Tuesday, December 15, 2015
to disappear beneath slow sea-water
Put the point at the end of the sentence, said Dorothy Richardson. It is one of the writing precepts that she gives to Miriam in Pilgrimage, and she offered it genuinely, not fictionally, to someone in a letter, following her own advice more and more as the books go on, or so I think now as I'm rereading them, and up to volume twelve, Dimple Hill, the sentences becoming more Proustian in this structural sense, the winding roam that ends with a cap that expands into suggestiveness because it is exact and surprising: "Returned from their first glance at the scene as it showed from the house which before had been part of it and now, itself only a window, left it empty, a vast expanse ending in a wedge-shaped ridge low against the low sky, her eyes sped once more across the flats, now beginning to disappear beneath slow sea-water, and reached the misty ridge and found trees there, looking across at her from their far distance so intently that she was moved to set down the little old spoon raised to crack the shell of the egg whose surface, in the unimpeded light, wore so soft a bloom." Not the same observations as Proust, or for the same reason, but still the sentence-weight placed on the "soft bloom," on a little thing, the capper is aimed at tininess and faintness, a passing object: a flower, in him, a slick of sperm, or a yellow spot that no one else can find, though it revived him when he was dying, said Jean-Louis Vaudoyer, who allowed the other man to lean upon his arm at the Jeu de Palme where Vermeer's View of Delft, 1660-61, was on display in an exhibition "the profits of which were to go to areas of Flanders that had been laid waste by the war." Marcel Proust: a Life, Jean-Yves Tadié, tr. Euan Cameron, 2000. "Several times he came back to sit down on that 'circular settee' which Bergotte rolls off to die," said Vaudoyer. "But," writes Tadié, Proust "did not die in front of the View of Delft." It is strange that this sentence is there in the biography when everybody knows that Proust did not die in front of the View of Delft. Logically we know it, because Bergotte would not have been able to roll away in the same place if his creator had done so first. It is odd to imagine myself as someone who was desiring, sighing, longing to be informed very clearly that Proust did not suffer a fatal attack in the Jeu de Palme before he had written the word "end" in his manuscript, which, according to Céleste Albaret, was an event that occurred in the following year. And what does she mean, asks Tadié, when there are at least four versions of the final paragraph, none of which can be singled out as the one that ended with Fin? "[I]n which version was the word Fin placed at the end? Certainly before the fourth but after the third. It was when Proust had succeeded in inserting the image of giants, which may have taken the place of the 'êtres monstrueux,' that he stopped; it was both because he had achieved a rhythmical fullness, and also because of the effect, not dissimilar to silence in musical tempo, of the single dash (not a pair, as in the Clarac-Ferré edition) which precedes 'dans le temps.'"
If Tadié wants to tell me that Proust did not die in front of a Vermeer then he has an idea of me that does not fit my actual existence, or perhaps that information resolved an imbalanced feeling there in the paragraph for him and he assumed that I, too, would have been arrested by that imbalance and clumsiness, desiring, in its place, a "musical fullness," and so, to get us both through the experience safely, he installed that phrase even though we are on page seven hundred and forty-four in a book where the section titled 'Death' does not come until page seven hundred and seventy-five. Between the two pages Proust nearly has a bucket and a chicken thrown at his head and he goes to the Ritz for dinner more than once.
Why, in that sentence, did I take the word "ice" away from the front of "bucket" and "hot" from the front of "chicken," which would have given them a clearer placement in the Ritz dining room? There must have been a reason. Now, as it is, the bucket might be a manure bucket and the chicken might be alive. The dying Proust is visiting a farm (how, with his asthma?); he is standing on the floor of a barn while a farm person, not looking where he is aiming, is cleaning buckets and chickens off the rafters. Probably there was straw as well but Tadié has not mentioned it. The owner of the farm sees the near miss and loses his temper at the farm person but Proust is charming, as he always was, a quality that Miriam analyses whenever she comes across it in another character during Pilgrimage. What does it mean, to say charming things? she considers. Why is it different in a man and in a woman? Chrisman never praises Ruskin for his charmingness* and nor was Laure charming. She was "pure, dissolute, dark, luminous." "I drank, I bathed in her radiant purity," wrote Jean Bernier, tr Jeanine Herman. L'amour de Laure, 1978. Do I ever know what to do with words? The difference between a live chicken and a cooked one lies between the words "warm" and "hot."
*"The ability to coo as gently as a dove was not a notable characteristic of Ruskin."