Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Hate Marcel Proust

I have made two (2) disastrous attempts at reading Marcel Proust’s “Swann’s Way”.  It is the first of seven volumes of the novel "Rememberance Of Things Past".  I have made these attempts with the best of intentions.  The most noteworthy of these failures was when I had traveled to Paris and thought to immerse myself in the famous French author and philosopher while strolling Saint-Germain-des-Prés would be a grand extension of the Parisian experience.  I had not counted on the fact that most of my reading would be done in cramped coach airline seats with an old woman coughing directly on my shoulder.  It is not a simple task to digest forty line sentences dedicated to the way a light shines on a blanket when someone is gagging up peanuts on your person.  I find this not to be a criticism of Proust’s weighty prose but more of a lack of foresight on my part.  It is perhaps too much to ask to weigh matters of memory and perception when you are sardined into one of the planet’s most uncomfortable resting spaces, that on a middle seat on an American Airlines jet in coach class.

I wound up storing the copy of Proust into my luggage, and instead read a large book of turn of the century pornography that I purchased in a tiny bookstore near a café where I had been drinking a heroic quantity of house Rhone.  If you find yourself interested in looking at a gigantic book of black and white photographs of pudgy people engaged in a variety of sexual acts while dressed like pirates, soldiers, and in the women’s cases almost exclusively distressed maidens, please let me know.  I believe you will find the surprisingly in depth historical perspective on the photographs interesting, as well as the almost total lack of sexual interest you discover while looking at page after page of half erect pirates and very hairy ladies with open thighs in distress.  

This book obviously did me no good on the flight home as I would have been labeled a deviant and not allowed back into the United States thanks to an advance radio message from the flight crew to The Authorities.  No one wants to look at turn of the century soldiers emotionlessly entering hairy vaginas from behind and most certainly not on a lengthy transcontinental airline flight.  This is why I also purchased a copy of Kerouac’s “The Subteraneans” at the same time I purchased the pornographic book of interest.  My Rhone fueled thought process at purchase was that I would appear to be some sort of open minded beatnik to the completely disinterested cashier, and not like some sort of American pervert (which I clearly am).  I’m not sure why I was so concerned about the perception that the cashier had of me at the time, but ironically if I had read Proust I probably would have been able to sort that out more effectively.  That Kerouac is not much of a light read either, but I at least tackled that on the flight.  Proust would have to wait.

I have just finished Alain de Botton’s “How Proust Can Change Your Life”, which is a distilled take on what Proust was about as a person and his ideas as a writer.  Who knew that a guy that spent 11 years in bed would have such well founded ideas on such topics as choosing a doctor, understanding interpersonal relationships, and living life in the moment?    Despite the fact it was almost impossible for Proust to travel due to a mind numbing list of maladies and psychological problems, he’s also got great ideas on travel.  On one hand Proust convinces easily on the concepts of appreciation of the moment, finding beauty in the everyday, and making your life more enjoyable in the process.  The downside is that you need to remember that this advice is coming from a guy that was a Mama’s boy and a hypochondriac who was unable to effectively cultivate normal relationships.  So there’s that…  Regardless, if you can hack your way through the dark jungles of 1910 French proper society and maybe some questionable translation choices, there are some timeless ideas here.  It must also be admitted, the task is daunting.  

Reading Proust is one of those things that really seem like a good idea until you are actually doing it.  These things include snowboarding, gambling on roulette, drinking whiskey in an airport, rec league softball, and ice fishing.  Reading this novel is volunteering for hard work.  It’s a task for which there is little appreciation by anyone when you have finished it.  It’s just you out there all alone being told by a long dead bedridden somber Frenchman “In love, there is permanent suffering”, "We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full", and sentences in the fifth (of seven) volumes that if stretched out would run four feet long.  It’s not for the weak.  It's madness.
I am committed.  I will embark on this novel again.  I will fail.  Again.     


At June 20, 2013 at 5:55:00 PM EDT , Blogger R. J. said...

Nice piece. You're a really fine writer. I couldn't do Proust. I found it unbearably tedious.

At June 21, 2013 at 12:38:00 PM EDT , Blogger Greg Miller said...

I am going to attempt it again. I'm about 75 pages in. I think 40 pages were devoted to the way the light came in through the curtains.


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