Sunday, September 26, 2010

Swimming with Proust in the Dorsal Stream

"But the ventral route is not the only way to read. The second reading pathway – it's known as the dorsal stream – is turned on whenever we're forced to pay conscious attention to a sentence, perhaps because of an obscure word, or an awkward subclause, or bad handwriting. (In his experiments, Dehaene activates this pathway in a variety of ways, such as rotating the letters or filling the prose with errant punctuation.) Although scientists had previously assumed that the dorsal route ceased to be active once we became literate, Deheane's research demonstrates that even fluent adults are still forced to occasionally make sense of texts. We're suddenly conscious of the words on the page; the automatic act has lost its automaticity."

Friday, July 2, 2010

Too Complicated for Words

"You can't get through a complicated novel faster by turning the pages more quickly. Reading demands a greater investment of time than looking at a complicated painting, and the average reader is not prepared to invest that much time in a book, no matter what critics say about it. I feel the same way. I suppose I could get to the bottom of "Finnegans Wake" if I worked at it—but would it be worth the trouble? Or would I be better served by spending the same amount of time rereading the seven volumes of Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past," a modern masterpiece that is not gratuitiously complicated but rewardingly complex?"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Japanese Dwarf Trees

"Japanese Dwarf Trees" from Marcel Proust's writings

"In 1893 Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust met Robert de Montesquiou [French Symbolist poet and art collector -- and all around snob] at the house of the hostess-painter Madeleine Lemarie... Montesquiou, a monster of egotism who needed constant praise as exaggerated as that which Nero had required, and who could be as sadistic as the Roman emperor if it was not forthcoming -- was thirty-seven when Proust, just twenty-two years old, met him... In his high-pitched, grating voice Montesquiou was constantly recited [sic] his own poetry... or presiding over literary and musical soirees. No praise was too extravagant, and Proust knew how to lay it on thick. 'You are the sovereign not only of transitory, but of eternal things,' Proust wrote him... But Proust was also the master of the nuanced compliments; after Montesquiou showed him his celebrated Japanese dwarf trees, Proust had the nerve to write him that his soul was 'a garden as rare and fastiduous as the one in which you allowed me to walk the other day ...' And Montesquiou heard that Proust kept his friends in stitches imitating his way of speaking, of lauging[sic], and of stamping his foot. Most daring of all, Proust proposed to write an essay to be titled 'The Simplicity of Monsieur Montesquiou,' who had never been previously accused of such a quality."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Balzac's Treatise on Elegant Living

While in NYC I read a newly translated text from Balzac from 1830 called Treatise on Elegant Living, which is a wonderful, very witty, brief book about elegance in some ways but also about the mania for dandyism at that time. I can't even really describe it, but highly recommend it - and when I read this passage:
"What an ineffable pleasure for the observer, for the connoisseur, to encounter on the streets of Paris, along the boulevards, those women of genius who, after having written their name, their rank, and their fortune in their feeling for their clothing, appear as nothing to the eyes of the common herd but are an absolute poem for artists, for society people out strolling! It is a perfect harmony between the color of the outfit and that of drawings; it is the finesse of the charms that reveals the industrious hand of a skilled chambermaid. These high feminine powers know wonderfully well how to conform to the humble role of pedestrian, for they have so often experienced the audacities authorized by an equipage; for it is only those accustomed to the luxury of the coach who know how to get dressed to go on foot."
it reminded me of:
"I assigned the first place, in the order of aesthetic merit and of social grandeur, to simplicity, when I saw Mme. Swann on foot, in a 'polonaise' of plain cloth, a little toque on her head trimmed with a pheasant's wing, a bunch of violets in her bosom, hastening along the Allée des Acacias as if it had been merely the shortest way back to her own house, and acknowledging with a rapid glance the courtesy of the gentlemen in carriages, who, recognising her figure at a distance, were raising their hats to her and saying to one another that there was never anyone so well turned out as she. But instead of simplicity it was to ostentation that I must assign the first place if, after I had compelled Françoise, who could hold out no longer, and complained that her legs were 'giving' beneath her, to stroll up and down with me for another hour, I saw at length, emerging from the Porte Dauphine, figuring for me a royal dignity, the passage of a sovereign, an impression such as no real Queen has ever since been able to give me, because my notion of their power has been less vague, and more founded upon experience—borne along by the flight of a pair of fiery horses, slender and shapely as one sees them in the drawings of Constantin Guys, carrying on its box an enormous coachman, furred like a cossack, and by his side a diminutive groom, like Toby, "the late Beaudenord's tiger," I saw—or rather I felt its outlines engraved upon my heart by a clean and killing stab—a matchless victoria, built rather high, and hinting, through the extreme modernity of its appointments, at the forms of an earlier day, deep down in which lay negligently back Mme. Swann, her hair, now quite pale with one grey lock, girt with a narrow band of flowers, usually violets, from which floated down long veils, a lilac parasol in her hand, on her lips an ambiguous smile in which I read only the benign condescension of Majesty, though it was pre-eminently the enticing smile of the courtesan, which she graciously bestowed upon the men who bowed to her. That smile was, in reality, saying to one: "Oh yes, I do remember, quite well; it was wonderful!" to another: "How I should have loved to! We were unfortunate!", to a third: "Yes, if you like! I must just keep in the line for a minute, then as soon as I can I will break away." When strangers passed she still allowed to linger about her lips a lazy smile, as though she expected or remembered some friend, which made them say: "What a lovely woman!". And for certain men only she had a sour, strained, shy, cold smile which meant: "Yes, you old goat, I know that you've got a tongue like a viper, that you can't keep quiet for a moment. But do you suppose that I care what you say?" Coquelin passed, talking, in a group of listening friends, and with a sweeping wave of his hand bade a theatrical good day to the people in the carriages. But I thought only of Mme. Swann, and pretended to have not yet seen her, for I knew that, when she reached the pigeon-shooting ground, she would tell her coachman to 'break away' and to stop the carriage, so that she might come back on foot. And on days when I felt that I had the courage to pass close by her I would drag Françoise off in that direction; until the moment came when I saw Mme. Swann, letting trail behind her the long train of her lilac skirt, dressed, as the populace imagine queens to be dressed, in rich attire such as no other woman might wear, lowering her eyes now and then to study the handle of her parasol, paying scant attention to the passers-by, as though the important thing for her, her one object in being there, was to take exercise, without thinking that she was seen, and that every head was turned towards her. Sometimes, however, when she had looked back to call her dog to her, she would cast, almost imperceptibly, a sweeping glance round about."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Proust Screenplay 1972

Screenplay by Harold Pinter published in Collected Screenplays 2
Adapted from the screenplay for the stage, by Harold Pinter and Di Trevis
(Produced at the Royal National Theatre 2000/2001)

Further Reading:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Days of Reading

At several points in Proust’s magnificent essay Days of Reading he suggests that no memento more truly conjures an earlier age than will certain strains of silence. Sounds evolve in ways that silences do not. Reflecting on the books of antiquity that were originally recited aloud, Proust writes of how beyond even the power of great phrases to take us back through history, the rest notes can “trace for us the forms of the ancient soul.” He describes how “between the phrases…in the interval which separates them, there is still contained today, as in some inviolate hypgeum, filling their interstices, a silence many centuries old. Often, in St. Luke’s Gospel, when I come upon the ‘colons’ which punctuate it before each of the almost canticle-like passages with which it is strewn, I have heard the silence of the worshipper who has just stopped from reading out loud so as to intone the verses following…This silence still filled the pause in the sentence…” Sometimes this brings to Proust the scent of a rose, “which the breeze entering by the open window had spread through the upper room…and which had not evaporated in almost two thousand years.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The World of Marcel Proust

Some of the locations that inspired Marcel Proust for the Recherche. A trip through old postcards. Raidue, 1987. By Elsa Milani and Mario Gerosa.