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?