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Posts Tagged ‘Proust’

Questions About Questionnaires

October 3, 2016 | by

All images from A Proust Questionnaire by Joanna Neborsky, TarcherPerigee, 2016.

Evan Kindley and Joanna Neborsky both happen to have new books dealing with questionnaires. Kindley’s Questionnaire, part of the Object Lessons series, charts the history of “the form as form” from its inception in the late nineteenth century to its current apotheosis in our data-crazy present. Neborsky’s A Proust Questionnaire, meanwhile, revives one of the earliest examples of quiz mania—the questionnaire filled out by a teenaged Marcel Proust in the 1880s—for a new generation of confessors.

Neborsky is an illustrator and animator who has contributed to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review Daily, and has illustrated books by Félix Fénéon and Daniil Kharms; Kindley is a writer and editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Both live in Los Angeles. Earlier this month the two corresponded about questionnaires, using the Proust Questionnaire’s famous prompts as a basic framework.



I’ve long wondered—since we met that one time, at that party, next to the pretzel mix in a dark office courtyard—what do you consider the lowest form of misery? And why did you write this book? Read More »

Back to Chicago

June 15, 2015 | by


From a travel-poster advertising Chicago ca. 1910.

Last night, I discovered a portal to another time and place—specifically, Hyde Park, Chicago, in June 2000. I hadn’t meant to, but when I opened a new tube of peppermint foot cream, there I was. The smell had transported me.

Like all sense memory, smell is evocative for many people—for some of us more so than music or even taste. The Stanislavski method often involves conjuring smell to infect the audience with theater’s noble ecstasy. But until last night, I had not known its true power. Read More »

Ruthless Levity: An Interview with Our London Editor, Adam Thirlwell

May 29, 2015 | by


Photo: Eamonn McCabe

“As usual the world was powdery and blue, like a rococo miniature. I was driving underneath the tree canopy and behind those trees were mansions and their many vehicles, gently arranged on the drive. It was the world as I had always known it, when being driven by my parents to music lessons or football practice or the first ever parties of my youth, the ones that ended at dawn with everyone staring at each other calmly in a field, feeling tired. That was how I always lived, out here on the outskirts of a giant city: the world occurred to me as a series of impressions seen from the windows of a car.”

Adam Thirlwell’s third novel, Lurid & Cute, is made up of such impressions—charming, nostalgic, not quite tethered to reality. The unnamed narrator—formerly a child prodigy, he tells us—is a privileged young man who has quit his office job to pursue his art, and who now lives with his wife at the house of his adoring parents. His talent, as he puts it, is mostly for thinking. The observations above occur to him as he drives his bloodied, comatose best friend to the emergency room, having discovered her suffering some kind of hemorrhage in his hotel bed after a night of ketamine and sex.

At thirty-six, Thirlwell dresses like a youngish teenager—silver sneakers, jeans, T-shirts emblazoned with the Eiffel Tower—and looks perpetually exhausted. In our Skype conversation, he had a way of speaking that, like one of his characters, “sometimes seemed like teasing and sometimes seemed like it wasn’t and it wasn’t always easy to be able to tell the two apart.” “Multiplicity! Levity! World History!” he later wrote to me in an e-mail about what he seeks in his reading. “Those kind of T-shirt slogans.”

Your dialogue is very funny. It seems very stylized but then, when you read it aloud, it’s perfectly realistic. Do you have rules for dialogue? Whose do you admire?

Maybe perversely, I love Henry James’s The Awkward Age, which is written almost entirely in dialogue and is therefore almost incomprehensible. Everyone is speaking in intimation and allusion—which is so much like life that the reader has desperately to work out what the degrees of irony and lying are. That kind of flatness seems to me the ideal. There’s a great moment in a Lampedusa essay where he praises the dialogue in Stendhal’s novels, because none of it is celebrated, nothing is quotable. I wonder if in novels, rather than plays or screenplays, the dialogue can become this baroque surface thing, because it’s free to be as close to audiotape as possible, without the burden of meaning anything, or conveying plot. Although I don’t know if this is some kind of London problem—how little is actually said in conversation. Okay, sure, there might be mutual understanding—but the sentences are only nonsense, or nonsense poetry. Read More »

Max Blecher’s Adventures

March 9, 2015 | by


Max Blecher

Max Blecher’s Adventures in Immediate Irreality, newly reissued, is not a memoir, a novel, or a poem, though it has been called all those names, and compared rightly with the works of Proust and Kafka. Blecher belongs in that company for the density and lyrical force of his writing, but he is also a recording diagnostician of a type the twentieth century had not yet fully birthed, but the twenty-first is honoring in the highest degree.

This is a book that soothes without sentimentality. Blecher chronicled his dying from both the interior of his body and the outside of nonexistence. He made that veil permeable: his words are vehicles traveling through the opaque membrane that surrounds the seemingly solid world. These are the “adventures” of the inside and the outside exchanging places, while being somehow exactly the same in the light of Blecher’s extraordinary sensibility. Nobody knows how to die. Max Blecher, because he was young and a genius, suggests a way that investigates, rediscovers life, and radiates beauty from suffering.

“Ordinary words lose their validity at certain depths of the soul.” Read More »

Inside Albertine

September 26, 2014 | by


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 »


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 »