Friday, May 11, 2007

How does he do it?

I have been very bad about reading over the past few weeks--please forgive me. I have recently been embroiled in a local squabble and, being conflict-phobic, have been unable to concentrate on anything of any density including the black hole that is Swann's Way until the squabble was resolved. Now that I am no longer perseverating on the stupidity of our local leaders, I have settled down four nights in a row and read. What a treat. It's like getting a brain massage.

I have always been the kind of reader who doesn't crease the spine of a book--no underlining or page folding, a real paperback Nazi. And yet here I am with dozens of dog ears, paragraphs highlighted, exclamation points and astericks in the margins of Swann's Way because I am shocked to see my own personal thoughts descibed so vividly. These are thoughts that I have always chalked up to my own eccentricities, tricks of the mind and body that are mine alone because they can never be truthfully rendered through language, and yet page after page, I am astonished to discover that I am not alone inside my skin, but that my experience is the same as a man who died nearly a hundred years ago who spoke a different language and lived in an entirely different world than mine. There is something that connects us all, isn't there?

Here are a few of my favorites:

"And then my thoughts, too, formed a similar sort of recess, in the depths of which I felt that I could bury myself and remain invisible even while I looked at what went on outside. When I saw an external object, my consciousness that I was seeing it would remain between me and it, surrounding it with a thin spiritual border that prevented me from ever touching the substance directly; for it would somehow evaporate before I could make contact with it, just as an incandescent body that is brought into proximity with something wet never actually touches its moisture, since it is always preceded by a zone of evaporation."

"For even if we have the sensation of being always enveloped in, surrounded by our own soul, still it does not seem a fixed and immovable prison; rather do we seem to be borne away with it, and perpetually struggling to transcend it, to break out into the world, with a perpetual discouragement as we hear endlessly all around us that unvarying sound which is not an echo from without, but the resonance of a vibration from within."

"Sometimes it would even happen that this precocious hour would sound two strokes more than the last; there must have been an hour which I had not heard strike; something that had taken place had not taken place for me; the fascination of my book, a magic potent as the deepest slumber, had deceived my enchanted ears and had obliterated the sound of that golden bell from the azure surface of the enveloping silence."

As someone who is learning to write, I have been trying to analyze Proust's technique. How is he able to capture an image, a feeling, a moment so precisely with nothing more than words, translated words, at that? One thought I have had is his sentence structure has a lot to do with the power of his descriptions. His famously long sentences allow him to pick a thing apart and hold its elements to the light, all while keeping that tension of an unfinished sentence as the forward momentum. The many clauses also serve, I think, to further fine tune the point he is making or the description so the reader is left with a crystal clear image. However, this style is so different from the way most modern books are written, I wonder if this were to be published today, how well would it do? The current wisdom is keep the descriptions to a minimum; cut out anything that doesn't lead to the advancement of plot; lean, hard language is what the people want. I guess it says something about our society where we have such a hard time enjoying the beauty of life.

Speaking of the beauty of life--Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers out there.

1 comment:

Luisa Perkins said...

Thanks for the kick-restart! Great quotes, great responses. I'll post again very soon.