Britain's first book blogger (November 2000)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Leavetakings

While Ed Champion complains about the focus on the length of Paul Anderson's debut novel rather than its literary qualities, he also admits to being drawn to 'these mammoth affairs'. Well, I want to say the exact opposite. I'm drawn to brevity. While Ed enjoys ‘the pleasure of getting lost within a world, the specifics of characters or a particular vernacular’, I like being pitched back into the shining solitude of this world. The best online example I know of is Josipovici’s short story A Glass of Water. It takes my breath away. There’s a leavetaking in progress that never stops being in progress. Suddenly, one’s own world becomes richer in the process. A 500-pager would struggle to do that without becoming tiresome and exhausting.

It's also a leavetaking of itself.

That said about brevity, I’ve read In Search of Lost Time three times. This too, I suppose, is a story of leavetakings. Marcel letting go of his mother's goodnight kiss. Marcel letting go of his grandmother after her death. Marcel letting go of Albertine after she leaves him. It's curious then how the original English title – Rememberance of Things Past – should appeal to complacent nostalgia when it is really about the joys of the present - the place where paradise is lost. I suppose the inaccuracy of the first title indicates the negative side of getting lost in a book.

Gilles Deleuze corrects this assumption: “Proust’s work is based not on the exposition of memory" he writes "but on the apprenticeship to signs.” In particular for the young Marcel, the signs of love.

To love is to try to explicate, to develop [the] unknown worlds which remain enveloped within the beloved.

We might regard this as similar to reading a book. The trouble is, it leads to a contradiction.

We cannot interpret the signs of a loved person without proceeding into worlds that have not waited for us in order to take form, that formed themselves with other persons, and in which we are at first only an object among the rest. The lover wants his beloved to devote to him her preferences, her gestures, her caresses. But the beloved’s gestures, at the moment they are addressed to us, still express that unknown world that excludes us. The beloved gives us signs of preference; but because these signs are the same as those that express worlds to which we do not belong, each preference by which we profit draws the image of the possible world in which others might be or are preferred.

Marcel sees Swann experience this as he is crippled with jealousy over Odette. It prefigures his own relationships. They seem very familiar to me too.

So the contradiction of love consists of this: the means we count on to preserve us from jealousy are the very means that develop jealousy, giving it a kind of autonomy, of independence with regard to our love.

I think this is why, for me, reading is never as carefree or as pleasurable in the way commonly described (mainly because, I think, we are not true to our own experience of the autonomy of reading). In this way, ‘loving a book’ takes on a whole new meaning.

2 comments:

  1. Well, there's a case to be made with both approaches. But reading to me affects me like a narcotic. If it's a good batch, then I'm completely immune to the world around me and I am in that glorious realm of remaining lost. But this doesn't necessarily mean that one can't get lost in short clips. We're all adults here and I trust each reader to find her respective time commitment. :)

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  2. I'll refrain from using emoticons but Steve, I thought this a wonderful, grown-up post, maybe even better than the one above it.

    Not that it matters, but last summer I was reading Barthes and as they say 'falling, in love' or maybe just falling further. And it's comforting--though not the same, of course--to hear that for others too reading is not sacrificed in being lost. That in fact the latter would lose something--its (in)ability to fall--if this were the case.

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