Moncrieff: 50-83; Patterson: 32-55
by Dennis Abrams
Tall turbaned women and war-time charity, “These ladies in new-fangled hats were young women who had come one did not quite know from where and had been the flower of fashion, some for six months, others for two years, others for four.” The war causes rapid changes in society. “The ladies of the first Directory had a queen who was young and beautiful and was called Mme Tallien. Those of the second had two, who were old and ugly and were called Mme Verdurin and Mme Bontemps.” The Dreyfus Affair, and who was on which side, which had once seemed so important, is now forgotten, “In society (and this social phenomenon is merely a particular case of a much more general psychological law) novelties, whether blameworthy or not, excite horror only as long as they have not been assimilated and enveloped by reassuring currents. It was the same with Dreyfusism as with that marriage between Saint-Loup and the daughter of Odette which had at first produced such an outcry…The words Dreyfusard and anti-Dreyfusard no longer had any meaning then. But the very people who said this would have been dumbfounded and horrified if one had told them that probably in a few centuries, or perhaps even sooner, the word Boche would have only the curiosity value of such words as sans-culotte, chouan, and bleu.” Society pronouncements on the war. Mme Verdurins’ use of “we” and pleasure in saying “GHQ.” Mme Verdurin’s salon: “Come at 5 o’clock to talk about the war.” Morel is a deserter who had failed to rejoin his regiment, “but nobody knew this.” Andree’s husband Octave, “I’m a wash-out,” the one-time golf-playing friend of Albertine and her gang at Balbec, is now a star of the Verdurin salon, and “the author of remarkable works of art…” Octave’s illness, and unwillingness to waste his time except with “meetings with people whom he did not know, whom his ardent imagination represented to him doubtless as being possibly different from others.” Mme Verdurin’s failed attempts to get Odette to rejoin her salon. The hotel where the salon is held, the dining room. Aeroplanes overhead, blackouts at night. Thoughts of meeting Albertine in the darkness. “But alas, I was alone…” The darkened streets bring memories of Combray. Marcel’s 1914 visit to Paris: Saint-Loup, his recent return from Balbec, where he had “made unsuccessful advances to the manager of the restaurant,” the manager being the one-time waiter who had been “protected” in the past by Bloch’s uncle, “but wealth in his case had brought with it virtue and it was in vain that Saint-Loup had attempted to seduce him. Thus, by a law of compensation, while virtuous young men abandon themselves in their later years to the passions of which they have at length become conscious, promiscuous youths turn into men of principle from whom any Charlus who turns up too late on the strength of old stories will get an unpleasant rebuff. It is all a question of chronology.” Saint-Loup, fear, and his secret attempts to get sent to the front. Bloch’s false patriotism. Rumors of the Kaiser’s death. Bloch’s exasperation at hearing “Robert say: ‘the Emperor William.’ I believe that under the blade of the guillotine Saint-Loup and M. de Guermantes could not have spoken otherwise.” Saint-Loup’s good breeding “is a symptom of formidable mental shackles. The man who cannot throw them off can never be more than a man of the world.” Saint-Loup’s “moral delicacy which prevents people from expressing sentiments that lie too deep within them and that seem to them quite natural.” Saint-Loup’s courage, and his and other homosexual’s idea of virility: “M. de Charlus had detested effeminacy. Saint-Loup admired the courage of young men, the intoxication of cavalry charges, the intellectual and moral nobility of friendships between man and man, entirely pure friendships, in which each is prepared to sacrifice his life for the other…I admired Saint-Loup, for asking to be sent to the point of greatest danger, infinitely more than I do M. de Charlus for refusing to wear brightly coloured cravats.” The lift-boy and Saint-Loup.
An interesting section…one gets, I think, the impression that with the war, events are speeding up and change is much more rapid. It’s a very long way that we (and Marcel) have come from Combray, from the slow-moving countryside to Paris during the war, with darkness at night and planes overhead…
I just finished reading a fascinating book, The Delighted States: A Book of Novels, Romances and their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, & Accompanied by Maps…& a Variety of Helpful Indexes. (Highly recommended and on sale at amazon for $4.90 in hardcover.)
The book is a highly personal and idiosyncratic look at the ideas of literary influence and translation, making the argument that style is inherently translatable, “even if its translation is not perfect.” This section, regarding Proust and Kafka, while not directly connected to the weekend’s reading, was, I thought, fascinating:
“At this point, it is also important to rethink the idea of real life.
One morning, in Prague, in the twentieth century, a man called Joseph k wakes up to discover that his breakfast routine has been unaccountably altered. Instead of his landlady bringing him breakfast in bed, no breakfast appears: in his landlady’s place, two men who seem to be guards come into his room.
Joseph K., however, is quick to set things straight. He establishes friendly terms. ‘The strange thing is’, says Joseph K., chattily, ‘that when one wakes up in the morning, one generally finds things in the same places they were in the previous evening. And yet in sleep and in dreams one finds oneself, at least apparently, in a state fundamentally different from wakefulness, and upon opening one’s eyes an infinite presence of mind is required, or rather quickness of wit, in order to catch everything, so to speak, in the same place one left it the evening before.’
Or rather, this is what Joseph K said in the novel Der Prozess (The Trial) before it was deleted by Joseph K.’s creator, Franz Kafka.
The conversation between Joseph K and the guards who have come to take him away, in which K reports what someone once told him, that waking up is the ‘riskiest moment’, because after all, ‘if you can get through it without being dragged out of place, you can relax for the rest of the day’ — this conversation disappeared.
Unbeknown to him, Joseph K would soon have a friend in Paris, someone who thought in the same way he did.
At the beginning of the fourth volume of Marcel Proust’s novel A la recherche du demps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), the narrator, whose name is Marcel, rambles into a discussion of sleep. And Marcel is a connoisseur of sleep: he knows all about the precisions of bedtime. At one point, therefore, he begins to wonder about the phenomenon of the truly deep sleep, the leaden sleep. He tries to be true to its perhaps unnoticed surprise: How is it that after a deep sleep one becomes so effortlessly the person one was the night before? The self, thinks Marcel, should be seen for what it is: a perpetual surprise of continuity. ‘We call that a leaden sleep, and it seems as though, even for a few moments after such a sleep is ended, one has oneself become a simple figure of lead. One is no longer a person. How then, searching for one’s thoughts, one’s personality, as one searches for a lost object, does one recover one’s own self rather than any other? Why, when one begins to think, is it not a personality other than the previous one that becomes incarnate in one? One fails to see what dictates the choice, or why, among the millions of human beings one might be, it is on the being one was the day before that unerringly one lays one’s hand.’
The fourth installment of Proust’s novel was published on 17 August 1920. Kafka wrote The Trial in 1914. It was not published until 1925, the year after Kafka died. As far as I know, Kafka never read any or Proust’s novel. And Proust definitely cannot have read Kafka’s novel.
This European coincidence is, therefore, a coincidence. But the coincidence helps to prove a useful point.
There is not much difference between the first draft of Kafka’s story about Joseph K and Proust’s finished novel, narrated by Marcel, considering the nature of sleep, and self. The moment which institutes the difference is Kafka’s deletion in the second draft. His second draft is an entirely new way of writing fiction. Rather than speculating on the fact that falling asleep might be ontologically dangerous, Joseph K now wakes up into a world which is exactly like a dream. Like a dream, it does not feel like a dream at all.
Rather than explaining the oddity, the unreality, Kafka lets his characters act out unreal situations as if they are totally real.
In this way, Kafka invents a new use for everyday detail. He creates stories which are literally true, and yet which cannot be literally true. The subject is still real life; it is just a more unusual version than people had previously described. It gave a form to the confused, the miniscule, the contradictory.
The same subject, after all, is never the same subject. That is one consequence of the way in which style works. Going to sleep, and waking up, are infinite operations. They vary from person to person. Each description is unique, and irreplaceable.”
What do you think Proust would make of this coincidence? Or Marcel?
And again…please keep the suggestions coming for the next project…
Moncrieff: Pages 83-93 “And tell me about poor Francoise…” through “which he so looked forward to hearing after the war.” Kindle locations 1088-95/1218-25
Patterson: Pages 56-63 “Well now, what about poor Francoise…” through “…which he very much hoped to hear performed after the war.” Kindle locations 1139-46/1261-68