Monday, July 10, 2006

Fragments on Proust

These are very disconnected fragments/thoughts on Proust, which I wrote last year. I'm not sure why I'm resurrecting them. (I blame Justin!) But maybe something will come of it. Plus, there's never a bad time to think about Proust or look over past ideas. It's amazing the overcomplicated garbage the mind struggles to produce then weed through.

Beginning to prepare a presentation on Proust (Swann's Way). And, of course, I want to disuss too many things... Love, perversity, jealousy/desire, inversion (i.e the homosexual), time, object, light, nature/artifice, class relations, textuality, music and the refrain arghhh...

There's this: Thinking about Deleuze's notion of the refrain and Proust... also this: would that work in organizing some a sense of heirarchy among these issues: " These elective affinities between love and textuality exist because love and text are two of our most fundamental social acts. We make love and we make texts, and we make both in a seemingly endless series of imaginative variations." - Jerome McGann, _The Textual Condition_.
A sense of presence and absence, of course memory or mnemonics is key to all of this. So a psychoanalytic take on Proust's desires and his textual unfolding of those desires sees time as repetition. How does repetition work in terms of the fudamental fluidity to all these concepts in there relation to one another and to a sense of subjective and objective historical time? The refrain is fluid and yet calls up (back) emotions due to its continued presentness. Idea for a presentation: Psychoacoustics of Love: The Refrain, Class, and Jealousy in Proust. That's kind of a joke.

But what can be made of the relationship between aesthetic forms in Proust? Music, painting, poetry... the movement and influence betwen these, seems related to the levelling of Swann's mind ostensibely produced by the effect of his love for Odette (low class) and his disinterested love of the higher classes. Thus, aesthetics and social forms are paralelled with the levelling he performs in his mind in terms of the flow of time, somehow. All are one or co-eval in Swann's mind. Bergson and Freud's ideas of repetition might be key here. And/or Deleuze's _Difference and Repetition_ (which I haven't read yet). And what might this have to do with sexuality and the formal qualities of the text, the way it's written? Is there , perhaps a palimsestual effect? So that the line of music, in its fluidity (and what it is able to call up), and love itself are developed through these layers of aesthetic mediations?

From Roger Shattuck's _The Work and Its Author_: "No single theory or approach will make Proust easily and quickly available to all inquiring minds. The very resistance of his work to simplification and analysis constitutes its most evident general characteristic. Beyond this feature, however, we discover endless contradictions in the Search. Walt Whitman lived at peace with the fact that he contradicted himself. He said that he contained multitudes. Proust asks the next question. How much of his multitudinous self can a person be or embody at one time? The first answer is plain common sense: it all depends. It depends on many things, from chance and volition to memory and forgetting. The second answer is categorical. No matter how we go about it, we cannot be all of ourselves all at once. Narrow light beams of perception and of recollection illuminate the present and the past in vivid fragments. The clarity of those fragments is sometimes very great. They may even overlap and reinforce one another. However, to summon our entire self into simultaneous existence lies beyond our powers. We live by synechdoche, by cycles of being. More profoundly than any other novelist, Proust perceived this state of things and worked as an economist of the personality. In himself and in others he observed its fluctuations and partial realizations. Through habit and convention we may find security in "the immobility of the things around us." Yet it affords only temporary refuge. We yield with excitement, apprehension, and a deeper sense of existence to the great wheeling motion of experience. On a single page Proust refers to that endless shifting process as both "the secret of the future" and "the darkness we can never penetrate." He also has a word for it: our lot is "intermittence," the only steady state we know. Problem is though, this assumed somewhat unproblematically, an author behind the work."

Quote from Village Voice Literary supplement article (October 2003) on Proust and translation:

"I want to try to translate my own soul," he wrote, "if it doesn't die in the meantime." The article emphasizes Proust's complete self-absorption as the very method that allowed him to convey the world around him. But what of the critique and satire? These imply or require a distance. Proust himself said (somewhere) that his viewpoint/writing was telescopic in nature. "Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure" (Proust). "For a long time I used to go to bed early" (Moncrieff). " For a long time, I went to bed early" (Davis). Michael has brilliantly pointed out to me the differences b/w the two translations. The Voice article defends the Davis as more accurate, true to the original. But, upon closer examination, as Michael notes, with Proust's temporal intent in mind, the Moncreiff seems to convey the *repetition* of the event, even in its historical nature, more adequately. "I used to go..." implies a past that is repeated "more than once", it has a sense of that "continuous present' of Stein's, whereas "I went" is cut off, unrepeatable and unreachable.


I want to bring in succession and simultaneity to my analysis of Proust (these are also significant terms, and can be developed for a reading of Joyce ,or almost any other modernist text, of course). Sucession, the linearity of temporality, is related to music. Think about the notion of meter and timing mentioned in Proust (the bobbing of a head to rythms of music) the listening to music itself that plays such a prominent role in Proust is a trope pointing to a method of negotiating (parceling out) time. It is also relating a type of negotiated time to an affective response. Music, (metered time) is a spaced and temporalized event that creates a rhythm (a rhythmic space ?) allowing for feelings. Then there is the concept of simultaneity asociated with the visual arts. These are in effect false divisions to some extent, as both visual and musical arts take place in the space of time. Time and space are concomitant, or necessarily related, so if visual works seem simultaneously graspable (can be apprehended all at once) this can actually be broken down into a series of succesive moments. By the same token, successive notes occupy spaces, not just virtually or metaphorically, but in that music or sonic elements require physical space to reverberate in and by or through which they are produced (the piano or the violin are physical spaces). So then, Proust's immobility of the object approaches what Roger Shattuck calls the "intermittence" of the totality that shines through the successive and simultaneous pairings of the arts that Proust attempts to mnemonically recall. Through various aesthetically rendered images --the sonata fragment, the church spire, Odette's face as a Boticelli --the totality inscribed in the figure is the total picture of sight and sound, or space and meter. Thus we have a rhythm of the image, and/or the portrait of a sonic fragment; a conjoining of presumably separable aesthetic techniques through the mnemonic faculty of both sides of the aesthetic coin.

Extracted from "Running Backwards Into the Future" at: I have found this:

"The alternations of generation and decay, the evolutions ever beginning over and over again, the infinite repetition of the cycles of celestial spheres - this all represents merely a certain fundamental deficit, in which materiality consists. Fill up this deficit: at once you suppress space and time, that is to say, the endlessly renewed oscillations around a stable equilibrium always aimed at, never reached. Things re-enter into each other. What was extended in space is contracted into pure Form. And past-present and future shrink into a single moment, which is eternity." [Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution]

To look at the Vinteuil sonata as a fragment is to look at it in terms of memory, and the relation here would be that it 'represents' the fragmentation of memory as well. It is then, not only a metaphor but a metonym. Perhaps?

Is reading in Proust (is reading Proust) entropic, i.e a virtual experience of moving towards a state of irreversable equilibrium? If this is the case, then the becoming of time, the discreteness of events experienced within the novel, and repeated by both involuntary memory-- the presence of the past evoked by repeated images and refrains-- are all a becoming-entropic. The instability, gaps and interruptions of temporality (the non-linearity of the present as it "contains" fragments of the past) is a movement toward that stillness that de Man speaks of which is the reading space. The lived time or elan vital must then contain the becoming-entropic in order to reach the still point that contains the space for reading. And if entropy is irreversable then the immobility of the object necessary to achieve memory (to search for it) is then ......


I can't recall now exactly where I was headed with the entropy claim above. D'oh! But I do think there might be something to my idea despite the fact that I don't think entropy can be defined as heading toward an "irreversible equilibrium." I think the use made in communication or information theory of entropy might be applicable to what I'm trying to do in relation to Proust and the refrain. Wikipedia source on that issue:


The Bergsonian concept of duree, or "lived time", in relation succession and simultaneity is analogous to the relation between mind and body, or the psychological and the physiological. For Bergson the example of aphasia (the loss of speech capacity as a physical fact) proved a theory of independnece b/w mind and body:"From this observation Bergson concluded that memory, and so mind, or soul, is independent of body and makes use of it to carry out its own purposes." Bergson's notion of elan vital (duree) opposes mechanistic time There are two profoundly different ways of knowing, he claimed. The one, which reaches its furthest development in science, is analytic, spatializing, and conceptualizing, tending to see things as solid and discontinuous. The other is an intuition that is global, immediate, reaching into the heart of a thing by sympathy. The first is useful for getting things done, for acting on the world, but it fails to reach the essential reality of things precisely because it leaves out duration and its perpetual flux, which is inexpressible and to be grasped only by intuition. Bergson's entire work may be considered as an extended exploration of the meaning and implications of his intuition of duration as constituting the innermost reality of everything.


Jim Behrle said...


I heard you were in Ithaca

when are you coming to ny?


kfd313 said...

whoa... weird--like a ghost from xmas past.... hi jim.