The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘In Search of Lost Time’

The Discovery of Oneself: An Interview with Daniel Mendelsohn

July 1, 2014 | by

Mendelsohn-matt mendelsohn

Photographed by Matt Mendelsohn.

Last year, the French magazine La Revue des Deux Mondes published an interview with Daniel Mendelsohn about his experiences reading Proust as part of a special issue on “Proust vu d’Amérique.” We’re pleased to present an English version of the interview here, translated from the French by Anna Heyward.

In Time Regained, Proust writes, “In reality every reader is, when he reads, the reader of his own self. The work of the writer is just a kind of optical instrument that is offered to the reader to permit him to discern that which, without the book in question, he could not have seen within himself.” You read Proust for the first time when you were a Classics student at the University of Virginia. What did you feel then?

Discovering Proust was a real shock—the shock of recognition. I was twenty, and my encounter with this novel gave me a shock that, I believe, is felt by every gay person reading Proust for the first time. It was remarkable to understand that the unsatisfied desires and the erotic frustrations I harbored had not only been felt by someone else—much bigger news in 1980 than today, it’s worth remembering—but, even more extraordinarily, had been made the subject of a great book. And yet, interestingly, when I read Swann’s Way, it wasn’t any specific description of homosexual desire that touched me—that theme is treated much more fully in a later volume, as we know—but something much more general, the novel’s description of unreciprocated desire and, above all, the astounding revelation, or perhaps confirmation, for me, that desire can’t endure its own satisfaction. We see that exemplified in Swann in Love. When Swann succeeds in physically possessing Odette, when she ceases to escape him, his desire for her vanishes. For me, yes, that was a revelation as well as a recognition of something I was feeling in my own early erotic encounters.

And then I had another kind of shock. Thanks to Proust, I found a certain consolation in thinking that all artistic creation is a substitute for erotic frustration and disappointment. That art feeds on our failures. Back then, I remember thinking to myself, I can’t get what I want anyway—by which, at the time, I meant that it didn’t seem possible to have a fulfilled “romantic” life—so I may as well become a writer.

Some readers feel the need to dive straight back into In Search of Lost Time as soon as they’ve finished reading the seven volumes of the book. Was that the case for you?

No. On the contrary, when I read it that first time, and in fact every time I’ve read it since, I need time to absorb it, to let it resonate, or perhaps percolate. After a sentence, a moment, as magnificent as the ones that end  Time Regained¹, I find it difficult to return to any reading at all. You feel everything has been said. On the other hand, I’ve reread In Search of Lost Time about every ten years since I was twenty. I’m a little over fifty now, and so I suppose it’s high time I start my fourth reading. Read More »

10 COMMENTS

“The Past Is a Mist”: Pinter’s Proust

January 23, 2014 | by

IMG_5468 Pinter-Proust at 92 Y © 2014 Nancy Crampton

Photo © 2014 Nancy Crampton

  1. Yellow screen. Sound of a garden gate bell.
  2. Open countryside, a line of trees, seen from a railway carriage. The train is still. No sound. Quick fade out.
  3. Momentary yellow screen.
  4. The sea, seen from a high window, a towel hanging on a towel rack in foreground. No sound. Quick fade out.
  5. Momentary yellow screen.
  6. Venice. A window in a palazzo, seen from a gondola. No sound. Quick fade out.
  7. Momentary yellow screen.

So begins the wordless sequence of thirty-six shots at the start of The Proust Screenplay, Harold Pinter’s adaptation of À la recherche du temps perdu, written in the seventies and never filmed.

To celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Proust’s Swann’s Way a series of public events have been planned in New York. Part of 92Y’s contribution to the centenary was a staged reading of Pinter’s The Proust Screenplay, which was produced at the National Theatre in London in 2001 but had never been performed in the States before its 92Y debut. Helmed by the same director from the National’s production, the 92Y’s reading was directed by Di Trevis, who collaborated with Pinter to stage his screenplay. Performed by a cast of fourteen—led by Peter Clements, a dead ringer for Proust—the crowded event felt like a staged reading in name only; fully blocked out with lighting cues, set pieces, and props, the presence of the actors’ scripts was the only sign that this wasn’t a complete production. Read More »

5 COMMENTS

Life-Affirming Reads

September 21, 2012 | by

Dear Paris Review,

I am currently suffering from a major depression, which has caused me to lose my job and my relationship. I see a therapist and a psychiatrist, and I believe and hope I’m beginning to recover. I have been a major reader all my life, but the depression has made it difficult for me to concentrate, so I haven’t been able to read much lately. I’ve been reading bits and pieces of books I’ve read before many times (Darkness Visible, Diving Into the Wreck), trying to get something from them.

I suppose I’m looking for two different types of book as I recover: books that will show me why to live and how, and books that will allow me to escape my present torture. Both need to be pretty easy to follow—for instance, I recently bought The Myth of Sisyphus after reading William Styron’s reference too it, but it’s too difficult for my slow brain right now.

Thank you.

Dear friend,

I’ve been where you are and know exactly the state you describe: one of the many distressing aspects of depression is the inability to lose yourself—and for those of us who have always found comfort in books, this is particularly scary. It goes without saying that everyone’s recovery process is different, and without a sense of your exact tastes—although it is clear you are an ambitious and curious reader with wide-ranging interests—it is a little tricky to suggest comfort reads. (After all, that is so bound up with one’s history and associations, no?) But I can tell you what has worked for me, and for some people I know, and hope that the suggestions, and the knowledge that you are in good company, will prove helpful.

Read More »

78 COMMENTS

To MFA or Not to MFA, Behaving Like a Gentleman

July 30, 2010 | by

To MFA or not to MFA. That is the question. —D. G.

It depends on how you feel about putting off the inevitable. That’s what writing programs are for—to give young writers one or two years of camaraderie before they face the market, where writing lives or dies according to whether people will pay to read it. You can learn things in a writing program, of course. It can give you the sanction to spend your days reading and writing, if you need that kind of sanction. More important, it can offer a stipend. This is probably the best thing a program can do, beside helping you to realize if you have no talent. (This service tends not to be advertised.) But I find it hard to believe that spending so much time with other young writers—people so much like you—is good for the spirit, or makes you a more interesting person. Most living writers I admire (and most I don't) have spent some time either studying or teaching in writing programs. So have I. And some, like the excellent Gary Shteyngart, seem to find them useful. At this point, I think, it’s hard to tell: so few young writers go it alone.

Read More »

15 COMMENTS