Moncrieff: 485-497; Clark: 332-341
by Dennis Abrams
The Fortuny gowns: “were those of which Elstir, when he told us about the magnificent garments of the women of Carpaccio’s and Titian’s day, had prophesied the imminent return, rising from their ashes, as magnificent as of old, for everything must return in time, as it is written beneath the vaults of St. Mark’s, and proclaimed, as they drink from the urns of marble and jasper of the Byzantine capitals, by the birds which symbolise at once death and ressurection.” Marcel’s plans to dress Albertine in Fortuny, and yet, “I noticed how weary and even sad she was looking.” Dressing Albertine in borrowed gowns until hers were completed. “…Albertine was far more than a prisoner than I…She was no longer the same Albertine, because she was not, as at Balbec, incessantly in flight upon her bicycle…she was no longer what at Balbec, even when I had succeeded in finding her, she used to be upon that beach, that fugitive, cautious, deceitful creature, whose presence was expanded by the thought of all those assignations which she was skilled in concealing…I had clipped her wings, and she had ceased to be a winged Victory and become a burdensome slave of whom I would have liked to rid myself.” To “change the course” of his thoughts, Marcel asks Albertine to “give [him] a little music.” Albertine as an angel musician. Because he feels it would be absurd to be jealous of Mlle Vinteuil and her friend, Marcel would ask Albertine to perform Vinteuil’s music. Albertine’s desire to meet Morel. Vinteuil’s phrases become clearer, “…they were like those people, antipathetic at first sight, whom we discover to be what they really are only after we have come to know them well…Moreover, the phrase evoking the joyful clanging of the bells at noon, which had seemed to me too unmelodious, too mechanical in its rhythm, had now become my favourite, either because I had grown accustomed to its ugliness or because I had discovered its beauty. This reaction from the disappointment which great works of art cause at first may in fact be attributed to a weakening of the initial impression or to the effort necessary to lay bare the truth…” The truth of Vinteuil’s music, “nothing resembled closely than some such phrase of Vinteuil the peculiar pleasure which I had felt at certain moments in my life, when gazing, for instance, at the steeples of Martinville, or at certain trees along a road near Balbec, or, more simply, at the beginning of this book, when I tasted a certain cup of tea.” The proof of genius is not in the content of the work, but in the “unknown quality of a unique world which no other composer had yet revealed,” a rule applicable to all the arts. The great men of letters had “never created more than a single work, or rather have never done more than refract through various media an identical beauty which they bring into the world.” Vinteuil’s phrases remind Marcel of his original “little phrase,” which he tells Albertine was “the national anthem of the love of Swann and Odette.” Albertine confesses that “she seemed to remember” that Gilberte took her home once and kissed her, which becomes “She took me home like that four or five times, perhaps more, and that’s all.”
Art, unique worlds, Fortuny gowns, and Albertine drops another bombshell.
1. I loved this:
“It seems that in our social life, a minor echo of what occurs in love, the best way to get oneself sought after is to withhold oneself. A man may think up everything that he can possibly cite to his credit, in order to find favour with a woman; he may wear different clothes every day, look after his appearance; yet she will not offer him a single one of the attentions and favours which he receives from another woman to whom, by being unfaithful to her, and in spite of his appearing before her ill-dressed and without any artifice to attract, he has endeared himself forever.”
And to continue from yesterday’s excerpt from Joshua Landry’s Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust, discussing Marcel’s ability to discover the truth about Albertine:
“What Albertine has to say about her own activities and tendencies is therefore, by Marcel’s own theoretical lights, doubly suspect. For one thing, no amount of accurate information conveyed ‘from mistress to lover’ can tell him what he really wants to know, namely what Albertine’s bisexual episodes (assuming there to have been some) have meant to her, what the experience has been like from within: “I would have liked to know not only with what woman she had spent that evening, but what special pleasure it represented to her, what was happening inside her at that moment.” While we need not conclude, as Gilles Deleuze does that Albertine’s essence is strictly reducible to her bisexuality — she is very much more than a sexual orientation, and every other law of her perspective is equally incommunicable in direct language — it remains clear nonetheless that her encounters with women from a particularly dramatic instance of the remoteness of her world, forcing Marcel to countenance a radical inaccessibility which in other situations he is able to ignore. He may for example imagine that he knows how she feels about him, but ‘this love between women was something too unfamiliar; there was nothing to enable me to form a precise and accurate idea of its pleasures, its quality….’
And for another thing, many of Albertine’s reports are straightforwardly false. That in itself might not matter were Marcel in a position to distinguish between the genuine from the counterfeit, to winnow out the fictions from among the facts. But in lieu of a lie-detecting agency all he has is an intellect, a faculty that places two or more claims (that Albertine was on intimate terms with Vinteuil’s daughter, for example, and that they barely knew each other) side by side and attempts, by so doing, to adjudicate between them. Now the intellect does perfectly well at making sense of disparate conceptual contents under ordinary circumstances — that, after all, is its job, a job which no other faculty can perform, so that to a certain extent the prosperity of an individual depends upon its proper functioning — but when the mental states of a fellow human being are its target, and when there is reason to wish that they are one way rather than another, then it is easily confused. For it is always possible to produce more than one reasonably plausible account incorporating two conflicting stories. The second might, for example, be an opportunity for its teller to come clean and recant an earlier deception; but what if it is the first version that is authentic, and the subsequent story simply a cover-up?”
And, now for something completely different…
Moncrieff: “It cost me a great effort not to play her with questions…” through “Was this the approach of death?” Pages 507-544; Kindle locations 6608-15/7082-89
Clark: “I had great difficulty in not asking her further questions…” through “Was I going to die?” Pages 348-373; Kindle locations 6478-84/6914-21
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.