Sunday, September 15, 2019

BW38: Proust invokes the Past

Courtesy of Wikipedia
I have Marcel Proust on my mind today. A couple years ago I read Swann's Way which is the first volume of In Search For Lost Time which includes seven volumes: 

Swann’s Way
In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower
The Guermantes Way
Sodom and Gomorrah
The Prisoner
The Fugitive
Time Regained

I had a love/hate relationship with the story. Proust is passionate about everything and long winded; his sentences flow like a river, side streams branching out in every direction. He’s a romantic at heart, with a sense of humor, analyzing everything. Sometimes I got caught up in his whirlpools of emotion and other times, I felt like I was a leaf floating on the surface of the water, bobbing along with no direction, no purpose. His stories aren’t meant to be casually read. His words require you to immerse yourself entirely, his stories  experienced and not just observed.   Check out Proust's Madeleine moment as well as Pieces of Light discussion on  Proustian Memory and the power of memory and sensory experiences.  

 “Taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remained poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.” ~Marcel Proust 

Which led to my very own Madeliene moment.

It’s on the tip of my tongue, both physically, mentally and emotionally. A taste, a scent, that takes me back. But back to where? A fleeting memory of time past. So amazing how smells and flavors can catch me unaware, make me stop and reflect. There have been many times over the years when a scent wafted past my nose and took me back to high school, or an old house, a day on the lake, or a moment of grief.

Honeysuckle takes me back to my first home in Texas and sipping on a honeysuckle bush outside a friend’s house. I can see our block, our neighbors, long forgotten and pushed a bit further into the background of my conscious with each move. My dad was in the military so there were many moves over the years. Our house was the gathering spot and I remember long summer days and evenings playing hide-n-seek, head stands on the front lawn, and the boy next door teasing me.

Growing up and even into my 20’s, I couldn’t understand my parents fixation with food when we traveled. The concern of where and when we were going to stop and eat. Do we eat to live or live to eat? It wasn’t until later I realized it wasn’t the food, but the place. Food takes on a different flavor when we equate it with a place, use it as a placeholder for our memories. A favorite restaurant takes on a new meaning when it isn’t the food we are going for, but the camaraderie and a place to rest, think and talk.

When my mother died, dad insisted on going to one of their favorite restaurants. Little did I know they’d practically adopted the owner and the staff into the family. Surrounded by love, familiar scents and comfort food, it helped him grieve.

Favorite foods, recipes from the past passed on, not just because they taste good, but because it reminds us of mom and grandma and of bright days cooking and puttering around the kitchen, eating and playing games.

I love how Proust poetically and philosophically leads us to the point of memory. He could have very well said – It’s on the tip of my tongue. But where is the beauty in that?

In 1886, when Proust was 14, he was asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding his writing. The original manuscript was recovered and in 2003, it was sold at auction for $120,000. Below are the questions:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
What is your greatest fear?
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Which living person do you most admire?
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your current state of mind?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
On what occasion do you lie?
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Which living person do you most despise?
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
When and where were you happiest?
Which talent would you most like to have?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Where would you most like to live?
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
What is your favorite occupation?
What is your most marked characteristic?
What do you most value in your friends?
Who are your favorite writers?
Who is your hero of fiction?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Who are your heroes in real life?
What are your favorite names?
What is it that you most dislike?
What is your greatest regret?
How would you like to die?
What is your motto?

How would you answer these questions? And perhaps create your very own madeleine while doing so. 

Create a perpetual challenge for yourself and join me in reading Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time.  I'll be continuing my read with In Search of Young Girls in Flower 

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1 comment:

  1. Have you read my blog? I read the first two volumes this summer during my recovery from a broken leg. While I was reading How Proust Can Change Your life, I laughed out loud when I read this quote by his brother, Robert: “The sad thing is that people have to be very ill or to have broken a leg in order to have the opportunity to read In Search of Lost Time.”

    I fell in love with Proust this summer. I had read the first volume years ago and thought, "NO MORE," but I was challenged after reading How Proust Can Change Your life in May. I plan on reading all the volumes now and am 1/3 of the way through. I had many "madeleine moments" especially during the one that you are going to read. I grew up in a beach town. So the Balbec Beach scenes just brought so much back to me. I wish I had eaten a Madeleine when I was on the Normandy beach last summer!

    I am hooked, and I cannot believe that I am. I like these questions above. Reflection is good.

    Here is my picture of me with the broken leg reading Proust:


Thank you for your kind comments.