Moncrieff: 292-322; Patterson: 197-220
by Dennis Abrams
“Even in those moments when we are the most disinterested spectators of nature, or of society or of love itself, since every impression is double and the one half which is sheathed in the object is prolonged in ourselves by another half which we alone can know, we speedily find means to neglect this second half, which is the one on which we ought to concentrate, and to pay attention only to the first half which, as it is external and therefore cannot be intimately explored, will occasion us no fatigue.” Celibates of Art! Meaningless ovations, “they feel to assimilate what is truly nourishing in art, they need artistic pleasures all the time, they are victims of a morbid hunger which is never satisfied.” Changes in literary fashion, literary criticism, the public. Readers are often reduced to “being no more than the full consciousness of another.” The life of art that is “true to life.” “Real life, life at last laid bare and illuminated — the only life in consequence which can be said to be really lived — is literature, and life thus defined is in a sense all the time immanent in ordinary men no less than in the artist. But most men don’t see it because they do not sek to shed light upon it. And therefore their past is like a photographic darkroom unencumbered with innumerable negatives which remain useless because the intellect has not developed them…the uniqueness of the fashion in which the world appears to each of us, a difference, which if there were no art, would remain for ever the secret of individual. Through art alone are we able to emerge from ourselves, to know what another person sees of a universe which is not the same as our own and of which, without art, the landscapes would remain as unknown to us as those that may exist in the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, wee see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists…” The courage of the artist, “the abrogation of one’s dearest illusions…” The importance of suffering. Symbols and restoring their meaning: “When we have arrived at reality, we must, to express it and preserve it, prevent the intrusion of all those extraneous elements which at every moment the gathered speed of habit lays at our feet.” “…real books should be the offering not of daylight and casual talk but of darkness and silence.” “I felt jostling each other within me a whole host of truths concerning human passions and character and conduct.” Not only was “the work of art…the sole means of rediscovering Lost Time…I understood that all these materials for a work of literature were simply my past life…and that I had stored them up without divining the purpose for which they were destined or even their continued existence even more than a seed does when it forms within itself a reserve of all the nutritious substances from which it will feed a plant.” “And thus my whole life up to the present day might and yet might not have been summed up under the title: A Vocation.” Creating a sketch book unawares, “there is not a single gesture of his characters,not a trick of behaviour, not a tone of voice which has not been supplied to his inspiration by his memory; beneath the name of every character of his invention he can put sixty names of characters that he has seen…” The artist observes. “The stupidest people, in their gestures, their remarks, the sentiments which they involuntarily express, manifest laws which they involuntarily express, manifest laws which they do not themselves perceive but which the artist surprises in them.” Marcel’s experience with Albertine: “I had had to resign myself to the thought that I could gain nothing more than the experience of what it is to suffer and to love, and even, at the beginning, to be happy.” The self-centeredness of the artist, his grandmother’s death, the lives of others used for Marcel’s own selfish purpose. “All those men and women who had revealed some truth to me and who were no no more, appeared again before me, and it seemed as though they had lived a life which had profited only myself, as though they had died for me.” “A book is a huge cemetery in which on the majority of the tombs the names are effaced and can no longer be read.” “…nothing has the power to survive unless it can become general…” “…the work is a promise of happiness, because it shows us that in every love the particular and the general lie side by side and it teaches us to pass from one to the other by a species of gymnastic which fortifies us against unhappiness by making us neglect its particular cause in order to gain a more profound understanding of its existence.” “…if unhappiness develops the forces of the mind, happiness alone is salutary to the body.” Giving up Elstir for Albertine: “A woman whom we need and who makes us suffer elicits from us a whole gamut of feelings far more profound and more vital than does a man of genius who interests us.” “As for happiness, that is really useful to us in one way only, by making unhappiness possible.” Many churches go into one. “For if art is long and life is short, we mayon the other hand say that, if inspiration is short, the sentiments which it has to portray are not of much longer duration.” The futility of critical essays which try to guess what an author is talking about. We are more faithful to ourselves than to the woman we have loved most. ” Ideas and grief. “The happy years are the lost, the wasted years, one must wait for suffering before one can work…And once one understands that suffering is the best thing that one can hope to encounter in life, one thinks without terror, and almost as of a deliverance, of death.” It is not always the case that “the writer plays with life and exploits other people for the purpose of his books.” Inversion and literature. “The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have perceived in himself.”
This section was, for me at least, breathtaking — we can literally watch as Marcel finds his vocation, and becomesthe Narrator…I’d say more, but Proust, as always says it best. Which is why in today’s synopsis I tried to give you how I read the section, what I took away from it, what goes into being a writer, what his role is, as well as what ours is as readers, but in Proust’s own words.
I do feel a need to comment on his remark that “The writer must not be indignant if the invert who reads his book gives to his heroines a masculine countenance. For only by the indulgence of this slightly aberrant peculiarity can the invert give to what he is is reading its full general import.” Is Proust once again ahead of us, ahead of his critics, saying that if you see my heroines in any way as “men,” you must be gay yourself? Hilarious.
I’m going to conclude with the beginning of a section of Jonah Lehrer’s Proust was a Neuroscientist, in which he discusses the science behind Proust’s analysis of unconscious memories and how they work:
“But how do these unconscious memories persist? And how do we remember them after they have already been forgotten? How does an entire novel, or six of them, just hide away in the brain, waiting patiently for a madeleine?
Until a few years ago, neuroscience had no explanation for Proust’s moments bienheureux (‘fortunate moments’) those shattering epiphanies when recollection appears like an apparition. The standard scientific model for memory revolved around enzymes and genes that required lots of reinforcement in order to be activated. The poor animals used for these experiments had to be trained again and again, their neurons bullied into altering their synaptic connections. Senseless repetition seemed to be the secret of memory.
Unfortunately for neuroscience, this isn’t the way most memories are made. When Proust remembers the madeleine in Swann’s Way, it wasn’t because he’d eaten lots of madeleines. In fact, the opposite was true. Proust’s memory is hauntingly specific and completely unexpected. His memory of Combray, cued by some chance crumbs, interrupts his life, intruding for no logical reason,’with no suggestion of its origin.’ Proust is shocked by his past.
These literary memories are precisely the sort of remembrances that the old scientific models couldn’t explain. Those models don’t seem to encapsulate the randomness and weirdness of the memory we live in. they don’t describe its totality, the way memories appear and disappear, the way they change and float, sink and swell. Our memories obsess us precisely because they disobey every logic, because we never know what we will retain and what we will forget.
But what makes science so wonderful is its propensity to fix itself. Like Proust, who was perfecting sentences until the printer set his type, scientists are never satisfied with their current version of things. In the latest draft of the science of memory, the theorizing has undergone a remarkable plot twist. Scientific rumors are emerging that may unlock the molecular details of how our memories endure even when we’ve forgotten about them.
This theory, publishing in 2003 in the journal Cell, remains controversial. Nevertheless, the elegance of its logic is tantalizing. Dr. Kausik Si, a former postdoc in the lab of Nobel laureate Eric Kandel, believes he has found the ‘synaptic mark’ of memory, the potent grain that persists in the far electrical reaches of neurons. The molecule he has discovered could well be the solution to Proust’s search for the origin of the past.
Si begins his scientific research by trying to answer the question posed by the madeleine. How do memories last? How do they escape the withering acids of time? After all, the cells of the brain, like all cells, are in constant flux. The average half-life of a brain protein is only fourteen days. Our hippocampal neurons die and are reborn, the mind is in a constant state of reincarnation. And yet Si knew that the past feels immutable. Si concluded that our memories must be made of a very strong material, something sturdier even than our cells.
But a neuronal memory cannot simply be strong: it must also be specific. While each neuron has only a single nucleus, it has a teeming mass of dendritic branches. These twigs wander off in every direction, connecting to other neurons at dendritic synapses (imagine two trees whose branches touch in a dense forest). it is at these tiny crossings that our memories are made; not in the trunk of the neuronal tree, but in its sprawling canopy.
How does a cell alter a remote part of itself? Si realized that none of the conventional models of memory could explain such a phenomenon. There must be something else, some unknown ingredient, which marked a specific branch as a memory. The million-dollar-question was, What molecule did the marking? What molecular secret lurked in our dendritic densities, silently waiting for a cookie?”
Moncrieff: Pages 322-332 “If I had always taken so great an interest in dreams…” through “…of the beauty of whom already we are no longer jealous and whom we no longer love.” Kindle locations: 4132-39/4252-58
Patterson: Pages 220-226 “If I had always been so interested in the dreams we have…” through “of the beautiful girl of whom already we are no longer jealous and whom we no longer love.” Kindle locations: 4012-19/4121-27