Thursday, October 8, 2009

Like Geological Formations

As I read By Way of Sainte-Beuve it was as if I was glimpsing the bones of In Search of Lost Time, which was almost unbearably exciting. (When I saw the book in the shop it was as if someone had switched on a light under my skin. This was similar to the prickly feeling of blushing, without the blush.) This series of unfinished essays is divided between literary criticism and fictionalised autobiography, and almost everything in the autobiographical parts reappears in the later book disguised and elaborated. Here is a proto-Charlus named de Quercy. Here is the philistine Guermantes with his bad French. Here is the essay that will develop into Lost Time's defence of homosexual men and Jews, the comparison between one and the other. Here is de Quercy's funeral, which Proust will later give to Saint-Loup. Here is the narrator, feeling about the Countess' butler as he will later feel about a servant of the Swann's. Here is a short version of the statement of artistic belief that will occupy the middle of Time Regained. The connections between the literary essays and the later book are less direct, but you can see that he's putting together ideas that will feed Lost Time. The madeleine and the other memory triggers take less than a page to appear and zip, bang, a few pages later he's explained them and they're gone. In Lost Time it takes him how long, fifty pages, before he dunks his biscuit? Then hundreds of pages after that before we come across the other triggers? Here he wraps it up at, comparatively, warp speed. One essay. Done!

Here are ideas that he decided not to use. Here he is with his lilac ("He jizzed on a flower," said M. when I told him about it). Here's his little brother, who was completely expelled from Lost Time, but is seen here stroking a goat and clinging to a railway track with his buttocks. Here are some of his notes to himself, translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner:

That mistake consists of. Mistake over Stendhal. People who have known us poets. Really, poetry is something secret. Sainte-Beuve has not understood this.


Make plain Balzac's slow approach [...] And also the interpolation of passages of time like geological formations where lava from different epochs lies intermingled (La Duchesse de Langeais, Sarrazine).

and, in brackets, almost at the end,

Don't leave this horrible writing.

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