Monday, October 26, 2009

The Possessor Possesses Nothing

Glancing over at Mark Thwaite's ReadySteadyBlog, I saw that someone was starting a new Proust blog called the Cork-Lined Room. The reader of Cork-Lined, who is expected not to have read Proust before, is invited to follow along through the book, learning "nearly all there is to know about love, jealousy, obsession, memory, and time" and generally becoming an object of rare envy to all who meet them, cowed as they will be by the glow of smugness that, the blogger promises, will stream unhindered from every pore like the afterlife of radium. Reading that, I remembered a list of Proust links I started fiddling around with months ago, and so -- well, here they are. Proust websites are not included because they're already in my sidebar under Authors and there's no reason why anyone should have to read these things twice on the same page.


The Kolb-Proust Archive for Research website.

Much of the material in the Archive consists of approximately 40,000 mostly handwritten 3 X 5" cards which Professor Kolb kept in file drawers like those of a card catalog. Different categories of cards are stored in separate file drawers. We are currently in the process of entering the data and tagging relevant structures for Internet distribution. Our goal is to preserve the information (in the tour note the poor condition of some of the cards) and make it more easily accessible.


Welcome Light on Proust, a 1940 essay by Anthony M. Ludovici.

Ever since I closed the last of my nineteen volumes of Proust, which it took me eight years in my leisure hours to read and on the last page of which I wrote the date — February 5th 1938 — I have been looking for just such a book as Mr. Derrick Leon's "Introduction To Proust."


An essay by A. V. Lunacharsky, published in 1934.

Proust really did spoil the French language a little. His followers set less store by laconism, brilliance, logic. But his object as a writer was different and so, therefore, was his style. Proust's style - with its cloudy, colloidal, honeyed consistency and extraordinarily aromatic sweetness - is the only medium fitted to induce tens of thousands of readers to join you enthusiastically in reliving your not particularly significant life, recognising therein some peculiar significance and surrendering themselves to this long drawn out pleasure with undisguised delight.


Proust's Ruined Mirror, by Jonathan Wallace.

He soberly describes the novel as what the Hubble was intended to be: an instrument of profound resolution for examining the universe. But much of the time Proust is obviously enjoying himself too much for his goal to be as simple as it seems; in those instances when Proust is so clearly pulling the rug out from under you ... he is using the mirror not as it is used in a telescope, but in a magician's act. While the Godlike narrator of the nineteenth century novel solemnly promises that everything can be known, Proust does not limit himself to saying that it is not so easy to know everything.


In Search of Marcel. Stuart Jeffries at the Guardian, reviewing Roger Shattuck's Proust's Way: A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time, William C Carter's Marcel Proust: A Life, and Jean-Yves Tadié's Marcel Proust: A Biography.

"The most reflective of us are endowed with this antithesis of the Midas touch," writes Shattuck. "It turns the things we want, or want to know, into dross."

Proust knew this as well as anybody, and wrote about it better than anyone else. Elsewhere in the novel, Swann's obsession with Odette results in a lustreless marriage, for "in physical possession . . . the possessor possesses nothing". In A la Recherche, Proust could not envisage love as anything but such possession, an object upon which his characters are nonetheless self-defeatingly bent.

Admittedly, this is hardly new territory for French literature. Montaigne felt oppressed by une erreur d'me: "I attach too little value to things I possess, just because I possess them; and overvalue anything strange, absent, and not mine." This "soul error" was also used by Stendhal to account for a man's sexual failings: sexual possession causes the libido to wane. And such was the unbearable truth of soul error for Rousseau that he suggested the only world worth living in was the realm of fiction.


In fact the Guardian has its own Marcel Proust section: a collection of links to Guardian articles that mention him. So does the New York Times.

What do these men have in common? They have each failed to deliver their books on time. But while Marcel Proust is hailed for his procrastination, P Diddy is facing a lawsuit.


Shattuck (the man being reviewed by the Guardian) writes an article about the difficulty of the book: Proust's Way.

Quite deliberately I have begun with harsh and seriously distorted versions of Proust's stature. I shall rebut these charges in the course of time. Meanwhile, I feel it is wise not simply to affirm his innocence but to ask for a far more illuminating verdict: guilty—but not as charged.


The How Proust can Change Your Life section of Alain de Botton's website, with an extract and reviews.

It should not therefore be Illiers-Combray that we visit: a genuine homage to Proust would be to look at our world through his eyes, not look at his world through our eyes.


The Monstrous Novel - An Essay in Literary History, by Frederik Tygstrup.

There exist a handful of huge novels from the first part of this century which are commonly qualified as unreadable: Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities, James Joyce's Ulysses, just to mention some of the most important, and still a couple of others. Most professional readers are immediately able to isolate this group of novels: the monstrous.


The Limits of Human Memory: On Proust and Javier Marías, an article in the Quarterly Conversation.

The writings of Marcel Proust and Javier Marías are concerned with the contrast of finite human memory against nearly infinite time. They lay bare a tragic fact of a human existence: we compare the limitations of our own memories to the ceaseless expanse of time and space surrounding them. Proust’s and Marías’s works also constantly involve deliberation over the extent to which we can understand the past, and they represent that past via language and the degree to which can we know either ourselves or others. Both authors might suggest that what we can know of any of these things is an extremely limited amount, if it is any amount at all.


The Long Proustian Shelf, an article from the Hudson Review.

Tadie examines at length the part played by figures like Carlyle, Emerson, and Henri Bergson (a cousin by marriage) in the formation of Proust's mature art, as well as the crucial role of Ruskin, whose Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies Proust translated-a key step in the development of both the sensibility and the prose style of A la recherche. (As Tadie writes: "The structure of Ruskin's sentences, which were long, rich in incident and imagery, supple and musical, and had been influenced by the Authorized Version of the King James Bible, which British men and women of that period knew by heart, impregnated [Proust's] own style.")


View from the East: Learning from Proust, an article by the composer Greg Sandow, at the New Music Box website.

Scenes that another writer would treat in a single chapter (conversation at a dinner party, a visit with a friend) might, in Proust, go on for 100 pages. Which is why, when I set Proust to music, I found myself writing very long phrases. That, first, is because Proust writes very long sentences.


Dan Schneider's review of Remembrance Of Things Past.

A la recherche du temps perdu, by Marcel Proust is not really a novel, by any stretch of the imagination, for it violates the precepts of novel writing- plot, characterization, etc., to an even greater degree than Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick does, and it is not considered an autobiography, because it twists facts, and uses fictive techniques for its nonfiction. In that sense it predates Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood by half a century in the claim to creating a new genre of writing. It might best be called a fictive memoir.


Christopher Hitchens reviews Lydia Davis' translation of Swann's Way.

I can't be the judge of whether Davis is right or wrong in saying that Kilmartin's ear for French is deficient. But as the passage above serves to demonstrate, the laurels may go in the end to the one who has the superior feeling for English.


Christopher Prendergast in the London Review of Books reviews D.J. Enright's revised version of the translation by C.K. Scott Moncrieff that was revised by Terence Kilmartin.

This kind of accounting exercise could go on indefinitely, but simply entering debits and credits bypasses the deeper and more interesting questions of Proust in English. These require us to address the body of English translations as a whole in terms of the kinds of assumptions made about the nature of his ‘style’ and the sort of English most appropriate to it, A starting-point here is Kilmartin’s preface, in which he describes that style as basically ‘natural’ and ‘unaffected’. This must be the oddest view of Proust’s style ever.


The Languagehat blog considers the translation of Proust into Russian.

Having learned from a correspondent that there is still no complete translation of Proust in Greek, I decided to find out when the full novel became available in Russian, and was surprised to discover it was not until 1999.


A Times review of Proust's English, by Daniel Karlin.

There was even a tacit link between a taste for things English and homosexuality. By posing as an Englishman, Proust’s Duc de Châtellerault is able to distance his gayness and set it on a level with a foreign accent, a thing noticeable but not threatening. But an appropriate show of English words and manners indicated membership of the “beau monde”, and anglomania was a necessity for those who aspired to enter it.


The Telegraph reviews the same book.

It is unsurprising to learn, therefore, that of the many English words in A la recherche - clubman, doper, fair play, films, flirt… gentleman, gin, globe-trotter, goddam… paddock, patronizing, pianola… toast, tommy, Tory… yachts and yachtswomen - snob is easily the most frequent, at 49 entries. Snobisme has 41. There are two entries for the nonce verb snober (glad to see it in the first conjugation), and one each for snobinettes and antisnobism.


Graham Robb, writing for the New York Review of Books, reviews Proust at the Majestic: The Last Days of the Author Whose Book Changed Paris, by Richard Davenport-Hines.

Two of Proust’s contemporaries, quoted by Davenport-Hines, significantly likened Proust’s syntactical complexities to what were then exclusive, upper-class pursuits. Violet Hunt found that Proust “backed his sentences in and out of garages like a first-class motorist.” E.M. Forster sniffily compared the experience of negotiating Proust’s expansive, flowery phrases to a shooting expedition


Why Proust? And Why Now, an article by Dinita Smith, which includes parts of an interview with the biographer Tadié.

"Proust had written against biography," Mr. Tadié said in a telephone interview from Paris. Indeed, in his essay "Contre Sainte-Beuve," another precursor to his ultimate work, "Proust said that the man does not explain the work, he is not the same man who writes the work."


Le Temps de Proust, a blog "about reading Proust and other books that have to do with In Search of Lost Time." The blogger stopped posting in 2006.

The movement throughout this section of In Search of Lost Time–from childhood to adulthood, from innocence to experience, from love to indifference, from the name to the thing–describe so many of the crucial parts of Marcel’s development.


The Waggish blogger reads Proust.

... the feeling on finishing is one of satisfaction and completeness. It is the opposite of Musil's The Man Without Qualities, which embraces the world and everything in it only to shatter and fall apart, because Musil's world expanded and mutated faster than his book. But the paradox makes leaving Proust an ambivalent experience. On finishing his work, I did not feel as though I was carrying the entirety of the book with me in my head (though I have assimilated parts of it quite thoroughly). Rather, it was like leaving a cathedral and having the doors shut behind you.


The Literary Kicks blogger describes Swann's Way.

The long, convoluted sentences that span multiple pages are at first difficult to follow, but soon they become something to look forward to.


The Cork-Lined Room, as described above.

Should you need further encouragement, here are ten reasons why you should join in and make Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time your next big literary project.

10. You’ll finally be reading the work of one of the great prose stylists of all time. Long, sensuous sentences that cast a spell like no others: Glorious descriptions of nature, art, music, and fashion, full of witty conversation and aphorisms galore.

9. You will be constantly putting the book down to underline another memorable passage, all the while asking yourself, “How does he know that?”

Reason number three, "You’ll impress your friends," is probably not something you should count on.


Germaine Greer, at the Guardian's blogs, thinks it is a waste of time: "Why do people gush over Proust? I'd rather visit a demented relative". A different Guardian blogger, Agnès Poirier, disagrees with her. "I won't start defending Proust and praise his prose," Poirier writes. "You only need to read him to know that it won't be wasted time."


He relies on commas and semi-colons to do what should be done by full-stops, of which there are far too few, many of them in the wrong place. Sentences run to thousands of words and scores of subordinate clauses, until the reader has no recollection of the main clause or indeed whether there ever was one.


The blogger at i'vebeenreadinglately considers different critics' opinions of Proust and concludes that the book is "deeply moral": "All are sick with some form of the ideal," or, It's time again for Proust.

Few would argue that there are not parts of In Search of Lost Time that could be trimmed or tightened, but Connolly's critique is far, far too broad. In so coolly dismissing the repetitive patterns of the book, he reduces what is in reality recurrence, echo, and commentary to something akin to laziness or failure of imagination. More important, what he identifies as "envy, jealousy, lust, and snobbishness" might more productively be grouped together under the more general--and more important, for far more empathetic--concept of longing ...


A blog called Resemblance - The Portraits, dedicated to the blogger's paintings of Proust's characters, and a youtube slideshow of the same pictures.

Except for Nadar’s photograph of Marcel and his mother, the 56 portraits here are of course imaginative ...

The original portraits are acrylic on balsa, 3x4½ inches each, painted from 6 June to 16 November 2008.


A page at the Essential Vermeer website discusses the "petit pan de mur jaune," that "little patch of yellow wall" in View of Delft.

Two or perhaps three areas are usually taken into consideration. One, to the left of the Rotterdam Gate indicated as area "A", another larger at the extreme right-hand border of the painting indicated as area "C" and a smaller indicated by "B."


The Summarize Proust Competition script, from Episode 31 of Monty Python's Flying Circus, and the sketch itself, on youtube.

Harry: Well I first entered a seaside Summarizing Proust Competition when I was on holiday in Bournemouth, and my doctor encouraged me with it.

Mee: And Harry, what are your hobbies outside summarizing?

Harry: Well, strangling animals, golf and masturbating.


A short youtube documentary called The World of Marcel Proust, narrated in Italian.

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


Another youtube video: Alan Rickman -Proust Recitation. The piece he recites can be read here.

bender3010 (3 months ago)
For anyone wondering where this quote comes from, it's not from one of Proust's great works. In the early twenties, while working on In Search of Lost time, Proust sent this short piece of beauty into a magazine that asked its reader's opinions on how people would react if they found out the world was going to end.


More youtube Proust recitation. This time: Morrissey reads Proust. The excerpt is taken from Moncrieff's translation of the second volume. It starts with, "Those few steps from the landing to Albertine's door ..." and ends with "... had belonged to me from all time."

On March 13 1988, Howard Devoto's new band, Luxuria, played the Town & Country Club in Kentish Town, London NW5 to promote the release of their debut album, 'Unanswerable Lust'.

As the band played the opening bars of the song Mlle (Mademoiselle), Howard introduced a very special guest....


Youtube again: a Frenchwoman called Claudine reads an extract in French.

zhoujinquan (3 months ago)
Vous avez le gout de Proust et le lisez tres bien. J'aime ce texte.


In 2005, the BBC broadcast a radio dramatisation of the book, scripted by Michael Butt, with the part of the narrator read by James Wilby. Here it is on youtube: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6. Each segment is about nine and a half minutes long.

Aunt Leonie: What's life if you can't dip a cake into tea?


Edmund Levin, a Slate journalist, wonders if the madeleine Proust describes could have existed at all, and concludes that it is an impossible madeleine.

A close analysis of the text yields the following sequence: Marcel 1) breaks off and drops the morsel into the tea. 2) The madeleine piece then wholly or partially disintegrates during its immersion. 3) Marcel then fishes about with his spoon, yielding a spoonful of tea mixed with crumbs.

The question, then: What recipe would deliver this dry, extraordinary crumb-producer?


The Rotten Tomatoes website has links to more than twenty reviews of Raul Ruiz's movie adaptation, Time Regained. Robert Castle at the Bright Lights Film Journal reviews it too, as does John Simon at the National Review, and there are scenes from the movie on youtube. Judgment among the critics ranges from, "Densely layered, demanding and beautiful," to, "I can't think of any individuals I dislike so much as to force them to see this picture."

Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader:

Perhaps the best justification for this movie is the old chestnut that Proust is profoundly cinematic, an idea the film doesn’t so much prove as endlessly play with.


Rotten Tomatoes also links you to reviews of Chantel Akerman's Proust film, La Captive. Then Nick Davis writes about it and someone named Dadachvost posts it on youtube.


Chantal Akerman's elegant and admirably committed updating of Proust disentangles the notion of the controlling, possessive lover from the commercially overworked figures of either the brutish Svengali, throwing his weight around along with his fists, or the imperious hedonist of either gender, wielding a charismatic erotic arrogance that pitifully abjects the lover who just can't seem to say no or cry foul. By contrast to these enduring types, the sexual captor in Akerman's movie is a pale, ageless, rabbit-eyed, neurasthenic male of the Ian Bostridge stripe, whose physical frailty ironically contrasts but hardly neutralizes the vigor of his proprietary impulses.

Ian Bostridge is an English tenor. I came across him for the first time in Michael Nyman's adaptation of The Tempest, Noises, Sounds and Sweet Airs. Pale, thin-faced, looks fragile and blossomy in photographs, a bit like a lily.


The imdb page for Céleste, a 1981 film based on the final months of Proust's life. Several newspaper reviews of the film are republished on the website of the director, Percy Adlon.

How this could result in a movie that would appeal to anyone is beyond me.


A page about Harold Pinter's unfilmed adaptation of the book, and a second page about the stage play that came out of it. The 'Production 00' link takes you to two reviews of the original UK production of the play.

Those of us who have only dipped into Proust's deep waters and never had the courage to take the plunge will be unable to judge how far Harold Pinter's theatre version, adapted from his never-filmed 1972 cinema script, is faithful to the author. But that's beside the point. Director Di Trevis, which co-adapted Pinter's script, has created a thrilling three hour reverie, a theatrical dream-scape which drifts between the comic and the sad.


In 1974 the French choreographer (ex-ballet dancer) Roland Petit created a ballet named Proust ou les intermittences du coeur. During the 1980s it travelled to the US where it was reviewed favourably by the New York Times. A 2007 DVD of the ballet was reviewed by the Audiophile Audition website and samples of the ballet have been posted on Youtube.

Petit's stated intention was not to make a faithful adaptation of the novel. Rather, he preferred to capture its essence or flavor through thirteen selected tableaux, featuring the narrator's constant fluctuations between happiness and torment.


The Eccelesiastical Proust Archive.

This website aims to provide an intensive textual and visual experience of the church motif in Marcel Prousts À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). The main component is a searchable database that pairs all church-related passages in the novel with images depicting the original churches or related scenes.


The #proust hashtag at twitter.

librarygirl70 Aw damn left mah Proust at work. Guess i'll start les miserables
about 4 hours ago from txt


A page about his opinion of bonsai.

Proust concisely and accurately identifies the chief aesthetic property of these Japanese arts when he replies to [his good friend and woman of letters Marie] Nordlinger, 'the Japanese dwarf trees at Bing's are trees for the imagination'


A page about Stephane Huet's comic book version, of In Search of Lost Time, with previews.

I have to admit part of what impresses me is that Heuet is trying this at all. I can think of few novels that suggest themselves for comics adaptation less. -Andrew Smith, Scripps-Howard Papers


The New York Times obituary for Proust's housekeeper, Céleste Albaret.

Published: April 28, 1984

Celeste Albaret, the secretary, housekeeper and nurse of the French novelist Marcel Proust for the last nine years of his life, died of emphysema Wednesday, her family announced Thursday. She was 92 years old.


Stare raptly at photographs of Proust's grave, his dead face, and a recreation of his bedroom. If you are in Paris you may take a memorial walk. Then buy the limited edition Mont Blanc commemorative pen.

As a tribute to Marcel Proust’s most popular work, the rhodium-plated 18-karat gold nib bears a delicate engraving of an hourglass.


Three of his poems translated into English by Charles Guenther: Schumann, Antoine Watteau, Paulus Potter. Guenther supplements these with a quick article about the poet.

Meanwhile he had published his first and only book of verse, Les Plaisirs et Les Jours (Calmann-Levy, Paris, 1896), a collection daring from his early youth. Proust's poems in this small volume reveal stylistic and thematic influences of the Parnassian and Symbolist verse of the 1870s and 1890s not unlike those of Paul Valéry (born the same year as Proust) in his first poems (1890-1900).


A consideration of John Ashbery's Proust’s Questionnaire, including the poem itself. Gastón Baquero's poem Marcel Proust Cruises the Bay of Corinth, translated by Mark Weiss. And another poem: Proust, My Grandfather (and Eaton's, God Rot Them), by Don Coles.

Each day old Anaximander
sat beneath the shade of youth in flower.


Two articles from Bloomberg: Proust’s Intimate Letters Will Star in 1.6 Million-Euro Auction and the sequel, Proust Fans Battle to Buy Author’s Letters, Watch in Paris Sale.

Dec. 16 2008 (Bloomberg) -- Marcel Proust’s letters to his housekeeper will go on sale today at Sotheby’s in Paris.

The author of “In Search of Lost Time” sent letters, postcards and telegrams to Celeste Albaret, who worked for him for almost nine years. Sotheby’s, which has its main salerooms in New York, said the 173-lot auction may fetch as much as 1.6 million euros.

It fetched 1.58 million.


  1. I'd never seen that Monty Python sketch - what a hoot!

  2. I picked up a remaindered copy of de Botton's book last weekend (I'd borrowed it from the library years ago, and read it, but forgotten almost everything except a general impression of wit and sincerity) and discovered (or rediscovered) that he mentions the Python sketch in the "How to Take Your Time" chapter, after pointing out the most glompingly obvious fact about P's book: that it is long. "[T]he contest as a whole remained optimistic that an acceptable summary of Proust's work was possible [...] if only an appropriate candidate could be found," he writes with a straight face.

  3. There are a few grumpy online comments about a censored version of the sketch, but that one (which is uncensored, apparently) was the first one I found. I'm assuming the censors chopped out the word "masturbation" or something like that.