Tuesday, March 29, 2011

At class last night, I had left my book at home and didn’t have my notes and questions with me. Looking over my flagged pages this morning, I found a passage I had particularly wanted to ask everyone about - in Treharne it’s page 549, last paragraph, just before Macel arrives at Charlus’ house.

"But in the end, the stories I had heard at the Duchesse’s house, very different in this respect from the feelings aroused in me by the hawthorns or the taste of a madeleine, left me cold. Entering me for a moment and possessing me only physically, it was as though, being of a social, not an individual nature, they were anxious to escape."

That last sentence is what I find interesting. I wonder if Marcel is speaking of his muse here, saying that the things that are for him worthy of artistic effort are things of an individual nature, while those of a social nature are not worthy. When I read or hear poetry, I find that I tend to make this same sort of distinction. I “like” poems that are from the poet’s interior spaces; and I’m usually not as engaged by poems about external or social responses. (I emphasize “like” here; I’m not saying one’s better than the other.) For example, for me, W.S. Merwin’s and Robert Frost’s poems are “of an individual nature,” while Tony Hoagland’s are “of a social nature.” Reading Merwin or Frost is a powerful experience for me, whereas I don’t particularly like Hoagland’s poems. (Again, this is a personal preference. I’m not about to argue that Tony Hoagland isn’t a great poet!)

In trying to describe this distinction, I’m realizing that it’s a bit tricky. Merwin and Frost obviously write about things external to themselves, but what’s evoked in the poem is “individual.” Hoagland’s poems tend to evoke something social or collective. I wonder if this distinction is completely subjective, maybe just some unconscious prejudice, on my part. Does anyone have any thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. I see a different meaning as I read further in the passage.

    First, notice that Treharme has translated «sortir» as "escape". The translation implies that the narrator would no longer "possess" the social stories, just as a jail no longer posseses an escaped prisoner. But I think that the stories, being social objects, want to get out and be shared with society, not escape.

    The narrator couldn't wait to repeat these stories himself: «J’attendais un nouveau dîner où je pusse devenir moi-même une sorte de prince X..., de Mme de Guermantes, et les raconter.» That's why he wanted to talk to Charlus: the stories were feverishly trying to get out and be told to others.

    As for your preference for "interior", "individual" works, isn't that precisely why we love reading Proust so much more than listening to the Guermantes?