Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Panoply of Themes

In Search of Lost Time

by Marcel Proust

For a long time I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, when I had put out my candle, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say to myself: "I'm falling asleep." (Swann's Way, p. 3)

The search goes on and with it the panoply of themes that Proust weaves together like threads of a giant quilt or comforter. One of these themes, sleep, is the catalyst for one of Proust's wonderful meditations as Chapter Three of Part Two of Sodom and Gomorrah begins. On his return from the Verdurins he is "very sleepy". Suddenly his life is fading into sleep just as the "daylight when night falls" and the fire when the blaze dies.

I entered the realm of sleep, which is like a second dwelling into which we move for that one purpose. It has noises of its own, ...It has servants, its special visitors who call to take us out, so that we are ready to get up when we are compelled to realise, by our almost immediate transmigration into the other dwelling, our waking one, that the room is empty, that nobody has called. (p. 516)

For Proust sleep is inextricably linked with memory and with the all-encompassing passage of life and death, but a death that is conquered as we are awakened and reborn. From the opening lines of Swann's Way where we are introduced to the narrator sleep is preeminent of the many self-reflexive experiences that trigger the author's meditative passages. It is passages like these that I find moving and memorable. The literary art of Proust surpasses that of almost all others placing him in a heavenly realm, beyond sleep.

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


60 said...

I remember trying to read the French version many years ago. I probably only understood a small part but that gave the books a feeling of mystery. Having just seen the film 'Time Regained' I want to give them another go, so thanks for this post. This looks a good blog.

James said...

Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the perspective of someone who has read Proust in the original French. I am sometimes confused when the English translations do not agree on a word or a phrase. I am using the Montcrief/Kilmartin trans. as revised by Enright.