Observing vs. living life
When I’m not working or writing or sleeping or trying to be useful around my family, there’s a good chance I’m reading Proust. I’ve written here plenty of times of my love for his big novel, so I won’t repeat myself. But I’m almost halfway through my every-other year exploration of it, things come to mind, that’s what a blog is for, so here we are. I know I should be writing when I’m reading, but sometimes reading leads to better writing. I hope it does, anyway. Anyway…
Something I read in The Guermantes Way reminded me of a passage from William C. Carter’s welcoming biography of Proust:
“This relationship set a pattern that Marcel would follow with future couples: he would ‘fall in love’ with the fiancee or mistress of a man who appealed to him. Such an arrangement had a number of examples: he could love the woman from a safe distance, exchange confidences with the man and woman about each other, observe the dynamics of sexual love, and have the illusion that he was an active participant experiencing all the joys, enthusiasms, and jealous sufferings of both partners. It was also an ideal vantage point for a novelist.”
Proust had it both ways. Another of his biographers, Edmund White, calls him a “playboy-monk.” He lived life, but he also observed it from a distance, eventually retreating, alone, to his bedroom. But throughout In Search of Lost Time, he describes it intensely and intimately. For the reader, it doesn’t matter how he got his information. And, as with so much else in his life and work, Proust found an unexpected, roundabout way of gathering that information and using it to build something weird and new. A step away, the distance somehow brought him closer to his subject. His book never stops revealing mysteries, perhaps because so much of what he wrote about was mysterious to him, too.