Thursday, January 5, 2012

Parenthesizing Proust

We talked last night about the difficulty of reading Proust, particularly his long sentences. The longest sentence in Recherche is supposed to occur in the middle of Proust's essay on "inversion." But it's merely eight semi-colons in search of a period. Proust becomes daunting when he inserts one thought within another thought within another: parenthesis, em-dash, colon etc. I challenge anyone to read and understand the following on the first trial through. (Background: Bloch has introduced Marcel to the easy women in brothels.)

So that if I owed to Bloch—for his “good tidings” that happiness and the enjoyment of beauty were not inaccessible things that we have made a meaningless sacrifice in renouncing forever—a debt of gratitude of the same kind as that we owe to an optimistic physician or philosopher who has given us reason to hope for longevity in this world and not to be entirely cut off from it when we shall have passed into another, the houses of assignation which I frequented some years later—by furnishing me with samples of happiness, by allowing me to add to the beauty of women that element which we are powerless to invent, which is someting more than a mere summary of former beauties, that present indeed divine, the only one the that we cannot bestow upon ourselves, before which all the logical creations of our intellect pale, and which we can seek from reality alone: an individual charm—deserved to be ranked by me with those other benefactors more recent in origin but of comparably utility (before finding which we used to imagine without any warmth the seductive charms of Mantegna, of Wagner, of Siena, by studying other painters, hearing of other composers, visiting other cities): namely illustrated editions of the Old Masters, symphony concerts, and guidebooks to historic towns.

This Moncrieff-Kilmartin-Enright translation occurs in "Madam Swann at Home," the first part of Within a Budding Grove (specifically the "Revelations about love" rubric from the Synopsis). Even after having made sense of this—after performing the kind of segmentation-anaysis one is sometimes in need of with Cicero—I doubt I could read it aloud and have anyone understand it … which constitutes a pretty far mark in the lands of unreadability!

1 comment:

Tim said...

I did once know somebody who claimed to have no trouble reading Proust. I asked him how he managed the long "parenthetical" sentences and he said, "Oh, when I see one parenthesis [ i.e. "(" ] I skip to the next [ ")" ] and just keep on reading … sometimes never looking back."