May 8, 2011

Proust: The Guermantes Way

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:16 by Miracle

It is not that I have now trouble discerning reality from fiction, but I am beginning to sense a certain attachment to our narrator. Now a young adult in The Guermantes Way, I feel as if I have grown up with him. No, I cannot regard him as a role model or someone I would choose to have as a best friend, but a being akin to a relative, someone with whom you are bound to have close ties one way or another. Moreover, growing up with a fruit of Proustian imagination yields a fancy that one is not only growing up as a reader, but as a person as well – and to think I am already having such sentiments when I have only finished the third volume. Oh, what Proust can do!

The Guermantes Way, I gather, is an exploration on manifold and kaleidoscopic human relations from the recondite to the perfunctory. If one were to single out this third volume apart from the entire In Search of Lost Time, the reader might sense an unexciting plot, but as in reading any great work of literature, we do not seek after the plot, otherwise we should very well settle for a Sidney Sheldon. What we seek after are passages – may it be about pianists, or artists and neurosis – which urge us to ponder, or enhance the way we view art or life. However, in The Guermantes Way, there are lengthy sections that I deem discouraging to some readers, particularly those that are about aristocracy and political issues of that time (distinctly the Dreyfuss Affair) which today’s reader might find irrelevant, even though they were duly appreciated as it gave me a thorough portrait of a past era.

Of these paragraphs describing the superficial conversations and elaborations about genealogies among the elite, the narrator also laments that it “supplied no food for my favourite trains of thought; and besides, even had they possessed the elements which they lacked, they would have had to be of a very exciting quality for my inner life to awaken during those hours in which I lived on the surface, my hair well brushed, my shirt-front starched, in which, that is to say, I could feel nothing of what constituted for me the pleasure of life.”

The prolonged descriptions of high society would dismay some young readers today. In fact I have recently heard of someone who does not like Proust’s works so much. This does not surprise me, and I shall not judge that person since we are all entitled to our own preferences. However, in my view, these aspects of a work which we cannot relate to (excluding graphic obscenities which I find I really cannot take), are like qualities of a person that we cannot fully understand simply because we have been raised differently. If we welcome and try to understand these seemingly un-understandable qualities along with the accompanying higher percentage of wisdom instead of ignoring the work or the person’s entirety just because of these details, something happens. We learn.

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