Monday, February 4, 2008

Section One: (Page 1-48)

"If you knew everything they thought, I bet you'd wish they they'd just shut up."-Modest Mouse

In the introduction to Swann's Way, when Proust is begging publishers to print his book and offering to pay them to do so, they seem to be complaining about two things, his long sentences and his inability to get to the point quickly. Personally, I agree with Proust that some sentences lose meaning or strength when they are chopped up into smaller sentences. I do however agree with Ollendorff's complaint about taking "thirty pages to describe how [a man] turns over in bed before he goes to sleep." (xiv)

Proust delves far into common experiences that are easy to relate to. He seems to be accomplishing the feat of making such familiar experiences, unfamiliar. Mostly, I think this is accomplished because people are not used to dwelling on such things for so long, maybe in thought, but when it is on the written page, the time actually spent on occurring thoughts before sleep and awaking from dreams takes much longer to digest. I found it challenging at times to stay focused on the writing when he goes on for pages and pages about things that seem almost trivial such as wanting a goodnight kiss from his mother.

The silent power struggle among the grandmother, the aunt and the father is complex. I was surprised at how submissive Mama is toward her husband, while her mother, grandma doesn't think twice before telling him how to raise his son. I find the aunt's obnoxious surliness very amusing. Between the Aunt and the protagonists overwhelming awareness of the intentions of his upbringing, Proust has built himself a means to spout off every arts and cultural thing that seems to be accessible at this time. I think that it is a great way to preserve some of the culture of the time and it reinforces the social class of this family. At times, however it seems almost pretentious. On page 29, the protagonist nearly outright calls Francoise, the servant, primitive.

I don't know what to make about the boy's insecurities about his mother's affections. His out of control crying and seemingly meaningless sadness make the part of Little Miss Sunshine, when Uncle Frank, the Proust scholar, who tries to comfort his emo nephew with the wisdom of Proust, quite amusing. In the movie, he tells the kid that Proust was a sad and miserable child and when he grew up, he was miserable as well, but he realized that it was those sad times of his youth that shaped him and made him the way he was.

On page 19, the narrator talks about his family's clueless behavior towards Swann's social class. When he talks about "the simple act that we call 'seeing a person we know' is in part an intellectual one," and then goes on about recognizing the physical aspects that make up an individual and then attributing our associations with that person, I thought of Roland Barthes' "Sign" system. I'm not sure if that's what he meant or not, but I felt that connection anyway.

Tegan & Sara Quin, sporting their mullets, or as the French say, their “Bressant-styles”(14) proving that, like Swann, you can actually get away with wearing your hair this way and still manage to attract women.

Section Two: (Page 49-191)

The conclusion that Marcel comes to in his own mind on pages 86 and 87, about the desire for human emotion without having an actual person is quite an interesting idea although I’m not sure I agree with him. He finds this to be an attractive element of reading. You can feel the same things the characters are feeling, without having the “dead weight” of an actual person. I can see the interest in empathizing with a character without actually having the possible awkwardness of having to deal face to face with that person, whatever it is they are going through. For instance, if someone’s mother dies and you get a sense of what effect that has on them on the written page, somehow you still have exposure to the experience, but because it is a fictitious event happening to someone unreal or at least, unknown personally to you, you don’t have to deal with the possible difficulty in consoling that person. You also don’t have deal with your reactions wholly by figuring out how you are going to deal with them around that person. In reading, it is just you and the idea of the emotion-evoking circumstance.
On the other hand, going through life with the idea that real people in real life situations is unnecessary when you have the alternative of experiencing life through books, seems pretty ridiculous. I’m not sure how much you would actually gain since reading about something without having experienced it yourself, versus reading about something you have been through is quite a different experience. I guess, in a way I agree with Marcel that it can be somewhat desirable to gain some exposure to things in life that can give sensation or feeling to a person, but I wouldn’t put as much weight on the benefit as he does.

Often times, Proust uses language that seems to me, somewhat ambiguous and I’m not sure what to make of it. I would say that this is an instance where his long sentences do more harm and would not lose meaning, but clarify meaning if it were shortened. On page, 148 when Marcel is saying goodbye to the hawthorns, ruining his nice clothes and curled hair and his mother has found him, he says, “putting my arms around the prickly branches, and, like the princess in tragedy burdened by vain ornaments, ungrateful to the importunate hand that with such care had up my hair in curls across my brow, trampling underfoot my torn-out curl papers and my new hat.”
My first read of this had me thinking, well here’s a fine example of this boy exemplifying youthful “dandy-like” behavior. The more I read it though, the less confident I am that he is referring to himself as the “princess.” Is he referring to the flowers, or his mother instead?

Another instance of Proust’s writing that has me stumped, is the instance of Marcel looking in on the lesbian girls. The first thing that struck me is the perception in which this scene is told. It seems to be limited to what Marcel can see and hear as he is observing the scene through the window. However, the thoughts and intentions of that are given on pages164-165 of Mlle. Vinteuill are far more insightful than anything that can be seen through a window.
On page 167, Marcel says that one girl encouraged the other to spit on the picture. But going back to review the conversation, it seems as only the girlfriend had that intention. She wasn’t encouraging Mlle. Vinteuill to do it nor was she being encourage by her. Was this intended to make the narrator seem less reliable?

Section Three: (Page 195-250)

One thing that surprises me about Marcel’s family is the amount of walking that they do. I would expect them to take a fancy coach everywhere rather than spend hours walking everywhere. It doesn’t always sound like a leisurely activity. Marcel says they choose the Méséglise way when the weather is bad. I was relieved in this section that Swann had a coachman drive him all around town looking for Odette. I have been wondering where the coaches are.

The attitudes the Verdurins have about women and lovers that they “were not afraid of a woman having a lover provided she had him at their house, loved him in their midst, and did not prefer his company to theirs” (197), surprised me a little in regard to opinions of female sexuality considering the way people reacted to the lesbians.

I think it’s hilarious the way that Odette is so ignorant about the arts and has an almost incapacity of learning about them. I think it’s really odd that when most single girls at this time held in the back of their minds, music they would want played at their wedding, Odette has chosen a song she wishes to be played at her funeral.

Section Four: (Pages 251-396)

The contrast from the beginning of this section, when Swann’s opinion that the people at the Verdurins are more “intelligent, more artistic, they are than high-society people!” (257) compared to reality of Swann among people of his own class, where the Princesse des Laumes gets his humor and the tastes of the group are far more refined, is interesting.

What is the difference in Princess and Princesse? I thought at first, it was a translation thing but then realized that both forms were being used: the Princess of Parma, and the Princesse des Laumes. (Hawthorn fruit
as Princesse des Laumes
wore in her hair)

Following the process of Swann’s heartbreak was fascinating. The denial of Odette’s actions, the mishearing of conversations in order to comfort himself, hoping for his death and then hers, visiting brothels to get information about Odette, sending visitors to check in on Odette instead when he is the one that really needs the company, make his tragedy seem so realistic.

It reminds me of Marcel saying that you can read about the experience without having to go through it, we as readers can probably relate to those jealous feelings and we feel for Swann but we have the luxury of not having to actually go through the agony that he does. “The pain he was now experiencing resembled nothing he had imagined.
I found it quite amusing when Swann ponders the people in lower classes and comes to this conclusion: “In these almost working-class neighborhoods, what a modest life, abject, but sweet, nourished with calm and happiness, he would have agreed to live indefinitely!”

On page 323, Odette accuses Swann of “trying to flaunt their affair, that he was treating her like a prostitute.” I think that Swann is the only person that doesn’t treat her like a prostitute. Even her beloved Verdurins hoar her off to any man they see fit at the time.

I have to admit that I actually thought that Odette and Swann would ultimately reconcile. With all of the talk in the beginning of the novel that Swann had married so beneath him, I figured that Odette, a call girl, certainly would fit that description. I began to have doubts until Mme. Cottard told him how much Odette really does love him. Then on page 383, Odette refers to herself to Swann as “Your little Odette,” implicating that she might not mind him feeling ownership of her. I was surprised when Odette left and Swann came to his senses about ever liking her in the first place.

Knowing how much Vinteuil’s music meant to Swann, the scene in Cambray, when Swann talks to Vinteuil, makes more sense on why Swann would talk to an outcast when it is unpopular to do so. It also makes me wish that Vinteuil would have been kinder to Swann know the comfort Swann took in his music while dealing with his heartbreak over Odette.

1 comment:

fehrer said...

I am so struck by you very last paragraph. I can really relate to what you said. I think that after spending a couple weeks and a lot of energy reading a book, you can't help but be invested a little, and you really do want things to kind of work out or atleast for people to be simpathetic and understanding.
A lot of us voiced that we had a hard time relating to Marcel or anyone in the story, which made it strike me even more that you wanted the best for Swann and Vinteuil to be nice to him. That says something about your reading style and how compassionate you are. I think that more people could stand to read that way, including myself.