Moncrieff: 567-576; Sturrock: 406-413
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel’s life with Albertine is “a life devoid of keen pleasures.” Still, because his mother requested that he spend less time with her, he tells her “that her words would delay for perhaps two months the decision for which they asked, which otherwise I would have reached before the end of the week.” Ever since grandmother’s death, Mamma’s laugh “would be cut short and would end in an almost heartbroken expression of sorrow, whether from remorse at having been able for an instant to forget, or else from the recrudescence which this brief moment of forgetfulness had brought to her painful obsession.” Night time drives with Albertine, evenings on the beach, a bottle of champagne, Albertine’s body “pressed against my own…” In bed as the sun rises, the next day Marcel worries about asking Albertine if she’ll be free to spend time with him, afraid that she has other plans, that “people were passing whom she knew; doubtless she had made plans for the afternoon from which I was excluded.” The car is in use every day, unless there was a dinner at the Verdurins, or those days when Albertine was not free and Marcel would be “at home” at Balbec. Marcel’s jealousy extends to Saint-Loup, who is only given leave to visit Marcel when Marcel calls for him, only on days when Albertine is not available. Saint-Loup alarms Marcel when he speaks of the Verudrins; Marcel is relieved when Saint-Loup informs him that he has no desire to know them. “‘No,’ he said to me, ‘I find that sort of clerical atmosphere maddening…I mean the sort of circles…where people form a tribe, a religious order, a chapel. You aren’t going to tell me that they’re not a little sect; they’re all honey to the people who belong, no words bad enough for those who don’t. The question is not as, for Hamlet, to be nor not to be, but to belong or not to belong…” Saniette, his consciousness of being a bore, his timidity at making calls or asking for an invitation. “…he came at the end to imagine life as filled with entertainments arranged behind his back, if not actually at his expense.” On the one occasion when he visits Marcel uninvited, he stays too long, and spend his time trying to read the contents of a letter sitting on the table. Aime’s interest in how much Marcel tips the chauffeur.
1. I know it shouldn’t, but when reading an “older” book, it still on occasion surprises me when characters act in ways that we still act today: For example, Marcel, on the verge of giving up Albertine, changes his mind when his mother suggests that he do the same thing.
2. Marcel’s jealousy of Saint-Loup, and his refusal to allow his “best friend” to meet his “girlfriend.” He can be such a little shit.
3. I loved this passage:
“People never cease to change place in relation to ourselves. In the imperceptible but eternal march of the world, we regard them as motionless, in a moment of vision too brief for us to perceive the motion that is sweeping them on. But we have only to select in our memory two pictures taken of them not to have altered in themselves — perceptibly, that is to say, and the difference between the two pictures is a measure of the displacement that they have undergone in relation to us.”
And finally, a bit more from Jonah Lerner’s book Proust Was a Neuroscientist:
“Every memory begins as a changed connection between two neurons. This fact was first discovered by Santiago Ramon y Cajal, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1906. Cajal’s scientific process was simple: he stared at thin slices of brain under a microscope and let his imagination go wild. (Cajal called his science a ‘speculative cavort.’) At the time, scientists assumed that the human brain’s neurons were connected in a seamless reticular web, like electrical wires linked in a circuit. Cajal, however, believed that every neuron was actually an island, entirely bounded by its own membrane (an idea that wasn’t confirmed until electron microscopy studies in the 1950s). But if neurons don’t touch, then how do they form memories and exchange information? Cajal hypothesized that the vacant gaps between cells — what we now call synapses — were the secret sites of communication. What Joseph Conrad said about maps is also true of the brain: the most interesting places are the empty spaces, for they are what will change.
Cajal was right. Our memories exist as subtle shifts in the strength of synapses, which make it easier for neurons to communicate with one another. The end result is that when Proust tastes a madeleine, the neurons downstream of the cookie’s taste, the ones that code for Combray and Aunt Leonie, light up. The cells have become inextricably entwined; a memory has been made. While neuroscientists still don’t know how this happens (The likely suspects include an increased density of neurotransmitter receptors; a greater release of neurotransmitter with every excitatory event; some kind of retrograde messenger, like nitrous oxide; or some combination of the above.) they do know that the memory-making process needs new proteins. This makes sense; proteins are the bricks and mortar of life, and a remembrance requires some cellular structure. The moment in time is incorporated into the architecture of the brain.”
Moncrieff: Page 576 “Thus, day after day, these excursions in the motor-car followed one another.” through Page 589 “…they had shown a want of respect for himself.”
Sturrock: Page 413 “Thus did these excursions by motorcar follow one another daily.” through Page 421 “…that they were guilty of a breach of good manners vis-a-vis himself.”