Saturday, June 25, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 184

   "My longings were now once more at liberty to concentrate on one or another or Albertine's friends, and returned first of all to Andree, whose attentions might perhaps have touched me less had I not been certain that they would come to Albertine's ears.  Undoubtedly the preference that I had long pretended to feel for Andree had furnished me - in habits of conversation and declaration of affection - with, so ti speak, the material for a ready-made love for her which had hitherto lacked only the complement of a genuine feeling, which my heart, being once more free, was now in a position to supply.  But Andree was too intellectual, too neurotic, too sickly, too like myself for me really to love her.  If Albertine now seemed to me to be void of substance, Andree was filled with something which I knew only too well.  I had thought, that first day, that what I saw on the beach was the mistress of some racing cyclist, passionately interested in sport, and now Andree told me that if she had taken it up, it was on orders from her doctor, to cure her neurasthenia, her digestive troubles, but that her happiest hours were those which she spent translating one of George Eliot's novels.  My disappointment, due to an initial mistake as to what Andree was, had not, in fact, the slightest importance for me.  But the mistake was one of the kind which, if they allow love to be born and are not recognised as mistakes until it has ceased to be modifiable, become a cause of suffering.  Such mistakes - which may be quite different from mine with regard to Andree, and even its exact opposite, - are frequently due (and this was especially the case here) to the fact that people take on the aspect and the mannerisms of what they are not but would like to  be sufficiently to create an illusion at first sight.  To the outward appearance, affectation, imitation, the longing to be admired, whether by the good or by the wicked, add misleading similarities or speech and gesture.  There are cynicisms and cruelties which, when put to the test, prove no more genuine than certain apparent virtues and generosities.  Just as we often discover a vain miser beneath the cloak of a man famed for his charity, so her flaunting of vice leads us to suppose a Messalina a respectable girl with middle-class prejudices.  I had thought to find in Andree a healthy, primitive creature, whereas she was merely a person in search of health, as perhaps were many of those in whom she herself had thought to find it, and who were in reality no more healthy than a burly arthritic with a red face and in white flannels is necessarily a Hercules.  Now there are circumstances in which it is not immaterial to our happiness that the person we have loved for what appeared about her is in reality only one of those invalids who receive such health as they possess from others, as the planets borrow their light, as certain bodies are only conductors of electricity."
Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, pp. 1005-1006

The budding relationship between Proust and Albertine has broken off, and he has turned his attention, with little apparent enthusiasm, to her friend Andree.  It probably didn't help that Albertine had steered him in her direction.  In anger Albertine tells him, "Own up now, it's Andree you're in love with. Besides, you're quite right; she's ever so much nicer than I am, and absolutely ravishing!  Oh, you men!"  However, there's a problem: Andree and Proust are simply too much alike, or at least that is Proust's opinion.  "But Andree was too intellectual, too neurotic, too sickly, too like myself for me really to love her."  Sadly, I suspect he's probably correct.  One of the problems that I think plagued my relationship with my ex-wife was that we were, at least initially, simply too much alike.  I think we saw in each other the things we loved best about ourselves, and thus we mistook friendship for a passionate love. It's not that we didn't love each other, because we definitely did.  Because we were so similar we never created the apparatus within the relationship for us to not be the same person, if that makes any sense.  When we began to change - well, when I began to change pretty dramatically; and, as I've said, in the end it was my fault because I think I both changed the most and also did a poor job expressing how I was changing and what I needed - we didn't know how to handle suddenly being so different.  It had never been part of the relationship.

To be fair, maybe there is nothing that can be done to figure out relationships.  In a couple much later relationships I can remember making the point that we didn't really have much in common.  The point was not critical, but rather as part of conversations about seemingly odd couples I proposed that it didn't really matter because we didn't have anything in common.  In both instances the women seemed utterly stunned, not simply that I had said it, but, that it was actually completely true.  Which, of course, beings up the question of perception once again: in what ways did you think that we had something in common?  The relationship I had with the lovely young British woman was, on the surface, the most illogical relationship, but in regard to day to day life, it was probably the most logical, natural relationship I've ever had.  We got along so famously every day, and thus in the light of a lived relationship we seemed to have everything in common; and, I would argue, probably the only kind of "in common" that matters.  It was only when you took a step back and looked at it analytically that you realized that we had nothing in common.  Once again, this is why the brain is consistently our most bitter enemy.

Discography - Week 10

We're back on track this week after our first, and I think successful, thematic week.  We're due for another one in Week 17 which has already been agreed to based on secret negotiations and a binding oath between the excellent Gary Beatrice and myself.  Until that point we'll be following our usual beautifully anarchic path of proposing whatever pops into our fevered brains.

Dave Wallace

Tom Petty, American Girl

Counting Crows, American Girls

Doubling up this week!  Two different songs with almost the exact same titles, and I love both of them.  Petty's first great song (although it arguably shares that distinction withBreakdown, also off his first album), American Girl serves as a great introduction to the early Petty sound.  Chiming guitars, background vocals evoking the Byrds, sneaky bassline, and a great solo from the perpetually underrated Mike Campbell.  I had a huge crush on an "American girl" one summer when I was a teenager, and I essentially listened to this song non-stop,

So, a couple of decades later, the Counting Crows have the nerve to write a song with essentially the same title as this rock classic.  I should have been outraged, right?  And I would have been, except that American Girls is terrific.  I'm not a huge Counting Crows fan, but this song is awesome. Ultimately as unattainable as Petty's American Girl, the object of Adam Duritz's affection makes him feel great but gets away (maybe because he didn't treat her so well!). Fantastic backing vocals by Sheryl Crow.  And the repeated "Oh, oh, oh, oh" chant at the end is amazing.

Gary Beatrice

X, The Have Nots

Dave Wallace has exceptional musical taste and he has turned me on to a ton of great music. We don't often disagree about music, but we disagree about X.

X was the third best band of the punk era behind only The Clash and The Ramones. Not only were they criminally underrated as a punk band, they remain one of the great underrated American bands of any genre. Four of their first five albums are well worth listening to, but I'd refer the uninitiated to their great two disk compilation Back to the Base.

What makes X so compelling is not just John Doe's songwriting, and the way he and Exene Cervenka traded vocals in such an unorthodox but hypnotic manner, but the tight, driving rhythm section with Doe on base and Bonebreaker on drums, and Billy Zoom's driving guitar work. Back to the Base includes an instrumental version of The Hungry Wolf and it is as powerful a rock anthem as you will hear, even without the great vocals and lyrics that the more well known version of the song features.

"The Have Nots" captures X with one of their best performances and also at a lyrical peak, emphasizing two of their common themes: the plight of the working poor (This is the game that moves as you play) and the Los Angeles music scene. Rock 'n' roll at its finest.

Miranda Tavares

Bottle Rockets, Smokin’ 100’s Alone

This was the first Bottle Rockets song I ever heard, and it caused an immediate obsession. This song is not really representative of their sound, and I truly love their sound, but this song is still my favorite. Is it because it is about a girl bereft, and I, too, have felt the pain of a girl bereft? Possibly, but that doesn’t feel right. Is it because the subject of the song is regretting making a hard, healthy decision, and is debating doing the easy, self-destructive thing by taking it back, and come on, who can’t relate to that? No, still not resonating. Is it, as my husband says, because I am from Cleveland, and a lyric contains the Cleveland-esque unnecessary preposition at the end of a sentence (“where’s he at?”)? No. 

It’s the guitar. That easy strum, followed by the rolling, melodic plucking after each line that makes you look up from whatever you’re doing in piqued interest and vague recognition, similar to a dog’s head tilting at the sound of his master’s voice. That guitar that feels like a stroke of your hair followed by an absent-minded, affectionate drumming of fingers by your spouse on the tender part of your neck. The guitar that’s akin to settling into bed, taking a deep breath, and letting out all of the frustrations of the day on exhale. 

The lyrics are good, but forget them. The vocals are solid, but who cares. If you need some chill time, you have two choices: fold yourself into the lotus position while trying to look at the tip of your nose, or throw on this song and let the guitar heal you from the inside out.

Nate Bell

Little Richard, Long Tall Sally

I was recently reading 11/22/63, and with Stephen’s King’s love of 50’s music, I couldn’t help but muse on it, and think about the very earliest roots of rock and roll, when things were simpler and tamer…perhaps.  I was also thinking a fair bit about Prince, and the many tributes we have heard from him, on this blog, and elsewhere.  Which made it dawn on me how incredible and revolutionary Little Richard has been.

Think about it, this is the very first struggling of rock and roll as an emerging music form.  We talk recently about how revolutionary, genre- and even gender-bending Prince was.  But the man can’t hold a candle to Little Richard.

I was re-listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and the ilk, hearing the lyrics, listening carefully to the music.  And then there was Little Richard.  When you hear Long Tall Sally, the tempo is intensely fast, the piano out-Balls of Fire-s Jerry Lee, the vocals are LOUD, and a little harsh, the sound is raw.  AND - a big AND - those lyrics are raw, bawdy and very dirty---incredibly so for the mainstream of the early 50s.  Here was the true pioneer of rock and roll, more than Elvis with his “racy” dancing, and louder, more graphic, and more, well, Rock and roll than any of his contemporaries.  Long Tall Sally is still a classic that many people play, and it stands up to the test of time.  It is bold, loud, fast, fun and it ROCKS. Which still strikes me with the thought that this was one of the *first* songs that “rocked”.  And it’s sung by a gay/bisexual black man telling a story of the “other woman” someone’s uncle went  to, to step out on his aunt.  It doesn’t get much more Rock and Roll than that.  And all this was coming from an Omni sexual, makeup-wearing black man, in the South.  But even Jim Crow was tapping his foot along to Little Richard.  I don’t think Rock and Roll has had such a true innovative, audacious musician and personality either before or since.  

Cyndi Brandenburg

Ani DiFranco, Hour Follows Hour 

This is officially the first week of summer, and the gloriously boring monotony of summertime days has started to kick in.  Each hour follows hour more like a trickle than the usual rushing flood, which for some of us means that along with extra time on our hands, there’s extra space in our minds.   This is not necessarily a good thing because it invites the sort of wistfully bittersweet self-indulgent reflection that we’ve all engaged in at one point or another.  You know the kind…. An authentic appreciation for all that we have in this life, coupled with a critical look at all that we’ve done, all that we’ve been, and all that we so desperately still hope to achieve. 

Hour Follows Hour is the perfectly-paced sound track for this kind of thinking.   It carries classically Ani themes:  time, water, gravity, imperfection, love, etc., etc., etc.  But in opposition to the Garden of Simple where “you were never anything but beautiful to me,” she challenges us to come to terms with the irrational complexity of our emotions and behaviors.   “Why do you try to hold on to what you’ll never get a hold on? You wouldn’t try to put the ocean in a paper cup.”

In reality, our lives are just one big stretch, and “we can only hold so much is what I can figure.  Try and keep our eye on the big picture, but the picture keeps getting bigger.”   Despite references to “blame” and “bad things,” this one is not about the kind of recklessness she captures in her song Shameless, but rather how we can reconcile the unexpected irregularities and inconsistencies of our lives into something meaningful over the long run--and ultimately (hopefully), come to the same conclusion that she did.   

Dave Kelley

   My parents were older when they had me and had no interest in rock music.  They did not disapprove, it just was not on their radar.  I grew up in a home with big band music, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, and Nat King Cole dominating the record player.  Hell, the Ray Conniff Orchestra was much bigger than The Beatles at 1010 Winding Way.  I was the oldest, so I had no big brother or sister to get me into rock music at an early age.  There I was, bereft of musical taste or knowledge, wondering the hard streets of Kenton Hills humming Captain and Tenille songs, not even aware of the dream to rock and roll all night and party everyday, until.......

     In high school, there were a few guys, Dave Wallace amongst them, that were Who fanatics.  I fell hook, line and sinker.  The first record I ever bought was Who's Next.  I listened to it non-stop and anxiously awaited the opportunity to be the only one home so I could play it at top volume.  As a boring old fart now, there is simply no way any record could ever hit me that hard again.  At one point when I was around 20, my entire record collection consisted of every official Who release, several bootlegs by the band, solo records from Townshend and Daltrey, and Darkness on the Edge of Town.  I am happy that my taste has become slightly more eclectic, but The Who will always be that first band that just blew my mind.  

My selection this week just happens to be another cover.  The live version of "Young Man Blues".  Originally written by the jazz guitarist Mose Allison, The Who transformed it into a hard rock, bordering on metal, anthem.  The playing on it is other worldly.  Keith Moon was simply the most amazing, energetic, and inventive drummer ever.  On the video which is attached, pay attention to how it is the drummer and not the singer or lead guitarist who just dominates the performance.  He and Townshend are completely locked into each other.  I love the bit where Moon tries to bounce his stick off of the drum and catch it in the air.  He misses, gives a big "well I fucked that up" grin, grabs another stick and resumes playing.  The bass is just amazing as well.  Entwhistle was the only member of the band to just stand there and play, but damn he produced a lot of sound out of that bass.  Daltrey does his early seventies cock rock strutting and screaming while Townshend does his usual combination of rhythm and lead guitar.  I highly recommend picking up the extended version of the Live at Leeds disc to see just how many fantastic sounds can be produced by just three instrumentalists.    

Mike Kelly

Jason Molina, O Grace

Stupid me for not recognizing how good Jason Molina was until after he drank himself to death a couple years ago.  Lucky me for figuring it in time.   

I chose "O Grace" out of everything in the Jason Molina catalogue for a couple reasons.  First, the dude can bust out a simile (I'm still as lonesome as the world's first ghost).  That line is a cigarette burn to the aorta and only those who feel nothing could argue this point.   

But the second and more interesting reason is that this song can be read in two ways depending on how the listener wants to hear it.   At once, this "long way between horizons" can be interpreted as the futile search for something you're never going to find, or it's a reminder to celebrate just how expansive life's possibilities are in between the time you're born and the time you die.   

If read the first way, it is assumed there is a single storyteller lamenting how everything is going, but if you're feeling hopeful, the song is a dialogue between two people and she's telling him to buck up when she scolds, "Oh boy, if you stop believing/that don't mean that it just goes away."  Depending on the day, there's enough ambiguity to go around.   

Either way, it's beautiful.  

Gary Scudder

Neil Young, Like Hurricane

I'm going to show a complete lack of originality and creativity this week and just stick with one of my all-time favorite songs, Young's Like a Hurricane.  Beyond a marked genetic proclivity, this song is the main culprit in my deafness today.  While there were Young songs that I came to earlier in my life (I still can't listen to Helpless without getting emotional), this song was the first one I ever felt. And by felt I mean not only emotionally, as I had with Helpless, but also physically, the way I guess you do with all music but I would argue is especially true with rock (later when I had more experience with women I think I unconsciously retrofitted Cowgirl in the Sand for the same purpose). I included the main link to the version from the Live Rust album, but every one of them, ten thousand listens in, still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck: the original from American Stars and Bars, the version from the Rust Never Sleeps movie, this odd one from the early 80s in Berlin (maybe his most energetic performance), and even this MTV Unplugged version played on the pipe organ.  I chose the Live Rust version for a couple reasons.  First off, it may be my favorite version, but it also reminds me of my senior year in college when a couple of the underclassmen used to wait patiently in my room and when they saw me walking across campus after my last class on Friday they would put my speakers in the window and play this version much too loudly, which marked the official beginning of the weekend (why the junior faculty don't do that now is beyond me).  It's the version I want played at the end of my funeral.  Now, why did the song speak to me so powerfully and intimately?  I think I reverse engineered it a bit.  I've always felt that way too many people have responded to me very negatively.  To be fair, I've brought a lot of it on myself through my general petulance and bouts of my famous temper and oftentimes snarky sense of humor, but also because of the performance piece that is SCUDDER (as compared to gary scudder, the painfully shy kid from southern Indiana with crooked teeth, a speech impediment and not much intellectual self-confidence, who constructed SCUDDER to hide behind).  I've always felt that I was a pretty calm, grounded and even oddly kind person, the metaphorical eye of the hurricane, but people just saw the gale force winds.  Even today if I'm at the gym and I'm getting ready to lift too much weight on the bench press (because, well, I may be a fifty-six year old male, but I'm still a male, and there might be girls around; we can laugh, but I have dropped the weights on my chest and pinned myself to the bench, brilliantly) I stop and play this version, again way too loudly, with the classic teenage belief that it will somehow give me superhuman strength.

Friday, June 24, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 183

   "I had supposed that my love for Albertine was not based on the hope of carnal possession.  And yet, when the lesson to be drawn from my experience that evening was, apparently, that such possession was impossible; when, after having had no doubt, that first day on the beach, that Albertine was licentious, and having passed through various intermediate assumptions, it seemed to me to be established that she was absolutely virtuous; when on her return from her aunt's a week later, she greeted me coldly with: 'I forgive you; in fact I'm sorry to have upset you, but you must never do it again,' - then in contrast to what I had felt on learning from Block that one could have all the women one wanted, and as if, instead of a real girl, I had known a wax doll, my desire to penetrate into her life, to follow her through the places in which she had spent her childhood, to be initiated by her into the sporting life, gradually detaching itself from her; my intellectual curiosity as to thoughts on this subject or that did not survive my belief that I might kiss her if I chose.  My dreams abandoned her as soon as they ceased to be nourished by the hope of a possession of which I had supposed them to be independent."
Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, pp. 996-997

Fallout from the ill-timed kiss of Albertine the night she spent in Proust's hotel.  I'm including this section partially because it provides useful background information on her and their relationship, but also because it raises interesting questions.  Mainly, I think it begs the question of whether you can have love without desire, at least at the beginning of a relationship?  Clearly, there is that sad point in most relationships where desire seems to dry up completely and both sides agree to the new normal.  However, by then you have a life time of memories and compromises to "justify" that decision.  No matter what your relationship turns into I would argue that it starts off based on desire.  You never look at that woman across the crowded room and think, "I really want to co-sign a mortgage we can't possibly afford with her."  It always starts with desire.

I was also amused by Proust's discussion of having a wax doll instead of a real girl, and not simply because of his choice of words in describing his desire to "penetrate" into her life.  It obviously reminded me of the scene in Lars and the Real Girl (a grossly underrated movie) where Lars introduces Bianca to his brother and sister-in-law.  The thing is, going back to the paragraph above, desire is easy, love is hard - so maybe Lars had the right idea.  Having said that, he eventually "decides" to kill off Bianca and found a true relationship with a real girl, so maybe there's hope for us all.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 182

   "I found Albertine in bed.  Leaving her throat bare, her white nightdress altered the proportions of her face, which, flushed by being in bed or by her cold or by dinner, seemed pinker; I thought of the colours I had had beside made a few hours earlier on the front, the savour of which I was now at last to taste; her cheek was traversed by one of those long, dark, curling tresses which, to please me, she had undone altogether.  She looked at me and smiled.  Beyond her, through the window, the vfalley lay bright beneath the moon.  The sight of Albertine's bare throat, of those flushed cheeks, had so intoxicated me (that is to say had so shifted the reality of the world for me away from nature into the torrent of my sensations which I could scarcely contain), that it had destroyed the equilibrium between the immense and indestructible life which circulated in my being and the life of the universe, so puny in comparison.  The sea, which was visible through the window as well as the valley, the swelling breasts of the first of the Maineville cliffs, the sky in which the moon had not yet climbed to the zenith- all this seemed less than a featherweight on my eyeballs, which between their lids I could feel dilated, resistant, ready to bear far great burdens, all the mountains of the world, upon their fragile surface.  Their orb no longer found even the sphere of the horizon adequate to fill it.  And all the life-giving energy that nature could have brought me would have seemed to me all too meagre, the breathing of the sea all too short to express the immense aspiration that was swelling my breast.  I bent over Albertine to kiss her.  Death might have struck me down in that moment and it would have seemed to me a trivial, or rather an impossible thing, for life was not outside me but in me; I should have smiled pityingly had a philosopher then expressed the idea that some day, even some distant day, I should have to die, that the eternal force of nature would survive me, the forces of that nature beneath whose godlike feet I was no more than a grain of sand; that, after me, there would still remain those rounded, swelling cliffs, that sea, that moonlight and that sky! How could it have been possible; how could the world have lasted longer than myself, since I was not lost in its vastness, since it was the world that was enclosed in me, in me whom it fell far short of filling, in me who, feeling that there was room to store so many other treasures, flung sky and sea and cliffs contemptuously into a corner. 'Stop it or I'll ring the bell!' cried Albertine, seeing that I was flinging myself up her to kiss her. But I told myself that not for nothing does a girl invite a young man to her room in secret, arranging that her aunt should not know and that boldness, moreover, rewards those who know how to seize their opportunities; in the state of exaltation in which I was, Albertine's round face, lit by an inner flame as by a night-light, stood out in such relief that, imitating the rotation of a blowing sphere, it seems to me to be turning, like those Michelangelo figures which are being swept away in a stationary and vertiginous whirlwind.  I was about to discover the fragrance, the flavour which this strange pink fruit concealed.  I heard a sound, abrupt, prolonged and shrill.  Albertine had pulled the bell with all her might."
Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, pp. 995-996

Through a series of maneuverings Albertine arranges to spend the night at Proust's hotel, and then invites him to visit her room.  As he recalls, "What was going to happen that even, I scarcely knew.  In any event, the Grand Hotel and the evening no longer seemed empty to me; they contained my happiness."  In this beautifully written section Proust deftly balances out the worlds of love and carnality and expresses his urgent and confused emotions. "The sight of Albertine's bare throat, of those flushed cheeks, had so intoxicated me (that is to say had so shifted the reality of the world for me away from nature into the torrent of my sensations which I could scarcely contain), that it had destroyed the equilibrium between the immense and indestructible life which circulated in my being and the life of the universe, so puny in comparison."

I've been lucky/unlucky enough to have been in love several times in my life, so I can completely sympathize with Proust's exaltation and disappointment.  He writes, "How could it have been possible; how could the world have lasted longer than myself, since I was not lost in its vastness, since it was the world that was enclosed in me, in me whom it fell far short of filling, in me who, feeling that there was room to store so many other treasures, flung sky and sea and cliffs contemptuously into a corner."  What's that line from Hamlet, "I could be bound in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."  In this case "infinite space" is bound inside of Proust.  I've felt some measure of this several times, although, typically, I think I felt it most acutely the first time I felt in love.  I was twenty and she was twenty-four, and the entire world was a droplet inside of me, but I was a droplet inside of her.  Not surprisingly, this entire experience reminds me of some of the songs on Neil Young's first album, which beautifully express the fragile emotion and tangible pain of love: If I Could Have Her Tonight, I've Been Waiting for You, What Did You Do to My Life? and I've Loved Her So Long.  Young had just "broken up" with Buffalo Springfield, so maybe there's some symmetry here - or maybe I was just listening to the album a lot during that moment (which seems pretty likely) and it's just imprinted on my heart and mind. Beyond the Proustian implications, it is a criminally overlooked album, and if not for the dreadful Last Trip to Tulsa it would be one of his best.

Note to self: use the descriptor "vertiginous whirlwind" more often.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 181

"My room seemed to me to have become suddenly a new place.  Of course, for a long time past, it had not been the hostile room of my first night in it.  All our lives, we go on patiently modifying the surroundings in which we live; and gradually, as habit dispenses us from feeling them, we suppress the noxious elements of colour, shape and smell which objectified our uneasiness.  Nor was it any longer the room, still with sufficient power over my sensibility, not certainly to make me suffer, but to give me joy, the well of summer days, like a marble basin in which, half way up its polished sides, they mirrored an azure surface steeped in light over which glided for an instant, impalpable and white as a wave of heat, the fleeting reflection of a cloud; nor the purely aesthetic room of the pictorial evening hours; it was the room in which I had been now for so many days that I no longer saw it.  And now I was beginning again to open my eyes to it, but this time from the selfish angle which is that of love.  I liked to feel that the fine slanting mirror, the handsome glass-fronted bookcases, would give Albertine, if she came to see me, a good impression of me.  Instead of a place of transit in which I would stay for a few minutes before escaping to the beach or to Rivebelle, my room became real and dear to me again, fashioned itself anew, for I looked at and appreciated each article of its furniture with the eyes of Albertine."
Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, pp. 987-988

Initially I included this section because it is another example of Proust's almost unmatched ability to recreate a scene, both through his powers of observation and mastery of imagination and language.  It also brings back a bit of a melancholy memory, which I guess is perfectly for a pretty dreary summer Vermont day.  A few days ago I posted a picture, borrowed from Google Earth, of Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, where I spent a year while on sabbatical.  I lived in a hotel, which should have been the very definition of the "place of transit," except, like Proust, I fell in love there and then it became home.  Instead of a place where I would either retreat from the world - or spend as few minutes in as possible because it emphasized my loneliness - it became a place that will always have a place in my heart.  However, there is also the tyranny of time and place, as we were essentially bound within the confines of that world and faced too many demons, both real and imagined, to try and exist together in a wider world. Or, as Proust reminds us, "In a world thronged with monsters and gods, we know little peace of mind." So, in our little contained universe we knew no monsters and gods, and thus we had plenty of peace of mind.  However, in the end those same monsters and gods that plague us so horribly also allow us to grow and come to terms with the world.  Maybe we just needed to more deliberately face them.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 180

   "We went back to the wood to pick up the other girls and go home together.  I knew now that I was in love with Albertine; but, alas! I did not care to let her know it.  This was because, since the days of the games with Gilberte in the Champs-Elysees, my concept of love had become different, even if the persons who whom my love was successively assigned remained almost identical.  For one thing, the avowal, the declaration of my passion to her whom I loved no longer seemed to be one of the vital and necessary stages of love, nor love itself an external reality, but simply a subjective pleasure.  And I felt that Albertine would do what was necessary to sustain that pleasure all the more readily if she did not know that I was experiencing it."
Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, p. 987

So out of the troop Proust has determined that he actually does love Albertine, which we need to know because it sets up so much of the rest of the novel.  Classically, and probably wisely, he decides not to tell her because she would lose interest in him.  This has sadly been my experience more than once with women who desperately wanted me to tell them that I loved them, only to tire of the new reality once I had made that leap.  However, we've discussed this painful topic endlessly so let's let it die a quiet death.

Of more interest is Proust's own personal reasons for not saying it.  "For one thing, the avowal, the declaration of my passion to her whom I loved no longer seemed to be one of the vital and necessary stages of love, nor love itself as an external reality, but simply a subjective pleasure."  Before leaving the dying patient, maybe this helps make sense of my previous paragraph.  While I tend to groan when someone makes a distinction between loving someone and being in love, I do think there is a difference between being in love and focusing on love as a "subjective pleasure."  While a woman may tire of love, there's a much greater chance that she'll tire of a "subjective pleasure."

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 179

   "But to a great extent our astonishment springs from the fact that the person presents to us also a face that is the same as before.  It would require so immense an effort to reconstruct everything that has been imparted to us by things other than ourselves - were it only the taste of a fruit - that no sooner is the impression received that we begin imperceptibly to descend the slope of memory and, without realising it, in a very short time we have come a long way from what we actually felt.  So that every fresh glimpse is a sort of rectification, which brings us back to what we in fact saw.  Already we no longer had any recollection of it, to such an extent does what we call remembering a person consist really in forgetting him. But as long as we can still see, as soon as the forgotten feature appears we recognise it, we are obliged to correct the straying line, and thus the perpetual and fruitful surprise which made so salutary and invigorating for me those daily outings with the charming damsels of the sea short consisted fully as much in recognision as in discovery.  When there is added to this the agitation aroused by what these girls were to me, which was never quite what I had supposed, and meant that my expectancy of our next meeting resembled not so much my expectancy the time before as the still throbbing memory of our last encounter, it will be realised that each of our excursions brought about a violent change in the course of my thoughts and not at all in the direction which, in the solitude of my own room, I had traced for them at my leisure.  That plotted course was forgotten, had ceased to exist, when I returned home buzzing like a beehive with remarks which had disturbed me and were still echoing in my brain.  Every person is destroyed when we cease to see him; after which his next appearance is a new creation, different from that which immediately preceded it, if not from them all.  For the minimum variation that is to be found in these creations is twofold.  Remembering a strong and searching glance, a bold manner, it is inevitably, next time, by an almost languid profile, a sort of dreamy gentleness, overlooked by us in our previous impression, that at the next encounter we shall be astonished, that is to say almost uniquely struck.  In confronting our memory with the new reality it is this that will mark the extent of our disappointment or surprise, will appear to us like a revised version of the reality by notifying us that we had not remembered correctly."
Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, pp. 978-979

Remember (no pun intended) a few posts ago when I was lamenting how I wasn't as blown away by the end of Within a Budding Grove as I had been by earlier sections of Remembrance of Things Past?  Well, this current section has rectified that problem because it is wonderful. Two short passages really jumped out to me:

"So that every fresh glimpse is a sort of rectification, which brings us back to what we in fact saw.  Already we no longer had any recollection of it, to such an extent does what we call remembering a person consist really in forgetting him."

"Every person is destroyed when we cease to see him; after which his next appearance is a new creation, different from that which immediately preceded it, if not from them all."

Do we in fact actually destroy someone as soon as we cease to see them?  As we've discussed previously, neuroscience and especially psychology seems to tell us that there are no pristine original memories.  Our memories actually only go back as far as the last time they were recalled, and doubtless every time they're accessed they're modified before being stored away again.    So I guess our original memory of the person was, by definition, destroyed a long time ago.  However, if reality is only perception, then shouldn't that person actually be more real resting comfortably in our imagination?  I guess I would have no, and thus agree with Proust, because our perception of that person, and thus our reality, is different every day, so we really are destroying that version of the person when we cease to see him.  Our memory of even that perceived version of the person is different than what we felt when they were standing right in front of us, and it will be different again once we see them again, so for all intents and purposes that person is destroyed.

I know this is not what Proust had in mind, but I can't stop reflecting back on a line from the Bhagavad Gita: "The wise grieve neither for the living nor the dead. There was never a time when you and I and all the kings gathered here have not existed and nor will there be a time when we cease to exist."