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Posts Tagged ‘Swann’s Way’

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.

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 »


“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 »


The Real Hunger Games, and Other News

September 16, 2013 | by


  • Presented without comment: The Jewish Hunger Games: Kvetching Fire. (One comment: yes, it is about Yom Kippur.)
  • Word is, the Man Booker may open its doors to Yank authors come 2014. Needless to say, this is controversial.
  • Electric Lit starts an… irreverent take on Eat, Pray, Love.
  • Marmee, Mme. Swann’s Way, and other great mothers of literature.
  • Marshall Berman, an author and scholar whom the New York Times calls “a lyrical defender of modernism,” has died at seventy-two.


    In Search of Lost Time

    October 15, 2012 | by

    It is, all told, a strange summer. Down the street from my apartment, children play inside of plastic bags. Glaciers shed ice the size of Manhattan. Scientists find that sharks smell in stereo. Horoscopes are cited as primary sources at social gatherings. Restlessness flows. For three consecutive nights I dream exclusively of vacuuming a garden snake.

    On a Sunday afternoon I detour from fondling impractical kitchenware at Pearl River Mart and go where I go when I need to stop time: to visit my grandfather at his loft on West Broadway. He is eighty-four, a sculptor, a Southerner, tall and round bellied, deaf in one ear from an adult case of mumps. His face bears an impressive mustache and bifocals as large and wide as safety goggles. Alzheimer’s is smoothing the lines of his memory, a stone turning in water.

    He has lived in this apartment since 1970, and from what I can tell it has hardly changed; it could easily be a soundstage from an early Woody Allen film, with its leather seats shaped into dripstones by decades of party guests, its ceramics and abstract art, the copy of Joe Brainard’s I Remember that had taken up permanent residence in the bathroom long before it carried any personal symbolism. The front half of the loft is still a studio, with a meticulously labeled array of tools and materials, despite the fact that these days my grandfather is physically, psychically unable to work. For the last few years I’ve kept keys under a conditionality: just in case. In this case it only means that I let myself in.

    “What are you up to today?” I ask my grandfather, to which he replies, “Just trying to have a brilliant idea.”

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    Which Translation of Proust Should I Read?

    January 7, 2011 | by

    I am preparing to tackle Marcel Proust’s mammoth, his tomb of involuntary memories and I cannot decide on a translation. Should it be the original English translation by Moncrieff? Or the revision of Moncrieff by Kilmartin? Or the revision of the revision by Enright? Or the new translation that begins with Davis and continuous with six different translators? I prefer a translation that is as close to the original as possible, without the translator attempting to “update” the language for modern readers, without inserting words that the writer would have never originally used. Which translation should be trusted when it comes time to read the mammoth? —Manuel Garcia

    For Swann’s Way, you can’t really go wrong. All of those translations are wonderful. My favorite is Lydia Davis’s. It sticks very close to the French, which I think you will like. And I think you will like Davis’s sensibility: she is no vulgar updater. On the other hand, the Scott Moncrieff translation may appeal to you because it’s contemporary with the original. In fact, Proust’s French is often more modern then Scott Moncrieff’s English. The anachronisms are all in the other direction.

    I can’t vouch for the new translations of the later volumes. My advice is to read Swann’s Way in the Davis translation, then switch over to Enright. It will also be fun for you to compare Davis to Enright every once in a while. You’ll hear the difference right away.

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