Friday, January 26, 2007

Tennis Rackets and Banjos




There must be a German compound for 'searching for one thing and finding another'. Not serependipity, as in 'chance find' - something a bit more directed. It's the same word in German by the way! They always look and sound impressive: bildungsroman; weltanshaung. Beautiful sounds. My favourite: schadenfreude. Mark Twain appears to have been irritatingly exercised by the German language. According to Paul Joyce

In a speech given in Vienna in March 1899, Twain imparted to the audience an 95 letter word which he claimed had recently been sent to him in a telegram from Linz:

Personaleinkommensteuerschätzungskommissionsmitglieds-
reisekostenrechnungsergänzungsrevisionsfund.

Twain added: "If I could get a similar word engraved upon my tombstone I should sleep beneath it in peace."

He would no doubt have been amused by Einmannmotorkettensäge (a motorized chain saw that can be operated by a single person ) which extends to Einmannmotorkettensägeführer for the operator of the device.

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In the process of searching for something which will get me closer to understanding Proust without actually having to read him in great detail - though the more criticism I read the more it seems it might be better to start from the beginning and ignore what other people say about The Novel. Dan Schneider, linked to at the side, begins with "... In the last decade or so of his life, and posthumously, he worked on and published the work in eight instalments in French ...." which doesn't fill one with great confidence. Though of course we know what he means. He's just stumbling over himself in his excitement to explain how Proust did it, in a way that Proust manged not to do. Ben Stoltzfus [1 ] in The stones of Venice, time, and remembrance: Calculus and Proust in Across the River and into the Trees, the Proust - (Venice) - Hemingway article from The Hemingway Review ( Spring 2003), linked to at the side, has:

All of these sensory contacts-taste, sound, touch, and feel-are mnemonic catalysts that revive the past with great intensity and affective joy and none is attributable to voluntary memory. On the contrary, the key to the happiness Marcel feels is that these memories are involuntary. They occur spontaneously and are the result of chance encounter. Marcel relives these past events as though they were in the present, and because he has the illusion of escaping from time he no longer "feels mediocre, contingent, or mortal" (CCSI, 45). In fact, he feels immortal and, in due course, he imbues the art that organizes and captures these privileged moments with the immortality that will survive death. Indeed, for Proust, art in the broadest sense is the only immortality that men and women can hope for. In a secular world nothing lasts forever, but great artists live posthumous lives that mere mortals never will. The renown of Proust and Hemingway guarantees their survival, at least for a while, and it is interesting that both men, despite their profound stylistic differences and life styles, incorporated a consciousness of survival into their writing.


So it's either give up reading about Proust in order to read Proust or it's read some more about Proust in order to read Proust with greater pleasure and understanding. Or could the pleasure of reading it be diminished by too much reading about it?

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Maybe Proust could be roped into the Slow Movement? Or is he already in there?

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For the best part of a century great warehouses full of doltish, failed Ph.D. theses, as well as the great and the good in literary and cultural criticism, have offered the suggestion his long sentances were in some way connected to the writing style of Ruskin. In the 10 years from 1897 to 1906, he applied himself to the task of reading and translating Ruskin [1] [2] [3]. Was this what converted him to Ruskin's convoluted way of writing? The Victorian Web is a good resource. If you have never come across it before, give it a try. Here, from the Ruskin page, Examples of Ruskin's word painting.

But there is the question of the Ruskin early and late style.


Derwent May,
Proust, p.65 (Pan ppbk ed.):

Ruskin's long, impassioned sentances, pursuing a thought far afield while simultaneously flashing with brilliant pictures, are nearer to Proust's style in A la researche than any other writer before him. In translating him, Proust had for the first time created such sentances in French.


DM, p.70:

Dickens's Bleak House was one of his favourite novels. Balzac, Flaubert, Dickens - George Eliot and Thomas Hardy, too - all played a part in bringing him to the idea of his own novel.


And he was a pasticher. [3]

He did also attend lectures by someone who taught some German philosophy or other. Probably Hegel.

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Casually thrown out in this In Our Times programme, which I must have heard before on the radio but have forgotten, a la Proust, was a remark about Proust using a tennis racket as a Banjo. Intriguing, except not one of the experts in the radio discussion picked up on it: a joke between cognoscenti.

But in half an hour searching for more Proust websites to include here, found this set of photographs of Proust, his family, friends, places and a couple of facscimile manuscripts. What should appear in the Proust with Friends page but a (Is he grimacing or straight faced?) Marcel on his knees - a young lady behind him standing on a chair adding to the jollity - doing, in what seems like in his mid-twenties, what we might have done in our teens to a Stones LP.

Since discovering he was keen on having photographs to hand, this is going to be one of the areas I will be looking into and thinking more about (one of my favourite films is Poliakoff's Shooting the Past). I already have learnt about this business of photographs in the style of painters: "She would have liked me to have in my room photographs of ancient buildings or of beautiful places...." SM trans.

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The plan had been to concentrate on Proust on love but Art seems and equally important root to understanding the book. Ruskin seems to have popped up and will not get out of my mind.

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Amusing to see how Proust evades the non-French reader, when an Englishman may have so influenced his writing style, yet it was said (by whom?) he might have had difficulty ordering from the menu in English. What would he have thought if he knew that millions were still struggling with his book in English, and the intricacies of which of the various translations to read?





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