Moncrieff: 615-625; Grieve: 450-457
by Dennis Abrams
My apologies for the late post — I thought I had published this last night, but obviously it didn’t go up.
Marcel arrives at Elstir’s party, doesn’t immediately recognize Albertine. Marcel eats a strawberry tart and a coffee eclair, postponing his introduction to Albertine. “But so far as the pleasure was concerned, I was naturally not conscious of it until some time later, when, back at the hotel, and in my room alone, I had become myself again. Pleasure in this respect is like photography. What we take, in the presence of the beloved object, is merely a negative, which we develop later…” “As I drew closer to the girl and began to know her better, this knowledge developed by a process of subtraction, each constituent of imagination and desire giving place to a notion which was worth infinitely less, a notion to which, it is true, there was added presently a sort of equivalent, in the domain of real life, of what joint stock companies give one, after repaying one’s original investment, and call dividend shares.” “Confronted with the common-place and touching Albertine to whom I had spoken that afternoon, I still saw the other mysterious Albertine outlined against the sea. ” Albertine’s beauty mark. Marcel’s disappointment at not yet meeting the other girls in the gang.
I love this paragraph: for me, it’s one of those moments reading Proust when all I can do is nod and say to myself “of course.”
“Thus it can be only after one has recognised, not without some tentative stumblings, the optical errors of one’s first impression that one can arrive at an exact knowledge of another person, supposing such knowledge to be ever possible. But it is not: for while our original impression of him undergoes correction, the person himself, not being an inanimate object, changes his part too: we think that we have caught him, he shifts, and when we imagine that at least we are seeing him clearly, it is only the old impressions which we had already formed of him that we have succeeded in clarifying, when they no longer represent him.”
What does this quote leave you with? Do you think it’s accurate? And if it is (and I think that it is), what does it mean when it comes to all of our friendships and relationships?
And then, there’s the comedy of Marcel and Albertine’s beauty mark:
“Finally, to conclude this account of my first introduction to Albertine, when trying to recapture that little beauty spot on her cheek, just under the eye, I remembered that, looking from Elstir’s window when Albertine had gone by, I had seen it on her chin. In fact, when I saw her I noticed that she had a beauty spot, but my errant memory made it wander about her face, fixing it now in one place, now in another.”
“I took advantage of this immobility to look again and discover once and for all where exactly the little mole was placed. then, just a phrase of Vinteuil which had delighted me in the sonata, and which my recollection allowed to wander from the andante to the finale, until the day when, having the score in my hands, I was able to find it and to fix it in my memory in its proper place, in the scherzo, so this mole, which I had visualised now on her cheek, now on her chin, came to rest for ever on her upper lip, just below the nose.”
Who else would find a link between a beauty mark and a phrase of Vineteuil’s sonata?
And finally, from Malcolm Bowie’s Proust Among the Stars:
“Two new features of Proust’s temporality begin to emerge, then, when we look beyond the retrospective and prospective dispositions of the individual complex sentence. First, within paragraphs, the propulsive energy of the writing, the living sense of futurity that drives the narration on, comes from an astonishing power of recapitulation. An ambiguity in sexual identity refashions earlier ambiguous relations — between, say, light that shines and light that dances, or between smooth and rough in the painterly representation of fabrics. The way forward into a clear new future always involves revisiting the past. Secondly, within extended episodes, continuities of this sort are at work even when the narration insists upon irreversible change. Uncovering Elstir’s secret, or meeting the little band face to face for the first time, changes for ever the way the world looks. The whole map has to be redrawn. But the text carries along, from the before of unknowing into the afterwards of knowledge, not just a lively memory of key events and their affective colouring but the imprint of mental structures that have already proved themselves and can be expected to see active service again. The appetite to know survives the moment of its own satiation, and the instruments by which the world is made intelligible, far from being thrown away after use, remain importunately in place and demand further exercise. Whatever the ‘open’ future holds, its broad contours have already been foretold.
Yet when the large-scale temporal patterning of Proust’s text is described solely in these terms an important quality is still missing from the overall picture. for although recapitulation and recurrence give the narrative a range of capitaving refrains — here in La Prisonniere are the tribulations of jealousy, as acute now, in the narrator’s manhood, as they were before his birth, and here in Albertine disparue is Legrandin being Legrandin, unchanged after all these years and pages — the past is not always treated as kindly as this, and simply revisited or revived at the narrator’s leisure. Retroaction rather than simple retrospection sometimes occurs. The past is not just subjected to an indefinite process of reinterpretation, but can be materially altered by the desiring intelligence of the narrator: armed with new information and switching the direction of his gaze, he can give the past new contents. That Miss Sacripant should be Odette rather than an anonymous actress for ever lost behind the name of a stage character, that she should be Odette rather than a fantasy figure in one of Elstir’s youthful caprices, changes the way the light had fallen, moments ago, in Elstir’s studio. In the wake of the narrator’s discovery, new sexual predilections spring into being for Elstir, Swann, and Odette herself, and a new element is added to the already trouble prehistory of the Swann-Odette marriage. A catalytic reaction spreads backwards from the very recent past of the narrator himself into the barely recoverable recesses of other people’s lives. All is altered.”
Moncrieff: Page 625 “A young man with regular features…” through Page 636 “…but the others are really dreadfully stupid.”
Grieve: Page 457 “A young man with regular features and tennis racquets…” through Page 464 “But honestly, the others are just silly.”