Moncrieff: 515-524; Sturrock: 369-375
by Dennis Abrams
Arriving back at the hotel from his visit to the Verdurins, Marcel is “dropping with sleep.” The squinting page in lieu of the usual lift boy. His sister, under the protection of a gentleman, is a fine lady, plays the piano, and even speaks Spanish, yet “She never leaves a hotel without relieving herself first in a wardrobe or a drawer, just to leave a little keepsake with the chambermaid who’ll have to clean it up,” for as she says, “there must always be poor people so that now that I’m rich I can shit on them.” The sufferings we experience while asleep. The realm of sleep “is like a second dwelling into which we move for that one purpose.” Time asleep is different from time awake — sometimes more rapid, sometimes longer. We awake from profound slumbers “not knowing who we are, being nobody, newly born, ready for anything, the brain emptied of that past which was life until then.” The two kinds of awakening. Sleep as more than another time, but as another life. Wet dreams, “…which of us, on waking, has not felt a certain irritation at having experienced in his sleep a pleasure which, if he is anxious not to tire himself, he is not, once he is awake, at liberty to repeat indefinitely during that day. It seems a positive waste.” The sound of bells. Soporifics and memory. M. Bergson and M. Boutroux. “I observe that each alteration of the brain is a partial death.” Memory and recall: “We do not recall our memories of the last thirty years; but we are wholly stepped in them, why then stop short at thirty years, why not extend this previous life back to before our birth? Dreams of Charlus and Mme Verdurin.
1. If someone had told you prior to reading it that somewhere in In Search of Lost Time Proust would refer to wet dreams, would you have believed it?
2. Or that there would be a description of a woman leaving a “present” in a wardrobe or drawer for the chambermaid, or in a cab for the cabby? Proust…always surprising.
3. I loved (and was deeply moved saddened) by this sentence:
“…I, the strange human who, while he waits for death to release him, lives behind closed shutters, knows nothing of the world, sits motionless as an owl, and like that bird can only see things at all clearly in the darkness.”
Now all I can envision is Proust’s large dark hooded eyes gazing out into the darkness…
4. And, from Jonah Lerner’s Proust Was a Neuroscientist, a little bit on the influence Henri Bergson had on Proust. (Proust attended Bergson’s lectures at the Sorbonne from 1891-1893. He also read Bergson’s Matter and Memory in 1909, right around the time he was beginning work on Swann’s Way. There is only one recorded conversation between Proust and Bergson (who had married Proust’s cousin in 1892); a conversation about the nature of sleep that was retold in today’s reading.
“Proust learned to believe in the strange power of art from the philosopher Henri Bergson. When Proust began writing the Search, Bergson was becoming a celebrity. The metaphysician sold out opera halls, the intellectual tourists listening with rapt attention to his discussions of elan-vital, comedy, and ‘creative evolution.’ The essence of Bergson’s philosophy was a fierce resistance to a mechanistic view of the universe. The laws of science were find for inert matter, Bergson said, for discerning the relationships between atoms and cells, but us? We had a consciousness, a memory, a being. According to Bergson, this reality — the reality of our self-consciousness — could not be reduced or experimentally dissected. He believed that we could only understand ourselves through intuition, a process that required lots of introspection, lazy days contemplating our inner connections. Basically, it was bourgeois meditation.
Proust was one of the first artists to internalize Bergson’s philosophy. His literature became a celebration of intuition, of all the truths we can know just by lying in bed and quietly thinking. And while Bergson’s influence was not without it’s anxiety for Proust — ‘I have enough to do,’ he wrote in a letter,’without trying to turn that philosophy of M. Bergson into a novel!’ — Proust still couldn’t resist Bergsonian themes. In fact, Proust’s thorough absorption of Bergson’s philosophy led him to conclude that the nineteenth-century novel, with its privileging of things over thoughts, had everything exactly backward. ‘The kind of literature which contents itself with ‘describing things,’ Proust wrote, ‘with giving them merely a miserable abstract of lines and surfaces, is in fact, though it calls itself realist, the furthest removed from reality.’ As Bergson insisted, reality is best understood subjectively, its truths accessed intuitively.”
Moncrieff: Page 524 “I should greatly have astonished my mother…” through Page 533 “…wishing you all good fortune, does the Baron de Charlus.”
Sturrock: Page 375 “I would have greatly astonished my mother…” through page 382 “…wishing you every good fortune, the Baron de Charlus.”