‘Swann’s Way’

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First of all, let me say that I’m perfectly happy to continue calling it Remembrance of Things Past, even if In Seach of Lost Time or what not is more admirable, desirable, and reflective of the French. I like the elevated, Shakespearean, Miltonian, Blakean language. For a similar reason, I’m also happy to restrict myself to Moncrieff’s more ornate prose over supposedly more accurate, informal translations, just like I, a Catholic, choose to read the heathen King James Bible (because it reads better; also, I did speak to a priest and his general response was something along the lines of ‘I’m just glad you’re reading the Bible’).

After noting that superficial resemblances between Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time and Remembrance of Things Past, it was inevitable that I should lug the oversized paperback containing the first two books along with me on a trip to Thailand and take a stab at re-reading them. For me, visiting new and different places is a great opportunity to read books in new and different places. Can’t properly say, though, that being in Thailand significantly altered my reading of Proust, though.

I did, however, see clearly that really, it is only scope of time that unites Powell and Proust. Powell is more propulsive. One feels history pass. Meanwhile, Proust arguably wrote and seven volume epic about a man having trouble falling asleep. Which isn’t to say that it’s not riveting, because it is. It’s more like Joyce or Nabokov. You have to let yourself enter into an immersive state to enter the heightened, prosified world.

While re-reading the great section, Swann in Love, I was struck by how Swann’s affection for Odette was tied to relating her appearance to some classical sculptures and thought of a story from Gautier’s Fantoms who really only loves through art (and who is seduced by a Roman antiquity come to life). Certainly, I got a much better sense of the strange flow of Swann’s love affair. If you’ve ever been in love, particularly when that love is only partially reciprocated (much worse than being flatly refused), it will cause your memories to ache.

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