Thursday, August 16, 2012

Swann in Love: Liveblog, Partie Deux

Reading Marcel Proust's Un amour de Swann, from his Remembrance of Things Past series. It is still extremely early (the first 3%) in the book.

Film Clip: Francis Planté (1839-1934): Chopin - Etude op.25 no.2 Fmin
Put up on YouTube by d60944.

11:17 a.m. To impart a proper mood to the proceedings, I have put up one of Francis Planté's recordings from YouTube, since he is mentioned in the first page of Swann in Love, is French, lived at the right time, and generated very zeitgeisty photographs.

11:34 a.m. Swann apparently pulls all his strings to wriggle into the company of women who have awoken his interest. The narrator complains that his grandparents confounded one such attempt to pull strings:
Et soit méfiance, soit par le sentiment inconsciemment diabolique qui nous pousse à n'offrir une chose qu'aux gens qui n'en ont pas envie, mes grands-parents opposaient une fin de non-recevoir absolue aux prières les plus faciles à satisfaire qu'il leur adressait, comme de le présenter à une jeune fille qui dînait tous les dimanches à la maison
Not only did they not introduce Swann to their young lady acquaintance, they also pretended that she didn't visit them so that he wouldn't continue pestering them. How horrific.

Why this type of bratty insistence on believing that the rest of the world exists to satisfy one's acquisitive whims is supposed to be charming or amusing I don't understand. A person over the age of ten who mopes over the meanspiritedness of thwarted pleasures without feeling some self-aware sense of shame for the lack of dignity at the time is also a little of an oddity. I think that the enjoyments of life are finer if they are withheld for a while, or completely — until the right moment and right motivation and the acquiescence of other interested parties delivers them, and we are certain to appreciate them according to their worth. The Epicureans believed, if I learned it correctly, in the role of moderation in heightening enjoyment. (Grumble, grumble.)

Altogether it annoys me when book protagonists take their life so seriously that the same earnestness which one character may rightfully devote to earning enough to subsist, another character absurdly devotes to being anxious as to whether his friends really admire him (a very, very special individual of sensitive soul, luminous talent, and ultrarefined, soaring aspirations) as they ought, etc. The graveyards are full of people who thought they were indispensable, and so on and so forth.

12:02 p.m. We get an insight into Swann's daily life now. He visits friends and trawls for mistresses, who can be a cook or anyone really; if his current mistress is performing at the opera he will 'hang' there; and he plays poker and goes to weekly dinners. There is a really hilariously dandyish passage here:
chaque soir, après qu'un léger crépelage ajouté à la brosse de ses cheveux roux avait tempéré de quelque douceur la vivacité de ses yeux verts, il choisissait une fleur pour sa boutonnière et partait retrouver sa maîtresse à dîner chez l'une ou l'autre des femmes de sa coterie; et alors, pensant à l'admiration et à l'amitié que les gens à la mode, pour qui il faisait la pluie et le beau temps et qu'il allait retrouver là, lui prodigueraient devant la femme qu'il aimait, il retrouvait du charme à cette vie mondaine sur laquelle il s'était blasé, ainsi dont la matière, pénétrée et colorée chaudement d'une flamme insinuée qui s'y jouait, lui semblait précieuse et belle depuis qu'il y avait incorporé un nouvel amour.
Good lord. If the alternative is having nothing to do but to admire one's self in the mirror of how one supposes other people see one's self, just. get. a. job. Besides the léger crépélage (snortle) is the kind of detail which 'can be properly interesting' only to the person who has it on his head and to his barber.

This kind of thing is why I find Oscar Wilde a little of the reverse of his own façade. Wilde, purportedly a dandy and an obsessive about superficialities and an apostate to the bourgeoisie, appears to have had far more observation, far more imagination and the ability to think outside of himself, and far more of an interest in thinking about morality than most of his most bienpensant contemporaries. His aesthetics are a very complex thing and are not that far off from reality; an Old Master expends a great deal of work to construct a painting and the moment we see it we know it's not real, but this same painting has as much or more to say than a true scene would. Swann, however, seems to be a little what Oscar Wilde was worried that he was, without facing the same constant prospect of abysses, moral and emotional etc., opening up at his feet to fatally swallow him. On the other hand, I probably admire Wilde too undilutedly to represent him very accurately.

Anyway, so M. Swann meets Odette de Crécy and, having heard of her before, is kind of prejudiced against her. This colours his perception of her charms, so that we are given a leaden portrait of her which runs very much along the unflattering lines of "My mistress's eyes are nothing like the sun" (the sonnet). But, despite his anathematic attitude toward 'settling,' for some reason he decides to 'settle' for a flirtation with her and to sort-of fall in love for the duration of said flirtation as per his usual modus operandi. Hypocrite, I say!

1:18 p.m. According to my philistine calculations, we are nearly 5% of the way through the book.

Proust helpfully informs us that men are clever enough to fall in love, as they become older and accustomed to it, through short-cuts: they can convince themselves, or stumble across a thread of feeling which they recognize from past passions, and then make a whole fabric out of it which suffices for the time. Women, on the other hand, those slow-minded creatures, go the whole hog. *Snore*

Moving on from the Pavlovian responses inherent in worldly masculinity, Odette de Crécy continues to chase down Swann and worry away at him like a golden retriever with the bone his master has thrown to him; and Swann continues to think he is God's gift to women, even as he is nattering away in his mind whenever she visits that he wishes she were a little prettier. Quel grand âme, as the French might say.

There follows a long defense of her haggish state, which is (I guess?) supposed to indicate an openminded spirit:
Il faut d'ailleurs dire que le visage d'Odette paraissait plus maigre et plus proéminent parce que le front et le haut des joues, cette surface unie et plus plane était recouverte par la masse de cheveux qu'on portait alors prolongés en "devants", soulevés en "crêpés", répandus en mèches folles le long des oreilles; et quant à son corps qui était admirablement fait, il était difficile d'en apercevoir la continuité (à cause des modes de l'époque et quoiqu'elle fût une des femmes de Paris qui s'habillaient le mieux), tant le corsage, s'avançant en saillie comme sur un ventre imaginaire et finissant brusquement en pointe pendant que par en dessous commençait à s'enfler
. . . This description goes on and on, so I've cut it short here. I can read about peplum dresses in Vogue and W and Elle and look at photos of ready-to-wear runway shows for hours, but this is incredibly tedious.

Then she leaves and Swann is mighty tickled (to borrow from the western vernacular) that she is so insecure about when she can visit him again or if he could visit her. She is worried that she ain't interlectual enough for him or his friends. She doesn't know who on earth Vermeer is, which is so adorable. Swann, who really wants to get around to writing an essay about the abovementioned painter even though he spells him Ver Meer for some reason, declines her offer to visit him by saying that he is afraid of forming new friendships.

Rather than punch the obnoxious idiot in the nose for exploiting her frailties to feed his insatiable vanity, she discovers in him a Wounded Soul. She gushes that she is desperate for new friendships and perpetrates this horrible clichéd balderdash: [Epic Nausea Alert]
Vous avez dû souffrir par une femme. Et vous croyez que les autres sont comme elle. Elle n'a pas su vous comprendre; vous êtes un être si à part. C'est cela que j'ai aimé d'abord en vous, j'ai bien senti que vous n'étiez pas comme tout le monde.
Which, to translate it into modern English and sacrifice the rules of punctuation, amounts more or less to: "A woman must have made you suffer, and you think that the others are like her. She couldn't understand you, you're a person who is so unique. That's what I liked about you first, I really felt that you weren't like everyone else."

Mon. Dieu. quel. horreur.

This is the kind of situation where I think the lady would be better served by going on an Eat, Pray, Love tour of self-gratification and 'discovery' than by lolling about at home and being around this type of 'guy.'

No comments: