery, not of will: "we have no freedom at all in the face of the work of art, ... we cannot shape it according to our wishes." And above all, it can't be dominated by rules or theories: "A work in which there are theories is like an object with its price-tag still attached." Proust/the narrator here strikes back at proclamations about the social or political role of the artist: "the sound of the spoon on a plat, or the starched stiffness of the napkin ... had been more valuable for my spiritual renewal than any number of humanitarian, patriotic, internationalist or metaphysical conversations." He admits that the war has brought out proponents of these roles, which remind him of "M. de Norpois's simple theories in opposition to 'flute-players'" when he criticized Bergotte to the young narrator. And he even takes a dig, I think, at stream-of-consciousness writers:
Some even wanted the novel to be a sort of cinematographic stream of things. This was an absurd idea. Nothing sets us further apart from what we have really perceived than that sort of cinematographic approach.  

No comments: