Thursday, 3 November 2011

A la Recherche du Temps Pudding

I want to post about literature, specifically whatever I happen to be reading. My therapist says it will be beneficial to gather my thoughts in an organised, disciplined way and will help in improving both the quality of those thoughts and their expression.

She also says it will do me good to keep my hands busy at night.

Presently, I am reading Proust. I have read Swann's Way before but cannot remember how it went. I used to read in a sort of sleepy daze where I was looking at the words but not thinking about their meaning. This made it difficult to retain stuff like plot and character, and meant that I had no appreciation of an authorial voice, unless it was something really obvious.

This makes it particularly hard to read Proust. The first thing you notice is the sheer length of the sentences; some seem to go on for pages at a time, full of peregrinations and diversions, twisting and turning like the path down to Swann's; as if Proust has had the one thought and will not let it go until he has finished with it, no matter how long it miught take him, even if it goes beyond what is seemingly reasonable into a realm of singularity where the one thought is that which matters while other, possibly equally diverting, thoughts are kept at bay by the judicious application of punctuation, and where characters have to find their own level, bobbing up and down in a sea of description; occasionally they may find themselves the subject of a sentence but more likely they will tread water as best they can till the author turns his attention to them and invites them to swim again with his tidal flow.

This is not easy to do. I find it easier to write in short sentences. The shorter the better. I do not know whether Proust was verbose when talking to people. But I suspect not. I have often been told that I am orally verbose. But I like to try and write in a shorter style. Perhaps someone has studied this phenomenom. Perhaps there is no such link between oral verbosity and written brevity. Who knows. Or cares.

I was going to start this here paragraph with an apology for going off the point but that made me think of something which Proust does not do which is to apologise to his audience. He makes no concession to the reader and expects him or her to keep up with the flow of the discourse and to retain the starting point all the way to the end of the journey. I like this and find it flattering.

I am not yet sure how blogging works but it seems better to keep things brief. So, I shall stop here, except to comment on the title of this post. It is well-known how Proust's reminiscences are triggered by an encounter with madeleine biscuits dipped in tea. (Actually, the point he makes is that it is not a mere reminiscence that is triggered but a full wham, bam, thank you ma'am sensory immersion in the past and all its associated thoughts and feelings and sights and smells. He does not remember dipping madeleines in tea when young, he is suddenly dropped right back as his younger self. That is the power of the moment that Proust describes, and also why the English title of "Remembrance of Things Past" is misleading (although I do not much care for "In Search of Lost Time" either). It is not a remembrance. It is something for which there is no English word that I can think of. It is a re-experiencing in totality). Anyway, the point is, I get the same thing when I eat rice pudding.

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