Friday, May 3, 2013

By the Way I Admit That The Way I Write About Proust Is Boring

The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting it. There's something about writing about a topic every day that sucks all the verve out of it. Mr. Aimai has challenged me to find a way to write about Proust the way I talk about Proust to my children which is substantially more like Wonkette but run through a speeded up Alvin and the Chipmunks transformer. I'll give it a try.


  1. Aimai,
    If anyone can make Proust interesting, it's YOU!

    Today, I try to forget when I tried to muddle through "Remembrance of Things Past" in the past - but I remember my frustration at how mundane it all seemed.

    Of course, that was right after I spent a whole summer reading all of Dostoevsky's works (in Russian, none the less), so my mental capacity was...
    I don't know.
    Let's just say, "troubled," ok?

    Please tell me why I should read Proust, instead of some new mystery writing hack, whose book I borrow from the library?
    You know, the library, where there are SOOOOOO many writers, but so few authors?

    I can hardly wait! :-)

  2. Victor,
    Thats a good question. I love to read genre fiction like mysteries and science/fantasy and occasional dystopian novels, especially with an anthropological bent. My personal favorites in those fields are things like Dorothy Sayers, Robert van Gulick, James McClure, S.M. Stirling, Game of Thrones (at least until I gave up thinking it could have any kind of happy ending), Lois McMaster Bujold and Wen Spencer.

    However, that being said, I don't find the innumerable new genre novels all that good. You blow through them like a kid eating cotton candy, and they leave you with nothing. Proust, and Dickens and Trollope and Thackery are long winded, by modern standards (and Melville, how could I leave out Melville?) and they don't get to the point as quickly. But they create something else--for me at any rate--which is a kind of meditative space that extends life through the pages rather than merely offering a brief nepenthe.

    I first read Proust in my little Nepali village. I favored thick books because I had to pack everything in with me and I couldn't afford lots of little books that might not work out. I prefererred books I would sink into, like Name of the Rose or the 19th century novelists. You do have to work at the reading and you have to be willing to open yourself up to decoding the book, not merely reading ahead to find out what happened. These are different pleasures. Its different for me now that I am old than when I was young and alone in my village. For one thing I am not as stumped as I was then by the Narrator's pretense of confusion and ignorance when he confronts various crazy society people. I've met more kinds of people and I recognize in Proust's characters not idiosyncratic and mysterious individuals but rather types of relationships and types of people that I meet in my everyday life. And I grasp tha tthe Narrator's function is not to be the hero figure I follow because I love him, but rather a mysterious guide to an internal world, a maze or a troy town whose walls are formed of sights, sounds, impressions, half understood memories. The book is almost a mediative aid, like a mandala you might stare at while trying to achieve insight into the meaning and the meaninglessness of things.

    But that's just my take on Proust. A few years ago there was quite the vogue for books reducing Proust to social advice or just to his insights into memory. And they are fun, too.

    1. Aimai,
      Being a first generation American with Russian-Ukrainian roots, big, thick books don't scare me none.

      But more than one volume?

      Ok, so essentially, all of Dostoevsky's novels were expansions of "Notes From the Underground" - "Записки из подполья," which, in a different translation might be "Letters from the Underworld," or, "Notes From Under the Field" - but at least the characters all had different names, fer Jyazoos H. Keeeeeerist's sake!

      Don't make me do it!
      Don't let me think of trying to read Proust, again!

      At least, if it's true that reading Dostoevsky leads to madness, that madness is full or crooks, and terrorists, and actual "mad" people, and not reminiscences of some woman named Odette, and madeleine cakes - whoever the hell she is, and they are!

    2. "...full oF crooks," not 'oR crooks.'

      Why don't I ever spot sh*t like that until I hit "Publish?"

  3. I'm a big fan of Tolstoy, too, albeit in translation. I'm also a big fan of Henri Troyat's biography of Tolstoy. For genre fiction that is tangentially related to things Russian I recommend Dennis Danver's The Watch which is the mysterious story of what happens when Kropotkin, on his deathbed, is offered the chance at a second life in a troubled South Carolina. It brings together a lot of interesting strands in both anarchism and US history.

    1. Hmm...
      Dennis Danver?
      Never heard of him, but that sounds like my kind of book.
      Thanks for the rec!

  4. Yr Proost was quietly waiting in bed for Big Strong Mama to come and canoodle, when we heard the sound of stairs (don't these people have escalators?!) and at last Commie Mom arrived..

  5. I disagree that you posts were boring. That said, if you want to explore a new style that you believe would be more effective and/or that you'd enjoy more, by all means, go ahead!