Friday, September 29, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 581

This love between women was something too unfamiliar; there was nothing to enable me to form a precise and accurate idea of its pleasures, its quality.  How many people, how many places (even places which did not concern her directly, vague haunts of pleasure where she might have enjoyed some pleasure, places where there are a great many people, where people brush against one) had Albertine - like a person who, shepherding all her escort, a whole crowd, past the barrier in front o f her, secures their admission to the theatre - from the threshold of my imagination or of memory, where I paid no attention to them, introduced into my heart! Now, the knowledge that I had of them was internal, immediate, spasmodic, painful.  Love is space and time made perceptible to the heart.
   And yet perhaps, had I myself been entirely faithful, I might not have suffered because of infidelities which I would have been incapable of conceiving; whereas what it tortured me to imagine in Albertine was my own perpetual desire to find favour with new women, to start up new romances, was to suppose her guilty of the glance which I had been unable to resist casting, the other day, even while I was by her side, at the young bicycles seated at tables in the Bois de Boulegne.  As there is no knowledge, one might almost say that there is no jealousy, save of oneself.  Observation counts for little.  It is only from the pleasure that we ourselves have felt that we derive knowledge and pain.
Marcel Proust, The Captive, pp. 392-393

One of my peculiarities - one of my many peculiarities - is my making my first year students read snippets of Remembrance of Things Past.  They never have to read a lot, maybe a paragraph or two - although, to be fair, with Proust that can still be a lot.  Mainly I restrict it to the section of the class when we're focusing on neuroscience and reading Linden's The Accidental Mind; I mean, there's a reason why people write books such as Proust was a Neuroscientist (which I support I should read someday). Beyond the fact that Remembrance of Things Past is beautiful and profound, I'm also trying to get them to read and think more deeply, and, well, after all, it's Proust.  I tie this passage to Linden's chapter on the brain and love and sex.  We read this passage in class and then I tell them to open up their copy of Linden and formulate a theory, using the appropriate conceptual tools, to explain his thoughts or actions; again, why students take me is beyond comprehension. I suspect this is just another occasion where I'm trying to challenge myself.  Doubtless I raised the idea at one point or another and someone, probably some Junior Faculty underling, answered that it was impossible, which is all the inspiration I needed.

Marcel can certainly be annoying, but you do have to give him some props in this section for admitting his own infidelities in this passage (although he hardly seems torn up over them or particularly guilt-stricken).  As he admits, "And yet perhaps, had I myself been entirely faithful, I might not have suffered because of infidelities which I would have been incapable of conceiving . . ." Essentially, he's saying that he wouldn't have admitted Albertine wanting to sleep with every woman she met, if he wasn't equally guilty of wanting to sleep with every woman he met.  Looks like we may be rereading this passage when we get to the Freudian defense mechanisms section of Hock's Forty Studies That Changed Psychology book.

After saying all that, the concept from this section that I like the best, and which is making my head hurt the most (like the Grinch, I puzzled and puzzled until my puzzler was sore) is this one: "Love is space and time made perceptible to the heart."  I would put money on the fact that this is going to be one of those which I'll revisit in the future, but at this point I would suggest that Proust was proposing that it is only when you are in love, and especially for the first time, that you actually notice the rest of the world.  This, I believe, is undeniably true, although, again, that may not be his point. Of course, when the relationship ends this turns back on itself savagely and the world disappears again and all you can see and feel and taste is your own agony.

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