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Posts Tagged ‘Marcel Proust’

Fashion Regained

March 16, 2016 | by

Looking for Proust’s muse in Paris.

The Comtesse Élisabeth Greffulhe.

After making a careful study of contemporary fashion plates, Baudelaire came to the conclusion that one couldn’t examine clothes apart from the individual wearing them. “You might as well admire the tattered rags hung up as slack and lifeless as the skin of St. Bartholomeu,” he wrote in his essay “In Praise of Cosmetics.” In order to “recover the light and movement of life,” clothes needed to be animated by a living body, and it was only on this living body that they were to be understood. One wonders what he would’ve made of the nascent trend of the fashion exhibition, in which the fashions of yesteryear appear on mannequins, those motionless abstractions of the human figure.

La Mode retrouvée,” now at the Musée de la Mode in Paris, and coming in September to New York, uses clothes as a sort of Pompeiian ash in order to sketch the person who once filled them out. In this case, it’s the Comtesse Élisabeth Greffulhe (1860–1952), who was by reputation the most fashionable woman of her time. At her salon on the Rue d’Astorg, an integral part of the political and artistic milieux, she arranged for what was thought to be the impossible Russian-Franco alliance, as well as the reception of Fauré, Wagner, Isadora Duncan, and the Ballets Russes in Paris. Historians of the era have argued that no patron did more for music than she. And this at a time when, no matter the fact that she was married into wealth and rank, she had neither rights nor property as her own, as was the case for all women under the civil code of the Third Republic. Read More »

La Sagesse des Femmes

March 15, 2016 | by

Comtesse Anna-Élisabeth de Noailles, 1922.

“Never saw him write even the shortest note standing up,” Proust’s housekeeper Celeste Albaret wrote. Proust, it seems, spent the better part of his day—and the last three years of his life—in his spartan, cork-lined bedroom. He wrote, according to his biographer Diana Fuss, “from a semi-recumbent position, suspended midway between the realms of sleeping and waking using his knees as a desk.”

His bedchamber has been fully reconstructed at the Musée Carnavalet in Paris’s Marais neighborhood. This is apt; when forced to move from 102 Boulevard Haussmann later in life, the author was at pains to keep his environment intact. An exact copy, the Carnavalet installation is small and snug. According to Albaret, Proust wanted no distractions whatsoever from his writing, nothing extraneous in the room. Writing implements were arranged close at hand on a series of occasional tables; everything else was simple and unadorned. Read More »

Marcel’s Spurious Sponge Cake, and Other News

October 20, 2015 | by

Marcel Proust, date unknown.

  • Proust’s madeleine is one of modernism’s essential images—a cookie whose unique taste, whose absolute singularity, could conjure for the author a whole lost world. So it’s downright disturbing, then, to learn that the cookie was damn near something else: “A first draft of Proust’s monumental novel dating from 1907 had the author reminiscing not about madeleines as the sensory trigger for a childhood memory about his aunt, but instead about toasted bread mixed with honey … A second draft, the manuscripts showed, had the evocative mouthful as a biscotto, a hard biscuit.” Nostalgia is hereby ruined for everyone. Condolences.
  • Rivka Galchen has been spending a lot of time singing lullabies, which has given her ample room to consider their origins, their mysteries, and the plangent sadness they sound: “What, really, is a lullaby? We can define it functionally—a song used to lull a child to sleep … Another function is to let the singer speak. Maybe this is one reason the lyrics of lullabies are often so unsettled and dark. One way a mother might bond with a newborn is by sharing her joy; another way is by sharing her grief or frustration … When even relatively happy, well-supported people become the primary caretaker of a very small person, they tend to find themselves eddied out from the world of adults. They are never alone—there is always that tiny person—and yet they are often lonely. Old songs let us feel the fellowship of these other people, across space and time, also holding babies in dark rooms.”
  • Looking for a way forward, young writer? Embrace Ottessa Moshfegh’s scatological philosophy, and find truth in the ouroboros of your gastrointestinal tract: “My aim was to shit out new shit. And so in writing, I think a lot about how to shit. What kind of stink do I want to make in the world? My new shit becomes the shit I eat. I learn by digesting my own delusions. It’s often very disgusting. The process requires as much self-awareness and honesty as I’m capable of having. It requires the courage to be hostile and contradictory. My creativity seems to gain traction out of this relationship with reality: I hate you, I hate myself, I love myself, you love me, I love you, I hate you, ad infinitum. I am interested in my own hypocrisy. It provides the turbulence for me to change.”
  • John Clare, cast off in the nineteenth century as a minor poet, is today one of our most essential, especially in his treatment of nature: “He saw tragic ironies all over the place, but he never sought verbal ironies himself: he is about as sincere (if not naive) as poets get. Clare seems to have benefited from few of the changes wreaked on the planet since the invention of the steam engine and cannot be blamed for whatever brought them about: he may be the last significant white Anglophone poet for whom that was true.” Accordingly, poets like Lisa Fishman, Matthew Dickman, David Morley, David Baker, and Donald Revell have opened up a kind of dialogue with him in work that directly addresses his own: “Clare’s apparently unorganized—but minutely observed—poetry looks like a model for poets who want to stay true to a material world while rejecting the hypotactic, well-made structures that earlier generations preferred.”
  • You’ve probably spent hours in your toolshed puzzling over the etymology of monkey wrench—who hasn’t? Relief is at hand: you may now learn more than you ever thought you wanted to know about the history and origin of monkey wrenches, and their mystery runs deep. Charles Moncky, the alleged inventor of said wrench, is often believed to have inspired its name, but “he would have been only twelve years old in 1840 when the earliest known accounts of monkey wrenches appeared in print.” The answer may lie in a popular toy, the monkey stick—you decide.

I Have Gone to Bed Early: Translating Proust

October 13, 2015 | by

Proust, looking saucy.

Richard Howard, who turns eighty-six today, first appeared in The Paris Review in our thirteenth issue—from the summer of 1956. Since then, several of his poems and translations have found their way to these pages, and in 2004, J. D. McClatchy interviewed him for our Art of Poetry series. In our Summer 1989 issue, George Plimpton spoke with Howard about translating Proust.

GP

The first line of Remembrance of Things Past is one of the most famous in literature. How does your version differ from the others?

RH

Three versions of Proust’s first sentence—“Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure.”—have been published. The Scott Moncrieff-Kilmartin: “For a long time I used to go to bed early.” James Grieve (an Australian professor): “Time was, when I always went to bed early.” And mine: “Time and again, I have gone to bed early.”

GP

And what is the thinking behind your version?

RH

To begin with, “time and again” seems one of those cell-like phrases which sums up a meaning of the whole book, as long-temps does in French. I admire Professor Grieve’s “time was”, but it doesn’t have the notion of recurrence that I wanted. It seemed to me that what was needed was not only an opening phrase which would reveal the book’s meaning, but one that would begin with the word “time”, which would be the last word in the book as well, as it is in French. Read More »

Instant Happy Woman

February 21, 2014 | by

tea and morphine

Paul Albert Besnard, Morphinomanes ou le plumet, 1887. Image via the Hammer Museum.

The Hammer Museum, in LA, is currently showing an exhibition titled “Tea and Morphine: Women in Paris, 1880 to 1914.” The juxtaposition of the two substances is deliberate; the show aims to present what the curators call “a multidimensional portrait of the Parisian woman at the turn of the century, spanning from the frilly collars of the upper class to the dirty syringes of the desperately poor.” All of this is represented by some of the great artists of the day in a series of arresting engravings, paintings, and lithographs. (Occasional bits of ephemera—and books like Les morphinées—round out the show.)

By definition, the portrayals run the gamut from civilized—George Bottini’s graceful fin de siècle women shopping or walking down Parisian boulevards—to depraved. But even the most abject addict is glossed with romance. The renderings, whether they be stylized art nouveau commercial work or a Bonnard etching, are so achingly beautiful as to provide a sense of continuity. All these women, whatever they were drinking, were muses.

And the show is at pains, via notes and curation, to make it clear that one substance was not synonymous with only one group of subjects; monied women frequently resorted to morphine in the nineteenth century, to the point where their widespread drug use became a problem. Meanwhile, even when yielding acid, or injecting morphine, the demimondaine is rendered with the same beauty and care, avenging goddesses and righteous furies. (Which is all very well, if you were a Parisian prostitute.) As Proust—no stranger to morphine himself—would have it, “The paradoxes of today are the prejudices of tomorrow, since the most benighted and the most deplorable prejudices have had their moment of novelty when fashion lent them its fragile grace.” That women numbing themselves was so pervasive a theme is both scary and illuminating.

But here is the thing. Shortly after studying the images in this exhibition, I took a walk and saw this: Read More »

“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 »

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