by Dennis Abrams
For your weekend reading pleasure, I thought I’d share with you a section from Lectures on Literature, in which Vladimir Nabokov describes in exacting detail Proust’s working of metaphors within metaphors. It is the scene immediately after Marcel receives the note from his mother, telling him that there is no response to his note to her, begging her to come and kiss him.
The boy opens his window and sits on the foot of his bead, hardly daring to move lest he be heard by those below. (1) “Things outside seemed also fixed in mute expectation.” (2) They seemed not to wish “to disturb the moonlight.” (3) Now what was the moonlight doing? The moonlight duplicated every object and seemed to push it back owing to the forward extension of a shadow. What kind of a shadow? A shadow that seemed “denser and more concrete than the object” itself. (4) By doing all this the moonlight “made the whole landscape at once leaner and larger like [additional simile] a map which is unfolded and spread out” flat. (5) There was some movement: “What had to move — the leafage of some chestnut-tree for instance — moved. But its punctilious shiver [what kind of shiver?] complete, finished to tle least shade, to the least delicate detail [this fastidious shiver] did not encroach upon the rest of the scene, did not grade into it, remaining clearly limited” — since it happened to be illumined by the moon and all the rest was in shadow. (6) The silence and the distant sounds. Distant sounds behaved in relation to the surface of silence in the same way as the patch of moonlit moving leafage in relation to the velvet of the shade. The most distant sound, coming from “gardens at the far end of the town, could be distinguished with such exact ‘finish,’ that the impression they gave of remoteness [an additional simile follows] seemed due only to their ‘pianissimo’ execution [again a simile follows] like those movements on muted strings” at the Conservatory. Now those muted strings are described: “although one does not lose one single note,” they come from “outside, a long way from the concert hall so that [and now we are in that concert hall] all the old subscribers, and my grandmother’s sisters too, when Swann gave them his seats, used to strain their ears as if [final simile] they had caught the distant approach of an army on the march, which had not yet rounded the corner” of the street.
Enjoy your weekend all. And please, share your thoughts about this post, and all the other posts here on the site.