Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Face of Practical Charity

The Face of Practical Charity

In Proust we read a very true insight into the face of practical charity, as he calls it. I like the Moncrieff translation better, but here is his and Lydia Davis’s:

When, later, I had occasion to meet, in the course of my life, in convents, for instance, truly saintly embodiments of practical charity, they generally had the cheerful, positive, indifferent, and brusque air of a busy surgeon, the sort of face in which one can read no commiseration, no pity in the presence of human suffering, no fear of offending it, the sort which is the ungentle face, the antipathetic and sublime face of true goodness.

In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust. Lydia Davis translation, p. 84

Later on, when, in the course of my life, I have had occasion to meet with, in convents for instance, literally saintly examples of practical charity, they have generally had the brisk, decided, undisturbed, and slightly brutal air of a busy surgeon, the face in which one can discern no commiseration, no tenderness at the sight of suffering humanity, and no fear of hurting it, the face devoid of gentleness or sympathy, the sublime face of true goodness.

Remembrance of Things Past. Scott Moncrieff translation, p. 62

Now I read a similar insight in Anthony Trollope’s Richmond Castle, first published in 1860. Trollope had during the 1850s, the Famine Years, worked in Ireland for the Post Office. Here is his insight:

And now the famine was in full swing; and strange to say, men had ceased to be uncomfortable about it. The cutting off of maimed limbs, and wrenching out from their sockets of smashed bones, is by no means shocking to the skilled practitioner. And dying paupers, with “the drag” in their face–that certain sign of coming death...–no longer struck men to the heart. Like the skilled surgeon, they worked hard enough at what good they could do, and worked the better in that they could treat the cases without express compassion for the individuals that met their eyes.

In administering relief one may rob five unseen sufferers of what would keep them in life if one is moved to bestow all that is comfortable on one sufferer that is seen. Was it wise to spend money in alleviating the last hours of those whose doom was already spoken, which money, if duly used, might save the lives of others not yet so far gone in misery?

And so in one sense those who were the best in the county, who worked the hardest for the poor and spent their time most completely among them, became the hardest of heart, and most obdurate in their denials. It was strange to see devoted women neglecting the wants of the dying, so that they might husband their strength and time and means for thew ants of those who might still be kept among the living. P. 370.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Real Self

Excerpt from Judy’s autobiographical farm book, Proust and Thyme. 2010

I chose to put thyme in the title of this book. I was thinking about the thyme plants that survived heat, drought, and weeds, and will winter well, whereas most of the garden is now quiescent, the soil resting until spring. The thyme is alive. I also like the pun on time. Proust was obsessed with the destructive nature of Time. Somewhere in the back of my mind I sensed it has Greek roots. Of course, it’s from thumos = soul, heart, spirit, passion, desire. That essential Self, which we must have to feel that we are okay, no matter what happens to us.

How often we undervalue that essence, that breath of Being we have from birth and so need all our lives. How often we think we can ignore its messages, betray all we stand for, in order to be safe. Or, because we think we’ll be happy, or we’ll get what we want. Our Self calls out, and we run as far away as we can. How lucky we are if we can’t escape that call–to listen and heed our deep, real Self.

In some ways, it is all I have and all I need. Of course, I have this small Hoganvillaea Farm, this comfortable home, which I have created around me–my nest. I have good friends, and my children love me, despite the ups and downs in our relationships as they take on their own life dilemmas, and work out new connections to me. Out there in the wider world, there is big trouble. The climate change experts say that we are at the tipping point.

I’m thinking about Proust’s idea that one self dies and a new one replaces it. To me it’s so different. True, we change, but we have a thumos that can keep us alive and flourishing, even as Time rings us through the changes that aging brings. We don’t last forever, and yet we have that in us which is not disturbed by Time.

Proust thought it was our hidden memories that preserved our real life. I attribute even more power to this deep, real Self. I believe, if we take care of It, that It connects us to other people, to the world and its creatures, with which we are surrounded. It soothes our hurts, reassures us that we are, for all our difficulties, on the right path, the path we are meant to take. The path our thumos knows lies right in front of us all the time. All we have to do is follow it, one day, one step at a time.
Judy Hogan

a clue to novel structure is found in the french dish, bouef a la mode

the outline of proust’s novel can be said to correlate or take its cue from among many other known structures. one of odette’s dresses, or the cathedral which we have mentioned in judy hogan’s class all depend on a rich details.

another set of details particularly curious to me as a chef, and i hope, to any writer/reader who might parallel the art of the pan with the art of the pen, is how the structure and detail of a great dish of proust’s cuisine can be said to resemble the structure of the recherche.

a complex dish such as boeuf mode has a great many steps and details that bring it forth to the table.

so does proust’s novel.

one cannot make the sauce, before one has gone shopping.

there is a certain order to be respected.

and though in the end the platter of beef and the novel are consumed differently, because of their form, they are meant to be “eaten” as art. slowly and appreciatively with a certain contemplation. there is thus a similarity in their raison d’etre. their life. their purpose.

“why wouldn’t i make my book the way francoise made the boeuf mode that m. de norpois liked so much, where so many pieces of choice meat enrich the aspic?” (4:612-13)

there is more about this in accounting for taste by priscilla parkhurst ferguson.

in researching the history of bouef a la mode i found it was also at

abe lincoln’s inaugural table.

a different dish altogether was made by proust’s cook, francoise.

she first shops for and utilizes select cuts of beef to make a lovely rich stock.

after that is done (8 hours on the stove) she then sets out to purify the stock so it will be transparent as aspic.

the classic method, which also creates consommé, combines ground beef, spices, and herbs, egg whites and shells that forms an enormous raft which is set to float in the tall pot of simmering stock and which through a center hole in the raft, the stock burbles up and through and hence is clarified and flavored even further. the clarified stock is then chilled and cut into tiny brilliant sparkling cubes which decorates the dish.

so if you were to make a contemporary bouef a la mode (without the aspic) the difference from a bourgigonne is that a la mode uses a whole beef chuck roast as opposed to cutting the roast into cubes.

a classic la mode also uses a variety of vegetables (carrots, celery, turnips, potatoes) and even a touch of vinegar and red wine, though non-descript.

the bourgigonne however, employs the concentrated use of mushrooms and onions (pearl onions are preferred, but you can substitute chopped onions) and the bourgignonne part of its signature tells us that the wine to make the sauce should be from burgundy. i think you would enjoy the aroma created from either. and so set aside a nice wintry day to enjoy the process of making the beef.

here is a rich dish of classic proportions, inspired by the one which appeared in julia’s tome, mastering the art of french cooking.

beef bougignonne

this rich classic dish is enough in and of itself to serve as the meal. with a nice bottle of burgundy of course. okay, a very nice bottle.

2 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 1inch cubes

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons butter

5 nice slices thick bacon, chopped

1 sprig fresh thyme

peel of 1 orange

1-2 t. tomato paste

2 small bay leaves

½ bottle red wine, preferably a burgundy

1 quart beef or veal stock, maybe more

beurre manie to thicken final sauce;

3 tablespoons flour, and 3 tablespoons butter

30 or so large mushrooms

18 -24 small white onions

there is always more than one-way to “cook your goose”, so to speak, but let’s use this as our basic efficient method. first get your mise en place together. that means first season the beef with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, and proceed to chop into small cubes about 1 inch thick. set this aside on a large baking sheet. gather all remaining ingredients. approach the stove, and heat a large, wide pan (2 qt.) that you can later cover, over medium heat. add the butter and the bacon when the pan is hot. if the butter doesn’t sizzle when you add it it’s not hot enough. when the butter is melted and the bacon renders out its fat, add the cubes of beef and sear very well. this is key to giving great deep rich color and flavor to the finished dish.

remove the seared meat to the large baking sheet as it is all done but then return it all to the pan. deglaze with the red wine and let that reduce by half. then add in the stock and the thyme, orange peel, tomato paste and bay leaves. stir well and frequently. bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow it to gently simmer for about one hour.

add in your onions and your mushrooms. cook until the onions and mushrooms are tender and the meat is tender to the bite, but not enough so it falls about completely.

when the meat is done; remove the mushrooms and onions and meat to a large serving bowl. to thicken the sauce combine your butter and flour and whisk into the hot sauce. bring to a boil and simmer till the desired consistency is reached.

serve with a wonderful rustic bread.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Proust's Concept of Will

As I read Proust this time, I’m noticing something new. He talks often about the self having different and successive personalities, sees these even as different selves. Perhaps we’d say different stages of our lives, our ego manifesting itself differently over time. Proust likes to show how people change their behavior, their looks, their beliefs over time. But then I come upon this passage about the will versus the mind and the desires.

I think of Plato who divided the soul (= psyche) into three parts: mind, desire, and will. He said the will and the desire were separate, because we could desire not to look at something terrible or repugnant, like an automobile accident, say, but our will would look anyway. We could make a mental decision, but our will might flout it.

It struck me first that this “will” of Proust’s was the Unconscious. But I see the Unconscious as being potentially both positive and negative. We need in this period to acknowledge that in our less conscious mind, we can have quite negative motivations, and, as I see it, we need to integrate into our consciousness that “shadow” side.

As I look back on my life, I see a pattern I only glimpsed or sensed earlier. Perhaps we’d say a destiny. Now I can focus more than I ever have, and with less effort on my part, on my creative writing: diary novels, mystery novels, diary, poetry. I’ve had a crooked, path I’d say, but looking back, I see now that my vocation, my need or gift to be a writer, was at work through everything. See what you think in the poem below. Maybe you’d see Proust’s “will” differently. Judy Hogan

My mind saw this pleasure, now that it was assured, as being worth not very much. But the will in me did not share that illusion for an instant, being the persevering and unwavering servant of our successive personalities, hidden in the shadow, disdained, forever faithful, working unceasingly, and without heeding the variability of our self, making sure it shall never lack what it needs. When a journey we have longed to make begins to become a reality, and the mind and sensibility are starting to wonder whether it is really worth the effort, the will, which well knows that, if it turned out the journey could not be made, these feckless masters would immediately long for it to become possible again, lets them loiter in front of the station, having their say, hesitating until the last minute, while it makes sure of buying the tickets and getting us into the train before departure time. It is as invariable as the mind and sensibility are changeable; but because it is silent and never gives its reasons, it seems almost nonexistent; all the other parts of our self march to its tune unawares, though they can always see clearly their own uncertainties. --Marcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, p. 449-50 [Grieve translation/Penguin-Viking]

What Proust calls will I call the Deep Self,
that part of us which knows better than we
do what we need to stay on our destined path
in this fragile, yet tough, life of ours.
Our consciousness, our here and now life,
can be obliterated in a moment if some other
driver loses control of his car, doesn’t notice,
is drunk or distracted, and hits us head on.
Yet our frail, vulnerable bodies stick it out,
persist through indescribable fatigue,
intolerable anxiety, abandonment, despair,
even terminal illness, obsessed to the last
with the desire to live, whether we care to
or not, whether we recognize what we give
to others, or not. Its goal, as far as I can
read It, is that we use our gifts. Had he not
obeyed this will or Self, which Bach
probably called God, he would not have
written such persistently, achingly beautiful
music, nor would Glenn Gould have so
devoted himself to mastering all those
French and English suites, partitas, inventions,
fugues, Goldberg Variations. We are grateful
to Bach, to Homer and Proust for their
unswerving devotion to their gifts, what
Something in them knew better than
they did what the main requirement of their
life was to do and to be. As if we were at
birth given a commandment from the
Creator: Be all that you are. Live completely.
If in you a large Gift resides, a sensitivity
to sounds, colors, words, the world of spirit,
which makes you happier and more at peace
than anything else, then give it away as fast
as you can. If you emerge into your mature
years with your Gift in tact, whatever your age,
condition, state of health, network of
relations and commitments, do what you
must, what you have no choice but to do.
Carolyn Heilbrun once wrote how we
sometimes find out that we can’t get
unmarried, and if our love is lucky,
we greet this knowledge with laughter.
If it is our Gift we’re married to, and
we can’t get away, if our greatest pleasure
and our highest duty to ourselves, to Life,
to God, to other people, is to write, paint,
or compose music, then all we have to do
is obey that deep inward will. We are,
in every other way, perfectly normal and
ordinary, not beautiful unless some see
beauty in the serenity of our smile; not
clever necessarily or quick to find the
metaphor we want, not elegant word smiths,
not dazzling or impressive, but those
abilities matter as little in the end as
repartee and quick retorts. They amuse
but don’t satisfy. If something in us can
speak to real human hunger, for Truth,
for Understanding about What Matters,
then we’d best carve out time, create
a place that protects, nurtures, and
stimulates that most prized of all human
gifts: the visits of our Muse. If we build
our ordinary life so as to honor Her,
she won’t be able to stay away.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Here's a Google book that seems to be open access which is a guide to all the characters in Proust, alphabetically!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Video interview with Celeste

Video interview with Celeste (30 second ad):

Proust 3
Uploaded by Paroles_des_Jours. - Independent web videos.
The videos of interviews of people who had met Proust have been removed from YouTube, but I've found a few elsewhere. Here's one (unfortunately you have to endure a 30 second advertisement):

Proust 4
Uploaded by Paroles_des_Jours. - Independent web videos.

The next time you eat a medeleine, this is what you'll remember

Dorette Snover made the madeleines and posted her recipe with a wonderful photo

More on Proust's idea of love

Proust’s idea of love–comment for Les Grands Nerveux blog. January 17, 2011Proust’s experience of sexual or passionate love, as I read him, is very limited, and is mainly what later Abraham Maslow would call "deficiency love." It is all about the person doing the loving, not about the object of the love. The emphasis is on needing, possessing, and there is often obsession. The one loving can’t let go of this pursuit, this desperate need.

In Maslow’s "being love" which mature love comes to (sometimes beginning as deficiency love or a mixture of the two), the beloved is the focus of the lover, both in sexual and other forms of love, paternal, friend, etc. One is awed by how beautiful this person is, how unique. Then, even that person’s flaws are amazing, and one never tires of him/her, because he/she is endlessly fascinating.

In the section George refers to, in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower [Grieve translation], Proust says, in so many words, probably from an analysis of his experience much later, that "My desire for her [Albertine] was desire for her whole life." He keeps stressing that her seeming to be unattainable was the beginning of his feeling of wanting to possess and know her (understand what lay behind her eyes). He goes on to say that "a pleasure divested of imagination is a pleasure reduced to itself, to nothing...imagination replaces sensual pleasure with the idea of penetrating someone’s life, makes sure we neither recognized that pleasure, experience its true flavor, nor restrict it to its dimensions of mere pleasure." (Pp. 367-77)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The thing that Proust calls "love"

One aspect of Proust's view of love that seems strange is that it can suddenly diminish as soon as his goal is in sight.

We see this in our reading for January 17, when Marcel's love for the group of girls in Balbec diminishes as soon as he's certain that Elstir is about to introduce him to them; Marcel pretends to be interested in a window display while he awaits the call to be introduced to the girls.

As soon as he realizes that the girls have left, he's suddenly obsessed again. He explains this in a way that almost makes sense to me on pp. 436-6 [Grieve] and on p. 673 [Tadié]. I find the first part of the French impossible to parse. I think that Grieve's translation clarifies it well.

«Variation d’une croyance, néant de l’amour aussi, lequel, préexistant et mobile s’arrête à l’image d’une femme simplement parce que cette femme sera presque impossible à atteindre. Dès lors on pense moins à la femme qu’on se représente difficilement, qu’aux moyens de la connaître. Tout un processus d’angoisses se développe et suffit pour fixer notre amour sur elle, qui en est l’objet à peine connu de nous. L’amour devient immense, nous ne songeons pas combien la femme réelle y tient peu de place. Et si tout d’un coup, comme au moment où j’avais vu Elstir s’arrêter avec les jeunes filles, nous cessons d’être inquiets, d’avoir de l’angoisse, comme c’est elle qui est tout notre amour, il semble brusquement qu’il se soit évanoui au moment où nous tenons enfin la proie à la valeur de laquelle nous n’avons pas assez pensé.»

The idea is this: since we don't know much about the woman who interests us, we think more about the «... moyens de la connaître», the means of knowing her, than about the women. We become obsessed by the search, not the person. It follows that when the search is over, so is much of our obsession.

In other words, we should translate statements of the form "X is obsessed with a woman" into statements of this form "X is obsessed with meeting a woman".

I wonder if this helps explain Proustian "love"?