Moncrieff: 540-549; Grieve: 397-404
by Dennis Abrams
Because of Marcel’s intoxication, even Mlle Simonet and her friends fade into insignificance, “The enterprise of knowing them seemed to me easy now but a matter of indifference, for my immediate sensation, thanks to its extraordinary intensity, to the joy that its slightest modifications, its mere continuity provoked, alone had any importance to me…inebriation brings about for an hour or two a state of subjective idealism, pure phenomenalism; everything is reduced to appearances and exists only as a function of our sublime self.” At Rivebelle, there is not a woman that Saint-Loup, or one or more of his friends hadn’t slept with. The women ogling Saint-Loup, disparaging his current mistress, “She’s got feet like boats, whiskers like an American, and her undies are filthy. I can tell you, a little shop-girl would be ashamed to be seen in her knickers. Do just look at his eyes a moment: you’d go to hell for a man like that.” Saint-Loup’s memory of the women he’d slept with, “dishevelled locks, a convulsed mouth, a pair of half-closed eyes, a whole silent picture like those that painters, to deceive the bulk of their visitors, drape with a decent clothing,” of whom Marcel was certain that “nothing of my personality had penetrated the surface of any one of these women, or would be borne by her upon the unknown ways which she would tread through life…” Marcel collapses intoxicated onto his bed at Balbec, “in a room no longer hostile, with the bed in which, on the day of my arrival, I had supposed that it would always be impossible for me to find any rest…” Thanks to too much port, Marcel sleeps until 2:00 in the afternoon, sleeping through the concert on the beach. Thanks to indigestion, Marcel’s sleep is filled with dreams. The difficulties of reawakening after too much sleep, “Moreover, one does not emerge more easily from such a sleep than from a prolonged spell of wakefulness, so strongly does everything tend to persist…” The fair girl with the sad expression. “And perhaps, too, there is no act so free, for it is still unprompted by habit, by that sort of mental obsession, which in matters of love, encourages the invariable reappearance of the image of one particular person.”
I wonder (since the Narrator doesn’t supply it) what the reaction of Marcel’s grandmother is to her grandson’s night on the town, and subsequent sleeping all day, time when we know she would prefer him to be outside breathing fresh air.
I found the following online from the book Literary Impressionism and Modernist Aesthetics and the introduction “Proust’s deathless analogy” by Jesse Matz, who describes Proust’s description of the changing light in Marcel’s room and the ever changing “paintings” seen out the window…
“After dinner downstairs, he sometimes drive drunk to the casino of a nearby hotel. Alcohol stretches his nerves and opens him wide to intense momentary sensations. Usually so introverted, he finds that drunkenness helps him to ‘[cling] body and soul to the scent of a woman at the next table, to the politeness of the waiters, to the countours of the waltz that the band was playing.’ He becomes ‘glued to the sensation of the moment, with no extension beyond its limits, nor any object other than not to be separated from it.’ In this state — this state in which ‘everything is reduced to appearances and exists only as a function of our sublime self’ — he forgets all other preoccupations, enthralled by the ‘extraordinary intensity’ of immediate sensuous experience.
Is this literary Impressionism? So it seems: pictorial descriptions of shifting light and color, subjective accounts of sensuous experience, transmission of immediate and evanescent feelings — these are literary Impressionism’s specialities. Impressionists, we say, convey intense momentary perceptions, pitching sensibility to heights sublime enough to reduce the world to apparation, but the power they thereby get to ‘make us see‘ does not show us much more than ‘reduced’ appearances. Impressionists reproduce all the lush kaleidoscopic beauty of Marcel’s motile seascape, but this mounts to little more than drunken sights and sounds. So Marcel’s Balbec experiences seem Impressionist, in style and in limitation, insofar as Impressionism records unextended sensation and the passing picture.
But Proust himself has other names for Marcel’s pictorial and sensuous experiences. Of his gluing to momentary sensations, Proust writes, ‘inebriation brings about for an hour or two a state of subjective idealism, pure phenomenalism.’ “Idealism” and “phenomenalism” are Proust’s names for this clinging to pure appearances — reserving “Impressionism,” it would seem, to name something else. In his account of the pictures that flood his room at Balbec, Proust recalls that he was too distracted to ‘receive any real profound impressions of beauty. ‘As often as not,’ he writes, ‘they were, indeed, only pictures [des images].’ Only pictures, rather than profound impressions: it would be more accurate to call Marcel’s experience here ‘pictorialist’ — and once again let “Impressionist” stand for something else.
Marcel recalls that his phenomenalism lacks ‘extension.’ He tells us that his pictorialism lacks ‘connexion’: he remembers the pictures at Balbec as ‘no more than a selection, made afresh every day, of paintings which were shown quite arbitrarily in the place in which I happened to be and without having any necessary connexion with that place.’ Here there is no ‘depth behind the colour of things,’ no extension beyond the phenomenal. Proust distinguishes the arbitrary picture from the ‘profound impression’ it fails to make.”
Moncrieff: Page 549 “That day, as it happened…” through Page 563 “…is always a love for something else.”
Grieve: Page 404 “It was the day after…” through Page 414 “…is always love for something else.”