August 9th, 2005

In Search of Future Timelessness

I'm finally doing what I've put off for far too long. I'm reading Proust. For years I've known that his prose would reverberate through me like the gong in a Zen monastery. But that knowledge inspired a measure of fear. Once I started, I might never stop. Would I ever be able to return to the life I had been leading beforehand? Would I come back to life period? I guess we're about to find out.

I'm alternating between the two translations of Swann's Way right now in order to get a better feel for the sentence structure and style of the original. While my friend and colleague Eric might shudder at that statement -- he rightly points out the paradoxical notion of the "original" -- it suits me to well too suppress. I'm not sure which one I like better. The classic C.K. Scott Moncrieff, modified by Terence Kilmartin, feels more balanced to me so far. But the new Lydia Davis version seems less soporific and more intellectually stimulating. Perhaps that's just because the larger font and more extensive white space in hers goes better with my line-ending dyslexia. Still, I'm glad to be alternating.

Last night, as I sat in the food court in Park Place Mall, waiting for tommix to join me for a 10:20pm screening of The Devil's Rejects -- fun, but so thoroughly filtered by Kim's excellent review that it didn't feel fresh enough -- I read in the Davis. "I'll be the one reading Proust," I told him on the phone. "Give me another distinguishing characteristic. That's not going to be much help in that environment," he replied, to my delight.

Later, as we were settling into our seats, I announced to him that I was perfectly positioned to be the next Proust. "He started the project in his mid-30s. Why can't I?" The thing is, even though I was going for maximum irony, there's a part of me that really does feel, reading him, that I'm reading the sentences inscribed in my mind, the ones I struggle to make less convoluted, less precious, less long before I make them public. I suppose any memoir-heavy blog has a Proustian dimension to it. But I also share his problem lungs. Perhaps some day scrapple will be slotted into the literary pantheon next to Marcel's madelines.
  • Current Music
    Irrlicht - Franz Schubert - Winterreise - Peter Schreier, tenor; Sviatoslav Richter, piano


Part of my reason for identifying so strongly with Proust, as some of you may have already concluded, is that the prospect of holing up in a cork-lined cell is looking pretty attractive of late. I keep telling folks that I'm all out of wit, that my words have become banal. But what I really mean is that I'm finding it hard to communicate with other living beings in the present. I'm not out of words. I'm out of words for others. Or at least out of words for others whose presence in my life exceeds the bounds of the category "reader." I'm happy to write for you. I love to hear back from you. I'm just not sure that I can communicate with you outside of this context. The humor-driven façade that I deploy to make casual interactions consistently "dealable" is under scaffolding and the contractors scheduled to do the renovations are too busy with commercial projects to begin work anytime soon.

Even domestic connections are taking place on noise-filled lines. Aside from a few friends who have recently ascended to the status of those whom I'm no longer too shy to call on the mobile phone, I'm increasingly speechless. The interesting thing is that this feeling is largely free of negative overtones. I'm not becoming a hater or anything. I merely prefer the past to the present. And that's what is making Swann's Way resonate so powerfully for me. Not to mention that, when I look at the book from a certain angle, I can see the oily residue of Walter Benjamin's fingertips all over the pages. While the image of his "historical angel" may have been inspired by Paul Klee's painting, the Haltung of that angel's body is straight out of Proust. Since my French will likely never be up to the task of reading the original -- or the "original," if you want to be post-structuralist about it -- I should probably track down Benjamin's German translation of Proust when the appropriate time comes.