Aristocratic affability

. . . . I took care not to interpret her words in the sense that I had been too modest. I was beginning to learn the exact value of the language, spoken or mute, of aristocratic affability, an affability that is happy to shed balm upon the sense of inferiority of those towards whom it is directed, though not to the point of dispelling that inferiority, for in that case it would no longer have any raison d’être. “But you are our equal, if not our superior,” the Guermantes seemed, in all their actions, to be saying; and they said it in the nicest way imaginable, in order to be loved and admired, but not to be believed; that one should discern the fictitious character of this affability was what they called being well-bred; to suppose it genuine, a sign of ill-breeding.

— Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah

judgment of generations

The people who are least capable of judging the worth of individuals are also the most inclined to adopt fashion as a principal by which to classify them; they have not exhausted, or even grazed the surface of, the talented men of one generation, when suddenly they are obliged to condemn them all en bloc, for here is a new generation with a new label which will be no better understood than its predecessor.

[Proust, Time Regained]

every morning war is declared afresh

“Be honest, my friend, you yourself once propounded a theory to me about things existing only in virtue of a creation which is perpetually renewed. The creation of the world did not take place once and for all, you said, it is, of necessity, taking place every day.  Well, if you are sincere, you cannot except war from this theory. . . . [T]he truth is that every morning war is declared afresh. And the men who wish to continue it are as guilty as the men who began it, more guilty perhaps, for the latter perhaps did not forsee all its horrors.”

[Proust, Time Regained]

the invisible line of this falling bomb

For the novel reality of a danger is perceived only through the medium of that new thing, not assimilable to anything that we already know, to which we give the name “an impression” and which is often, as in the present case, epitomised in a line, a line which defines an intention and possesses the latent potentiality of the action which has given it its particular form, like the invisible line of this falling bomb . . . .

[Proust, Time Regained]

Proust’s Experimental Faith

“Yes that’s what she wanted, that was the purpose of her action,” my compassionate reason assured me; but I felt that, in doing so, my reason was still basing itself on the same hypothesis which it had adopted from the start. Whereas I was well aware that it was the other hypothesis which had invariably proved correct. No doubt this second hypothesis would never have been so bold as to formulate in so many words the notion that Albertine could have been on intimate terms with Mlle Vinteuil and her friend… But all the same, if, after the immense new leap which life had just caused me to make, the reality that confronted me was as novel as that which is presented to us by the discovery of a scientist, by the inquiries of an examining magistrate or the researches of a historian into the hidden aspects of a crime or a revolution, this reality, while exceeding the puny predictions of my second hypothesis, nevertheless fulfilled them. This second hypothesis was not an intellectual one, and the panic fear that had gripped me on the evening when Albertine had refused to kiss me, or the night when I had heard the sound of her window being opened, was not based upon reason. But… the fact that our intelligence is not the subtlest, most powerful, most appropriate instrument for grasping the truth is only one reason the more for beginning with the intelligence, and not with an unconscious intuition, a ready-made faith in presentiments. It is life that, little by little, case by case, enables us to observe that what is most important to our hearts or to our minds is taught to us not by reasoning but by other powers. And then it is the intelligence itself which, acknowledging their superiority, abdicates to them through reasoning and consents to become their collaborator and their servant. Experimental faith. It seemed to me that the unforeseen calamity with which I found myself grappling was also something that I had already known… from having read it in so many signs in which (notwithstanding the contrary affirmations of my reason, based upon Albertine’s own statements) I had discerned the weariness, the loathing that she felt at having to live in that state of slavery, signs that had so often seemed to me to be written as though in invisible ink behind her sad, submissive eyes, upon her cheeks suddenly inflamed with an unaccountable blush, in the sound of the window that had suddenly been flung open. Doubtless I had not dared to explore them fully or to form explicitly the idea of her sudden departure. I had thought, my mind kept in equilibrium by Albertine’s presence, only of a departure arranged by myself at an undetermined date, that is to say a date situated in a non-existent time; consequently I had merely the illusion of thinking of a departure, just as people imagine that they are not afraid of death when they think of it while they are in good health and are actually doing no more than introduce [sic?] a purely negative idea into a healthy state which the approach of death would of course precisely alter.  (V 568-70)
[Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Volume V: The Captive & The Fugitive. Translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D.J. Enright (New York: The Modern Library, 2003)]

Paulus Potter :: Marcel Proust

As crabs, goats, scorpions, the balance and the water-pot lose their meanness when hung as signs in the zodiac, so I can see my own vices without heat in . . . distant persons.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Somber grief of skies uniformly gray,
Sadder for being blue during rare bright intervals,
And which allow the warm tears of a misunderstood sun
To filter down upon the paralyzed plains;
Potter, melancholy mood of the somber plains,
Which stretch out, endless, joyless, colorless;
The trees, the hamlet cast no shadows,
The tiny, meager gardens have no flowers.
A plowman lugs buckets home, and his puny mare
Resigned, anxious, and dreamy,
Uneasily listening to her passive brain,
Inhales in small gulps the strong breath of the wind.

— Marcel Proust, Pleasures and Days

Proust in Bed :: J. D. McClatchy

The Paris Review – “Proust in Bed”.

Twisted and hilarious, poem about Proust, read by poet. Who could ask for anything more?

[Originally appeared in Issue 125, Winter 1992, of The Paris Review.]

“Silliness is the soul’s sweetmeat.”

Proust in Bed
– J. D. McClatchey

Through the peephole he could see a boy
Playing patience on the huge crimson sofa.
There was the turkey, the second-best
Chairs, the old chipped washstand, all his dead parents’
Things donated months ago
“To make an unfortunate
Crowd happy” at the Hôtel
Marigny, Albert’s brothel,
Warehouse of desires
And useless fictions-

For one of which he turned to Albert
And nodded, he’d have that one at cards, the soon-
To-be footman or fancy butcher.
He’d rehearsed his questions in the corridor.
Did you kill an animal
Today? An ox? Did it bleed?
Did you touch the blood? Show me
Your hands, let me see how you  . . .

(Judgment Day angel
Here to separate

The Good from the Bad, to weigh the soul . . .
Soon enough you’ll fall from grace and be nicknamed
Pamela the Enchantress or Tool
Of the Trade. Silliness is the soul’s sweetmeat.)
One after another now,
Doors closed on men in bed with
The past, it was three flights to
His room, the bedroom at last,
The goal obtained and
So a starting-point

For the next forbidden fruit-the taste
Of apricots and ripe gruyère is on the hand
He licks-the next wide-open mouth
To slip his tongue into like a communion
Wafer. The consolation
Of martyrs is that the God
For whom they suffer will see
Their wounds, their wildernesses.
He’s pulled a fresh sheet
Up over himself,

As if waiting for his goodnight kiss
While the naked boy performs what he once did
For himself. It’s only suffering
Can make us all more than brutes, the way that boy
Suffers the silvery thread
To be spun inside himself,
The snail-track left on lilac,
Its lustrous mirror-writing,
The mysterious
Laws drawn through our lives

Like a mother’s hand through her son’s hair . . .
But again nothing comes of it. The signal
Must be given, the small bedside bell.
He needs his parents to engender himself,
To worship his own body
As he watches them adore
Each other’s. The two cages
Are brought in like the holy
Sacrament. Slowly
The boy unveils them.

The votive gaslights seem to flicker.
Her dying words were “What have you done to me?”
In each cage a rat, and each rat starved
For three days, each rat furiously circling
The pain of its own hunger.
Side by side the two cages
Are placed on the bed, the foot
Of the bed, right on the sheet
Where he can see them
Down the length of his

Body, helpless now as it waits there.
The rats’ angry squealing sounds so far away.
He looks up at his mother-touches
Himself-at the photograph on the dresser,
His mother in her choker
And her heavy silver frame.
The tiny wire-mesh trap doors
Slide open. At once the rats
Leap at each other,
Claws, teeth, the little

Shrieks, the flesh torn, torn desperately,
Blood spurting out everywhere, hair matted, eyes
Blinded with blood. Whichever stops
To eat is further torn. The half-eaten rat
Left alive in the silver
Cage the boy-he keeps touching
Himself-will stick over and
Over with a long hatpin.
Between his fingers
He holds the pearl drop.

She leans down over his bed, her veil
Half-lifted, the scent of lilac on her glove.
His father hates her coming to him
Like this, hates her kissing him at night like this.

The Fugitive. Mademoiselle De Forcheville. 834-836

[This is where I am in Proust right now.]

But above all we must remember this: on the one hand, lying is often a character trait; on the other hand, in women who would not otherwise be liars, it is a natural defense, improvised at first, then more and more organized, against that sudden danger which would be capable of destroying all life: love. Furthermore, it is Continue reading