Thursday, January 31, 2008

In conclusion, Nora is like Marcel because she likes pink food, and anxiety makes her really long-winded

Ok. *is constantly reminding self in order to get over anxiety of posting here that the fact that her stupidity will be displayed for the whole wide internets to see is in fact nothing at all new* I'm bad at this stuff, so I suppose I'll have more questions than enlightening commentary ^_^

I'm probably stating the obvious here, but Swann's sudden anxiety/panic when faced with not being able to see Odette that day seemed very reminiscent of Marcel's attitude toward his mother's kisses. Some of these passages sound like they could even have been lifted from the beginning of the book: “Once he was with Odette [ . . . ] he would cease to be able to think about her, too occupied with finding pretexts that would permit him not to leave her right away and to make certain, without seeming to care about it, that he would see her again the next day at Verdurins': that is, to prolong the moment and to renew for yet one more day the disappointment and torment that came to him from this pointless presence of this woman whom he saw so regularly without daring to take her in his arms.” (237) It sounds a bit masochistic, and I wonder if Marcel's demand for his mother's kisses is similar, something he does in part simply to torment himself? And why would he want to torture himself in such a way? He does seem to make some connection between hatred/hurt and love. (I recall him hoping he could do something really cruel to Swann's daughter to make her hate him? I know young boys sometimes tease girls they like, but something tells me it's not usually that calculated, nor that extreme.)

Actually the scene where he says goodbye to the hawthorns from the reading earlier also reminded me of his mother obsession somehow, but looking back that may have been just me linking them because they were both 'weird obsessions of Marcel,' hehe. After all he does tell them (aah, nutty boy) that “you're not the ones trying to make me unhappy,” (somehow, i found the whole scene a bit disturbing), so apparently they aren't torturing him, at least in his eyes. General obsession with hawthorns aside, though, his obsession with their pinkness was a little eyebrow-raise-inducing to me as well, though I'm not sure if there's any meaning to be drawn from it. Some of the language is interesting. The pink cups apparently have “reds of a bloody tinge” when they start to open, which express the “irresistible essence of the hawthorn.” “Smiling in its fresh pink outfit, catholic and delicious.” “These flowers had chosen precisely the color of an edible thing.” (Did I already mention I find Marcel's obsessions disturbing? Well, always worth saying again.) Naturally in my frantic chase for meaning I started paying attention to pink. I could think of was the courtesan and possibly Odette's face... Interesting, but I'm not sure what to say. :)

Other random comments.... Swann's chase after the song also reminded me of Marcel's, er, chase with the madeline. He's self-centered like Marcel, too, and as previously said both have an “insatiable heart.” Swann does seem much more proactive about chasing the objects of his affection than Marcel, but then again he rather uses them for escape like Marcel uses his books, and it's not as if Marcel makes any fuss about obtaining books, so I'm not sure if it makes them the same or different. I remember thinking Swann seemed extremely vain as well, though (having trouble remember the main thing that gave me the a lesser extent I think one thing was the way he was glad he could “justify” his attraction to Odette by connecting it with “his own aesthetic culture”). Marcel hasn't struck me as exactly that yet. I wonder, is he? (Is it even important, heheh?)

Actually one of the things I was most confused by (and had to claim first finder's posting rights to so brother Carl wouldn't steal from me even though this thing has now gotten hopelessly long and I should have given it up to him anyway): Did anyone notice weird pronoun shift on 239? I considered Marcel to be sort of narrating from the POV of Swann, but in the last full paragraph, when the narrator gives us a little rant on the most effective agent which "disseminate[s] the holy evil" (love ^_^), the narrator refers to the hypothetical object of love as "him" for the entire paragraph. Iiiiinteresting choice. A sudden change to a woman's POV? ...Unlikely. A sudden POV from an apparently gay/bi person (be it Swann, Marcel, or Proust)? I'm not even going to feign a clue as to what that's all about.

In conclusion, I think we all don't trust Marcel cause he's a really, really creepy little boy. (Actually I think his extreme attention to detail on certain things is part of my reason. Anyone that goes on that long about church steeples is trying to distract you from finding out something, I swear it. ^_^) Though I do agree with him about the pink thing. The pink cookies always looks the tastiest.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Swann's insatiable heart, character flaws, and truth

It's funny the way that the story is set up in this second section, almost with an omniscient narrator and yet our Marcel is nowhere to be found. But is this really the case? Where I realize in a very real sense that they are two different people, Marcel could easily grow up to be this man who he admires greatly. The primary characteristic I notice that they both share is their insatiable heart.

I think this inability to find satisfaction in regular pleasures is very closely related to the idea of the external versus the internal. The external being, for example, an enjoyable social gathering such as when Marcel begins regularly attending the Verduin's parties with Odette. On page 126, it is noted that Swann often shows up late to the parties (and to see Odette) as if to emphasize, if only to himself, his own disinterest in the event. Happiness and pleasure are not the same as contentment and satisfaction. And though these parties may bring the prior, the value is fairly low to Swann for this reason.

The internal, as explained on page 217 where Swann describes his reaction to a particular phrase in Vinteuil's sonata, is where the beauty is not necessarily the thing itself (the external stimuli) but the emotions and thoughts it triggers into him when he hears it. Much like Marcel's madeleine, but rather than a memory being brought back, it is feelings and future ambitions. He continues to seek it out to trigger this reaction knowing that it is fleeting. I think it's the very finite nature of the piece causing it and the dependence on the stimuli (which can be extremely erratic)to elicit these rare and fragile feelings that give it such a high value to Swann. To summarize, “the ideal is inaccessible and happiness mediocre” (230).

The inability to feel satisfied also lends itself to the egotistical natures of Swann and Marcel. We can see this egotistical notion of value on page 232 where Swann begins to notice a more real beauty in Odette only where her features are that of Botticelli's work. Previously he found her to be almost repulsive, her beauty so ordinary as to make her seem plain. Odette reminded Swann, if only vaguely at first, of a subject captured by Botticelli, an artist whose work Swann admired. If Botticcelli had found beauty worth displaying in someone who looked, if only slightly, like Odette, surely that would mean that it was a higher beauty than a common person would see and one now worthy of Swann's admiration. His inability to obtain the same daily satisfactions as "normal people" make him deserving of even finer and finer things. This egotism isn't meant to be cruel, however, the expectation being so ingrained into his psyche as to become his nature.

Lastly, I would like to note that, in Marcel's search for truth, I think it's important that the “flawed” natures of our subjects are examined. From the sadistic nature of the lesbians to Francoise's cruel streak, (pg 125) noting she could more easily cry for a stranger than an acquaintance, to the very obvious vanity of Marcel and Swann, what we are observing is a more human behavior. Particularly in this time period and with individuals of this class where propriety and manners take precedence over true intimacy and real thoughts were less easily discernible. It stands to reason that that within us which we least like to show is what is most unkempt, imperfect, offensive and yet it is what makes us up. And, given Marcel's near obsession with truth (or is it Truth?) it is not surprising that he is so internalized as this is where his truth will come from.

Marcel, Aunt Leonie, and Involuntary Memory

I have been struggling with Marcel as a character. I find him to be an awkwardly pretentious adolescent, who is far too timid with it come to social situations. Marcel’s likeness to his Aunt Leonie is an interesting parallel to me; he strives to be an intellectual character and yet he has more in common with a prying, bedridden woman. The similarity between Marcel and Aunt Leonie is ironic to me because Marcel writes about Swann in such a way as to make a reader think that Swann is the real idol to which Marcel looks.

Looking over the text, involuntary memory is associated with the Madeleine for both Marcel and his aunt. When Marcel speaks of the Madeleine his tone changes; he is transformed from the past into the present as he remembers the sensations of the spoonful of tea and the softened Madeleine touching his lips for the first time.

A delicious pleasure had invaded me, isolated me, without my having any notion as to its cause. It had immediately rendered the vicissitudes of life unimportant to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory, acting in the same way that love acts, by filling me with a precious essence: or rather this essence was not merely inside of me, it was me (45).

Perhaps I have lived a sheltered life, but I have never had an inanimate object (let alone a cookie) give me that much insight into my life. An adolescent is not supposed to use such flowery language; they are not supposed to concern themselves with finding who they are at heart. Perhaps what I find most interesting about the scene with the Madeline is that all of the insight that was granted to Marcel upon his first experience with the Madeline is displaced to the memory of his Aunt Leonie. The Madeleine becomes the tradition of Sunday mornings. To me, the profound moment of the first taste of the Madeleine is lost in the sharing as well as the routine.

The way the Marcel longs for his mother and her goodnight kiss parallels the yearning that his Aunt Leonie has for her dead husband. In class, the oedipal complex readily came to mind as we analyzed the first section of Marcel at Combray. After reading more of the book, I really feel that Proust wants readers to associate the relationship between Marcel and his mother in the hopes that it will be under close scrutiny, but after continuing to read will realize there is more than what is on the surface. I see it as a technique to keep the reader interested, yearning for more information that will give us insight into the character of Marcel. This is definitely where the idea of the elusive object comes into play. Marcel can never have his mother in the way that he did as when he was younger, nor can he have her in the way that his father does; just as his Aunt Leonie will never again have the physical presence of her husband.

The greatest commonality between Marcel and his Aunt Leonie is the way that Marcel peers into windows and the way his aunt peers out of her window in order to make themselves a part of something bigger. (Perhaps it is Marcel’s “’Peeping Tom” quality that I deplore most.) Marcel looks into windows in the same capacity that he reads; to escape the world around him. Reading and “peeping” seem to be the only two things that he is truly sure of in his life as an adolescent. I think that Aunt Leonie looks out her window in order to still be a part of the world that she purposely left behind. By looking into windows Marcel takes command of the world that he really doesn’t have a grip on and his Aunt is allowed to continue existing.

Using the quote we examined in class: “We are familiar only with the passions of others, and what we come to know about our own, we have been able to learn only from them” (132). It seems to me that Marcel acknowledges that he is like his aunt even though he would like to be more like the ever elusive Swann. Marcel understands himself more because of the involuntary memory with the Madeleine and characters live through this involuntary memory, but Marcel still yearns for the unattainable.

So, I think that my problems with Marcel as a character lie in my desire for him to get what he yearns for the most. (Everyone deserves success in one form or another.) I want him to be more like Swann and less like Aunt Leonie. Furthermore, my visual image of Marcel (pale and sickly) does not match up with the recollections of the older Marcel.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Post Demonstration

Here is a picture of my cat:

This is my new post.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Swann's Way, 49-191

I am struck most in this section by Marcel's struggle to distinguish between his "interiority" and his "exteriority." There seems to be always through the novel this sense of Marcel being directed by his interior existence, that his exteriority, that is, life itself, is but a pale reflection of his inner-life. As Marcel says of what he learns from Swann's Way, "I was struck for the first time by this discord between our impressions and their habitual expression" (158). Impressions (interior) and expressions (exterior) are never in accord for Marcel, which raises the question of it they are for any of us.

The structure of the novel so far embodies this discord in the way that many characters are roaming, even haunting the background of the narrative: Francoise, the kitchen maid, Swann, and uncle Adolphe. They have a presence in the narrative, but beyond that they have a hidden presence which more vividly populates the narrative. Francoise, for example, with her secret cruelty, or Adolphe, with his mysterious connections, or Swann, with his wife who cannot be introduced. These hidden events are really what seem to have the most impact on the lives of the household. The hidden, the interior, directs the exterior, which has little significant impact on us.

I'm also very interested in the scene between Vinteuil's daughter and her lover, 162-67, but I'll hold my thoughts until I hear from you.

Giotto's Envy

Giotto 1267-1337

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Swann's Way -- Section 1 -- Themes

Anxiety -- in respect to mother's love --one feels an incredible anxiety -- (30).

Power of love for an illusive object. Marcel love's anything elusive; i.e. the madeleine. This is the same thing when he's trying to bet his mom to kiss him. The same pattern with kisses from his mother and the madeleine.

Waking up -- movement from the recollection

The shifting self -- an adult contemplating the life of a child.

Elusive object (illusive?) as a draw for Marcel -- why?

Swann -- another elusive object. Doesn't fit anywhere. Related to the memory of the madeleine -- by trying to grasp a memory, you don't get anything.

Marcel -- never satisfied. A primary condition of humanity.

Social class -- several pages where they talk about the family and their visits with Swann; great-aunts' opinion of Swann. People are meant to associate with people of the same class.

Loss -- Death -- Disorientation.

Class anxiety.

The representations of women and men. The women provide structure, calmness, emotional connection; the men represent isolation, mystery, estrangement.

Memory -- associations between Marcel and men/women. He's searching for something, nurture some part of himself.

Instead of trying to figure out where he fits in, he's trying to figure out what completes.

He shifts into the present in the madeleine scene.

Actualization comes from memory.

Oedipus complex. Does this apply?

Dandy-ness. Intellectualism/feminism.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Welcome to French Modern Literature

We'll use this space to reflect on the literature we read. Please play around with Blogger's features -- I encourage you to take advantage of the Web platform to add links to interesting online sources.

In French, with Jean Cocteau (and others):

Fine art mentioned in Swann's Way: