by Dennis Abrams
I just want to say that I’m still astonished by the essay by Anne Garreta that I posted yesterday. The stilts…did anybody else make that connection? Reading that, and the instant flash of memory about the church at Balbec and the “of course!” that raced through my mind made me wonder…just how many other connections, repeated ideas and images am I missing? She’s the only person I’ve ever read who ever noted that connection…which gives an entirely new structure, a whole other way of looking at the books. Fascinating.
From The Proust Project, “It Was My Life, Was In Fact Me,” by Wyatt Mason
“How will it end?
Whether love, plunged into willingly, or life, thrust unwittingly upon us, nothing we begin evades the question very long. And it needn’t even be worded to be heard. Its empty echo is ever present, a creeping shadow, a kind of darkness through which we make our stumbling way.
Not, of course, that we believe in endings, however much we fear them, whether of life, or love, or books. For who believes in things we cannot imagine? Who believes the breath we draw will be withdrawn, the love we carry be lifted? And who — one innocent afternoon noodling in a library, or browsing in a bookstore, or reclining into a bedside evening, would suspect, while sounding the iambic heartbeat of Proust’s big book’s first word — Longtemps — who would supposed that the long march through time it untethers, the last word it promises, would ever really be within reach?
We can no more suppose, beginning the Search, that we will finish it than, while reaching its final pages, that we are truly ending it. For how can a novel that defies the novelistic at every wide, slow, creeping turn — that chuckles at pace, that laughs at chronology, that tests the best reader’s most patient attentions — a novel, in short and without argument, unlike any other, how can such a book even have an end?
What would it mean to say: ‘Today, I finished Proust’?
Who finished Proust?
For even if we do soldier across the continents of its richly remembered world, descending, as Marcel says, to a greater depth within myself; even if we plumb those depths in his tireless company; even if we do reach Proust’s big book’s small last word; we do not finish his book as we do others.
We finish The Great Gatsby. We finish The Good Soldier. We even finish Ulysses. We cannot help it: every page we read brings us nearer to the end. Not so in Proust.
In Proust, even as we move forward, we grow no closer to the end than we were at the beginning. This would be a paradox were our progress measured as it is in other books.
In Proust, as we quickly learn, although we move mechanically forward, we do so facing backward. On the hot backseat of the family car we kneel and stare, asleep-awake, out its rear window at the rippling distance that unfolds there to include everywhere we once were. Not in nearness to its end is our progress through Proust measured, but in our distance from its beginning:
‘In this vast dimension which I had not known myself to possess, the date on which I had heard the noise of the garden bell at Combray — that far-distant noise which nevertheless was within me — was a point from which I might start to make measurements.’
The sound of the bell was heard from what seemed a safe haven. The sound of the bell was heard, we recall, from bed. There in the childhood dark, a boy longed for a kiss, knew with animal assurance that, with the bell rung, a maternal embrace could be claimed. The march from bed begins the book just as the forward march backward leads us to its end, a place prolonged past measure.
And so, tucked back in, blankets to our chins, darkness kept behind us, the darkness that rests just beyond time, we, alone, in the dark, seek as the boy in his bed at the beginning did, the bright companionship of a book too mad to read.
Holding tightly to its edges, peering nightly at its pages, we see the darkness behind us take a human shape within us. The world is rendered blank again, as unblemished as the first day of creation. The black remains, of course, but now sown neatly into our welcoming field of white in page after page of tiny rows. And as we approach the destination for which they slowly prepare us, we may not be surprised to find one of our hands hiding the lines just past the ones we are reading, lest we be tempted to skip forward, get ahead of ourselves, jump to conclusions we aren’t ready for.
But, after all, truly for once after all, we are ready. Despite the fright of every other human end, we look forward to a book’s last word as we look forward to few last things. We love a book’s last word, this book’s last word, a word contained in its first. We love this book’s last word in equal measure and proportion to how we fear our last, forestalled, this time, in time, by Time.”
OK…so do we ever really finish reading Proust? What are your thoughts? And even more importantly…how many of you “finished” reading In Search of Lost Time? I really want to know. No need to write a long post, just a short “I did it” will do. Let me know!