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Posts Tagged ‘Proust’

Inside Albertine

September 26, 2014 | by

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Nations of the world, take note: there are a number of benefits to running an embassy out of an historic mansion on Fifth Avenue. First, look around: you’re in an historic mansion on Fifth Avenue! Second, go upstairs: you’re still in that same historic mansion, on the same Fifth Avenue! Third, take stock of the fact that, because you don’t pay rent, you can kiss off market forces and open any business you’d like … in your historic mansion on Fifth Avenue!

Antonin Baudry, the cultural counselor for the French Embassy, had such a realization a few years ago. For more than sixty years, the embassy has made use of the Payne Whitney House, an opulent Italian Renaissance–style home erected from 1902 to 1906 at Fifth Ave. and 79th St. It seemed a shame, he thought, to deny passersby the chance to see its tongue-lollingly gorgeous interior. It also seemed a shame that New York had lost its last French bookstore, the Librairie de France, in 2009 …

You may see where this is headed. Baudry and his staff are at this moment putting the finishing touches on Albertine, a new French bookstore housed in the embassy—it opens Saturday at eleven A.M. When I visited yesterday, Baudry showed me around its impressive two floors, which had already achieved—though the ladders and drop clothes were still in evidence, and the painters were still painting, the burnishers still burnishing—an enviable blend of new bookstore smell and old building smell. It resembles a magnificent private library of the sort you’d expect to find in a turn-of-the-century estate. Read More »

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The Discovery of Oneself: An Interview with Daniel Mendelsohn

July 1, 2014 | by

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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 »

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This Machine Will Self-Destruct, and Other News

June 19, 2014 | by

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Kaboom!

  • New additions to the list of things the pen is mightier than: the mouth, the camera. “As soon as kids acquire a basic understanding of letters and reading … they exhibit a greater trust in printed textual information than in oral or visual information … something about the act of learning to read causes children to ‘rapidly come to regard the written word as a particularly authoritative source of information about how to act in the world.’” And it is. Trust me.
  • Clancy Martin and Amie Barrodale on the Chateau Marmont: “To the left is a room with a lot of nice old mismatched couches and armchairs. Not blocking the chairs, so you might not notice it, just against the far wall, is a podium. An attractive person is always standing there, and if you try to sit in the lobby, he or she says, ‘Are you staying here?’ If you are, then you can sit.”
  • On DIS magazine and accelerationism: “‘Do they really just worship consumerism?’ … As curator Agatha Wara, a DIS associate, once explained it to me, accelerationists believe that ‘the only way to get over capital is through capital’—that is, by accelerating capitalism’s own tendency toward self-destruction.”
  • Speaking of that very tendency, Amazon is making a smartphone.
  • Did you know? It’s not easy to translate Proust: “There is always a tension in translation between the spirit and the letter, between conveying things we might call tone, mood, feel, or music, and being as literally faithful to the original as possible. Moncrieff excelled at both.”
  • How an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation describes the outermost limits of our capacity to communicate: “Tamarian verbalisms depict the world through images and figures, which distort their ‘real’ referents. Troi and Picard can’t help but interpret Tamarian through their (and our) cultural obsession with mimicry: Metaphorical language operates not by signification, but as poetry, by transforming the real in a symbolic mirror. But for the Tamarians, something far weirder is going on …”

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Proust Says “Pipe Down,” and Other News

June 3, 2014 | by

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Will you please be quiet, please?

  • In which Penguin Random House unveils its new logo and “brand identity.”
  • Proust’s letters to his noisy neighbors: “It seems almost too perfect that Proust, the bedridden invalid, would have sent notes upstairs, sometimes by messenger, sometimes through the post, to implore the Williamses to nail shut the crates containing their summer luggage in the evening, rather than in the morning, so that they could be better timed around his asthma attacks.”
  • Where are erotica writers having sex? In the doctor’s office. At the Louvre. On the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World.
  • Making an unlikely appearance in the Times Op-Ed section this morning: our Art of Nonfiction interview with Adam Phillips.
  • “When I find myself having to defend the narrative force of video games, I like to give the example of a real experience I had in my childhood involving the game Metroid. In this science fiction adventure, we guide a bounty hunter called Samus Aran … he wears armor which covers his whole body, until, at the end, after finding and destroying the Mother Brain, Samus … removes his helmet to reveal that he is really a woman … I had controlled a woman the whole time without knowing … Narrative sublimity is possible in the medium of electronic games.”

 

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Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: Modernists Go Off-Menu

January 2, 2013 | by

The opening scenes of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times demonstrate the indignities mechanized factory production perpetrates upon the bodies of its workers. The first shot, of sheep herded into a pen, dissolves into one of men leaving the subway. They’re bound, the viewer assumes, for the kind of job in which the next cut finds Chaplin’s Little Tramp: working on an assembly line, his motions so repetitive that they become reflexive. He can’t stop twisting his wrists, as if to tighten bolts, even when he leaves the station where he tightens bolts all day. His body is so bound to the line and to the factory that the same boss who controls the conveyor belt’s speed also controls the movements of the Tramp’s body. Finally, the factory extends its control to the Tramp’s last autonomous function: eating his lunch.

A salesman so committed to mechanization that he lets a machine speak for him has brought to the factory boss’s office a prototype of “the Billows Feeding Machine, a practical device which automatically feeds your men while at work.” He asks the boss to pick one of his workers for a demonstration, and of course Chaplin’s Tramp is volunteered. Strapped into the machine, hands incapacitated, the helpless Tramp watches the machine rotate plates before him: soup, air-cooled between spoonfuls; corn, spinning on its cob; cubes of meat, pushed by a mechanical arm from the plate into his mouth; and finally cake for dessert. The machine promises to “eliminate the lunch hour.”

Even before the machine goes predictably haywire—speeding up, spilling soup on the Tramp’s shirt and cake in his face (always pausing, hilariously, to wipe his mouth)—it’s clear to the viewer that some kind of line has been crossed. Read More »

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In Search of Lost Time: An Illustrated Panorama

November 2, 2012 | by

The first European in my mother’s family to set foot in North America was a short, olive-skinned Frenchman from one of the outermost communes of greater Paris. He fled France amidst the turmoil following the revolution of 1848 for the gold fields of California and chased an elusive mother lode all the way up the coast into Alaska before giving up. He was an exact contemporary of the early Impressionists, and a full generation older than Marcel Proust. He spent the final years of his life a broken man, having outlived two of his three children, and subsisting on a homesteaded vineyard in the Santa Cruz mountains long before California wine was a profitable industry.

The only relic of him my family still possesses is a stack of letters spanning thirty years from his sister, Geneviève, imploring him to come home. A Parisian relation visiting his cabin in the 1890s noted that he wept at the thought of his homeland. As far as I know, he shares no direct connection with Proust, but the world he came from is Proust’s world, and seemed to me, as a child, enchanted when contrasted with the drab California suburb I grew up in. Sadness is a condition that can ripple across many generations, and if his was earned through the loss of a time and place, mine was inherited from the ruined family that struggled to make sense of his mournful legacy.

But his still-hopeful departure from Le Havre for the new World in 1852 would have been immediately preceded by a train ride from Paris through Normandy – a train ride through the same countryside that left Proust enraptured on his childhood sojourns to Illiers-Combray. What follows is an illustration of that train ride, as recounted in Proust’s sprawling lifework, À la recherche du temps perdu. This passage occurs in Part Three of the First Volume and constitutes but a few rich, supple pages.

Jason Novak works at a grocery store in Berkeley, California, and changes diapers in his spare time.

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