Friday, October 09, 2009

In Search of Lost Time

When we are waiting, we suffer so keenly from the absence of the person for whom we are longing that we cannot endure the presence of anyone else.
- Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah, p. 175

Waiting plays an important role as Chapter One of Part Two of Sodom and Gomorrah continues. Marcel has returned from the Guermantes' and he shares his feelings as he sits waiting for the telephone to ring expecting a call from Albertine:

When we are waiting, from the ear which takes in sounds to the mind which dissects and analyses them; and from the mind to the heart to which it transmits the results; the double journey is so rapid that we cannot even perceive its duration; and we imagine that we have been listening directly with our heart. (p. 177)

I believe the key word in the above passage is "imagine", for the physical activity of hearing sounds is so automatic and occurs so rapidly that the only way we can understand it is through our imagination that relates the physical activity with our emotional response. Marcel is the epitome of a person who is overflowing with emotional responses, at least he is more capable than most of relating those responses. His waiting is not assuaged, however, by the arrival of Albertine:

The loss of all equanimity that we feel when we are kept waiting, persists after the arrival of the person awaited, and, taking place inside us of the calm spirit in which we had been picturing her coming as so great a pleasure, prevents us from deriving any from it. (p.186)

The kisses of Albertine help calm Marcel for the moment, but the waiting still seems to persist as a motif in the background. Marcel's sensitivities sometimes annoy this reader, but they are a singular aspect of his character and essential for his narrative.

This section of the story is infused with discussions of Dreyfusism, but I found myself more interested in Marcel's comments about women and his difficulty in knowing anything about them. His "ignorance of the real existence of women"(p. 196) is demonstrated again and again. Upon his return to Balbec his fascination with Mme. Putbus's maid leads him to exclaim that "I had long since given up trying to extract from a woman as it were the square root of her unknown quantity,"(p. 208). The strength of this mathematical approximation of the mystery of women is demonstrated by his inexplicable connection with the maid. Perhaps it is an aura or some type of emanation that persuades him to comment thus. As readers of Proust it is to our benefit.

In Search of Lost Time, Volume IV: Sodom and Gomorrah by Marcel Proust. Modern Library, New York. 1993 (1921).

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