Posted by: facetothewind | April 18, 2010

It’s only a paper hoop

My friend Michael and I were having a conversation over Indian food last night about the pain of relationship – about the longing for it when you’re not in one and the poignancy of losing it when you’re in one. This morning Michael sent me a passage from Proust that means the world to me. Today I feel as though I finally get Proust and that his distant voice long ago quieted is strangely comforting as I attempt to break through my own paper hoops.

**

Two or three times it occurred to me, for a moment, that the world in which this room and these bookshelves were situated, and in which Albertine counted for so little, was perhaps an intellectual world, which was the sole reality, and my grief something like what we feel when we read a novel, a thing of which only a madman would make a lasting and permanent grief that prolonged itself through his life; that a tiny flicker of my will would suffice, perhaps, to attain to this real world, to re-enter it by breaking through my grief as one breaks through a paper hoop, and to think no more about what Albertine had done than we think about the actions of the imaginary heroine of a novel after we have finished reading it.

For that matter, the mistresses whom I have loved most passionately have never coincided with my love for them. That love was genuine, since I subordinated everything else to seeing them, keeping them for myself alone, and would weep aloud if, one evening, I had waited for them in vain. but it was more because they had the faculty of arousing that love, of raising it to a paroxysm, than because they were its image. When I saw them, when I heard their voices, I could find nothing in them which resembled my love and could account for it. And yet my sole joy lay in seeing them, my sole anxiety in waiting for them to come. It was as though a virtue that had no connexion with them had been artificially attached to them by nature, and that this virtue, this quasi-electric power, had the effect upon me of exciting my love, that is to say of controlling all my actions and causing all my sufferings. But from this, the beauty, or the intelligence, or the kindness of these women was entirely distinct. As by an electric current that gives us a shock, I have been shaken by my loves, I have lived them, I have felt them: never have I succeeded in seeing or thinking them. Indeed I am inclined to believe that in these relationships (I leave out of account the physical pleasure which is their habitual accompaniment but is not enough in itself to constitute them), beneath the outward appearance of the woman, it is to those invisible forces with which she is incidentally accompanied that we address ourselves as to obscure deities. It is they whose good will is necessary to us, with whom we seek to establish contact without finding any positive pleasure in it. The woman herself, during our assignation with her, does little more than put us in touch with these goddesses. We have, by way of oblation, promised jewels and travels, uttered incantations which mean that we adore and, at the same time, contrary incantations which mean that we are indifferent. We have used all our power to obtain a fresh assignation, but one that is accorded to us without constraint. Would we in fact go to so much trouble for the woman herself, if she were not complemented by these occult forces, considering that, once she has left us, we are unable to say how she was dressed and realize that we never even looked at her?

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Responses

  1. I love REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST. Have read the first book but not yet the second. I strongly recommend the book ABOUT reading Proust…the title of which I forget, the author of which I cannot recall…but it’s really great…you’d love it….It’s by a living philosopher, from England, who also wrote a book on the meaning of travel…sigh. When I have better information, David, I will send it to you. Meanwhile, thanks for the hit of classics for the day.

  2. Gillian, you’re thinking of “How Proust Can Change Your Life” by Alain de Botton.

    I, too, made it through the first book, and about 100 pages beyond — so 500 pages in all — before the rest of life (and other books) took over. Will get back to it someday. It’s a huge commitment, obviously.

    David, yes, very comforting, and this is indeed what Proust is always good for in my book, in addition to the sheer poetry of his writing. (Oh, to read it in French . . . !)


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