Moncrieff: 344-355; Patterson: 234-240
by Dennis Abrams
“…considering the length of time that had elapsed very much, that is to say her face was not too utterly demolished for the face of a human creature subject, as we all are, to deformation at every moment of her trajectory into the abyss towards which she had been launched…” “Life at such moments seems to us like a theatrical pageant in which from one act to another we see the baby turn into a youth and the youth into a mature man, who in the next act totters towards the grave…we feel that we ourselves must have followed the same law in virtue of which they have been so totally transformed that, without having ceased to exist, they no longer in any way resemble what we observed them to be in the past.” “…the patches of white in beards and moustaches hitherto entirely black lend a note of melancholy to the human landscape of the party, as do the first yellow leaves on the trees when one is still looking forward to a long summer…So that at last I…became aware as I had never been before…of the time which had passed for them, a notion which brought with it the overwhelming revelation that it had passed also for me. And their old age, in itself a matter of indifference to me, froze my blood by announcing to me the approach of mine own.” Words from the Duchesse de Guermantes, “Ah! how wonderful to see you, you, my oldest friend!” A nephew of the Prince: “You, as a veteran Parisian.” A note from Letourville, signed “With the respectful wishes of your young friend, Letourville,’ “Since the days of Doncieres, it seemed, it was not only military methods that had changed; from this M. de Letourville, with whom I imagined myself sharing the pleasures of a youthful comradeship — and why not, since I appeared to myself to be youthful? — I was separated, it seemed, by an arc traced by an invisible compass whose existence I had not suspected, which removed me so far from the boyish second lieutenant that in the eyes of this ‘young friend’ I was an old gentleman.” Bloch. Warnings of the flu, but “…it’s usually only the young who get it. A man of your age has very little to fear.” “…what one calls an earlier time is the period of which one has oneself known only the end: things that we see on the horizon assume a mysterious grandeur and seem to us to be closing over a world which we shall not behold again: but meanwhile we are advancing, and very soon it is we ourselves who are on the horizon for the generations that come after us; all the while the horizon retreats into the distance, and the world, which seemed to be finished, begins again.” “But then you know I’m no longer a chicken,” Marcel realizes that the Duchesse is an old woman. Pain on hearing “you are always the same, you never seem to change…you look as young as ever.” “For we failed to see our own appearance, our own age, but each one of us, as though it were a mirror that faced him, saw those of the others.” Old age is like death, “Some men confront them both with indifference,not because they have more courage, but because they have less imagination.” “I had made the discovery of this destructive action of Time at the very moment when I had conceived the ambition to make visible in a work of art, realities that were outside Time.” The replacement cells had brought about complete changes in the party guests. The moral cells “of which an individual is composed are more durable than the individual himself,” the Guermantes’s courage in Saint-Loup, Swann’s and Bloch’s Semitism. Gilberte de Saint-Loup. The meaning of old age and of death.
I have to repeat the last paragraph:
“And now I began to understand what old age was — old age, which perhaps of all the realities is the one of which we preserve for longest in our life a purely abstract conception, looking at calendars, dating our letters, seeing our friends marry and then in their turn the children of our friends, and yet, either from fear or from sloth, not understanding what all this means, until the day when we behold an unknown silhouette, like that of M. d’Argencourt, which teaches us that we are living in a new world; until the day when a grandson of a woman we once knew, a young man whom instinctively we treat as a contemporary of ours, smiles as though we were making fun of him because to him it seems that we are old enough to be his grandfather — and I began to understand too what death meant and love and the joys of the spiritual life, the usefulness of suffering, a vocation, etc. For if names had lost most of their individuality for me, words on the other hand now began to reveal their full significance. The beauty of images is situated in front of things, that of ideas behind them. So that the first sort of beauty ceases to astonish us as soon as we have reached the things themselves, but the second is something that we understand only when we have passed beyond them.”
Splendid. As if Proust hasn’t taught us enough already, he’s now going to teach us about growing old…
And I have to admit today’s reading struck home for me for a couple of reasons. It occurred to me that the modern-day equivalent of this final Guermantes party is…Facebook. I’ve been “friended” by people I haven’t seen in ages — a few of them since elementary school — so I too am getting the shock of going from the first act to the third (or late into the second depending on your point of view).
And there’s the fact that there’s still a large part of me that cannot (or will not) admit that I’m 50. I have a lot of friends who are younger, a few who are still in their twenties, and I sometimes have to remind myself that, as much as I might like to think that I am, I’m not their peer. And I sometimes find myself wondering exactly how they see me. (A very Proustian thing to think at any rate.)
Moncrieff: Pages 355-365 “The cruel discovery which I had just made…” through “the inspired air of a prophet.” Kindle locations 4550-57/4672-79
Patterson: Pages 240-248 “The cruel discovery which I had just made…” through “the inspired air of a prophet.” Kindle locations 4365-71/4498-4505