Britain's first book blogger (November 2000)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dust and diamonds

Daniel Karlin isn't impressed with William C. Carter's Proust in Love:
Carter's main problem is a perennial one in modern literary biography, which can neither let go of the 'literary' nor truly do it justice. [...] Literary criticism which relies on biography attracted Proust's scorn - the original title of his novel was 'Contre Sainte-Beuve', the critic who he considered to epitomize this failing - but biography which relies on literary 'evidence' is in an even more parlous state, since it reverses the alchemical process by which experience gets transmuted into art, and offers us a handful of dust as compensation for the diamonds it has pulverised. Carter cites the opinion of Benjamin Crémieux that 'To take the true measure of Proust's achievement, it is perhaps a great advantage not to have known him' but fails to transpose the paradox: 'To take the true measure of Proust's life, it is perhaps a great advantage not to have read his book.'
From the latest TLS, not online.

5 comments:

  1. Andrew12:07 pm

    Proust of course the prime example of the unhealthy elevation of art to a putrid semi-divine state. If only he had got the shit kicked out of him every now and then...

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  2. If you think that, it's only because you haven't read his novel.

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  3. Andrew2:03 pm

    I disagree. I think that because I have read Proust. Something dreadfully suffocating about it all. Which isn't too surprising given that Proust was a man who used to write to his mother daily informing her of details of his bodily excretions. Proust obviously a genius but a genius submerged utterly in the minutiae of the tedious rich, with or without a sense of irony about the vacuityof it all. Even the search for the beautiful is all repellent to me, averting one's eyes from the vast majority of life one wishes to avoid.

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  4. I don't believe you have read it. Evidently you've read his biography (or gossip in a review more like). Or maybe your tongue is in your cheek, because his novel is, among other things, a critique of those who use the life to judge the work.

    John Carey, that arch philistine, also thinks it's a novel about the rich. Try reading Deleuze's Proust & Signs for guidance on that snobbish delusion.

    By the way, this Life-Art opposition is so overplayed. You'd think it was only those who've never written a great novel knew that art and life are different. Art and existence ... now that's more interesting.

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  5. Andrew6:02 pm

    Should I send you a photograph of my rading it to prove that I have at least have had it opened in from of my corporeal being? There is no release from Proust's past, merely the desire to drown oneself in it to infinity. Also seeing as our brief affair does seemingly sadly approach its end since I don't see much point in conversing with someone who accuses me of lying, your response to Art=Distillation of Life etc by posting a tedious piece of humour summed up the democratic principle point I'd made. Profundity all well and good from a safe distance, but if some person one has never heard of dares write something vaguely elevated, quickly drag him and his pretensions down to the grubby mediocre air the rest of us are content to breathe. Though presumably your riposte would be that you were dealing pretentiousness a fatal blow. The only reason it being pretentious howeever, being that the speaker of the thought some anonymous shit-kicker rather than a sanctified genius. I do at least agree that John Carey is an exercise in tedium.
    Anyway, let us not weep bitter tears and I'll leave you with some thoughts of Aldous Huxley, who Proust considered a genius.
    "That asthmatic seeker of lost times forever squatting in a tepid bath of his remembered past and all the stale soap suds of countless previous washings, all the accumulated dirt of years lay crusty on the sides of the tub. And there he sat, scooping up spongefuls of his own thick soup and squeezing it over his face ... like a pious Hindu in the Ganges."

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