Davis: 248-260; Moncrieff: 339-356
by Dennis Abrams
Swann goes to Odette’s house only in the evenings, knowing nothing about how she spends her time during the day. A friend tells Swann that he saw Odette “going up the rue Abbatucci on foot in a ‘visiting cloak’ trimmed with skunk, under a ‘Rembrandt-style’ hat, and with a bouquet of violets in her bodice.” Swann’s realization that she has “a life which did not belong entirely to him.” Swann “realized that she was not intelligent.” Swann’s attempt and failure to teach Odette about art and poetry. Odette’s disappointment with Swann. Differing ideas of what is “fashionable” and who the “smart people” are. Swann’s willingness to adapt, to like what Odette likes simply because she likes it. Swann’s enjoyment of the Verdurins’ ‘little circle’ and the rationalizations and excuses that make it possible. The Verdurins’ distrust of Swann.
I’d like to backtrack again today. In 2004, Andre Aciman published The Proust Project, a collection of essays in which authors discuss their own favorite passages from In Search of Lost Time. Lara Vapnyar chose a passage we read over the weekend, the scene with Swann, Odette, the carriage, and the cattleyas. I think Vapnyar gets this exactly right.
“Here they are in the carriage. Both ‘quivering and breathless.’ He is reaching for her, mumbling about the cattleyas with the naive slyness of a schoolboy. She is bending her neck with the exquisite precision of a veteran prostitute — bringing her face close enough to Swann’s lips, but doing so as if against her will. the kiss is about to happen and as a result it will be lost.
It doesn’t happen — not quite yet.
Just as Odette’s face is ‘falling’ upon Swann’s lips, his hands slow her down as if to freeze the frame. What follows is a breathtaking process of saving the moment.”
‘Perhaps, too, he was fixing upon the face of an Odette not yet possessed, not even kissed by him, which he was seeing for the last time, the comprehensive gaze with which, on the day of his departure, a traveller hopes to bear away with him in memory a landscape he is leaving forever.’
“The beauty of this sentence is in Proust’s ability to move from past to future, and back, and back again, never quite touching the present. In the words ‘not yet possesed’ there is a glimpse of the future, where Odette would already be possessed by Swann and what’s happening now in the carriage would inevitably be looked upon as the past. The metaphoric traveler is making a similar time journey: he is looking at the place he is about to depart from (the act of leaving is still in the future) as if it had already slipped into the past and he had memories of it.
The only thing that is missing is the present…
Swann and Odette don’t kiss in the carriage scene.
The momemt of the kiss, like many other moments in Proust, is captured while dashing between the future (anticipation), and the past (memories), and also in the strange tangle of the past and the future together (anticipation of the memories and memories of anticipation.)
The question that arises when reading Proust is whether we can get ahold of the present at all, except in our anticipation and memories of it. What if the present simply doesn;’t exist? Not even as a transition in between the past and the future, because there is no such transition in the Proustian universe. The past is already tainted by the future, and the future is always looking back.”
Please post your thoughts on yesterday’s reading, as well as on what Lara Vapnyar had to say about time, the past, present, and future.
Davis: Page 260 “At this dinner there was, besides the regulars…” through Page 276 “…it was the novelty of his language that convinced one of the darkness of his intentions.”
Moncrieff: Page 356 “There was at this diner, besides the usual party…” through Page 377 “…which led his audience to suspect the blackness of his designs.”
And again, let me ask you all a question. Is the reading pace too fast? Too slow? Just about right? Are my posts too long? Is there anything you’d like me to be writing about that I’m not? Please give me your suggestions, so I can make “The Cork Lined Room” better for you.