Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Past Recaptured

I’ve never kept a reading log, and I don’t think I’m about to start. But in this one instance, since I do have the dates at hand, I thought I’d note the following: On January 4, 2011, at 1:14 p.m., I finished reading Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust. Along with my son, who is just a few pages behind me, I began the 2,265-page project on August 1 of last year.

Some other books I read during that time: Dylan Thomas in America, by John Malcolm Brinnin; Love is a Dog from Hell, by Charles Bukowski; The History of Reading and The Library at Night, by Alberto Manguel; Sonnets from the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning; John Brown’s Body, by Stephen Vincent Benét; Selected Poems, by Georg Trakl; A Listening Thing, by William Michaelian; parts of three poetry collections by Lawrence Ferlinghetti; and many other miscellaneous bits and pieces, odds and ends.

Remembrance of Things Past
, by Marcel Proust. Translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Frederick A. Blossom. In two volumes, published by Random House, New York (1932).

1.4.2011 #2
1.4.2011 #1 (more old books)


Gerry Boyd said...

Congratulations William. It is a great read, isn't it? Sure, it has moments of tedium, but they are so far outweighed by moments of such sublime beauty. Truly an epic proof of the value of self observation. Hearing that you've finished almost makes me want to start again. Right after Quixote!

William Michaelian said...

And hearing that makes me want to go out riding again with Sancho Panza.

Yes, it’s truly a masterwork. I could feel myself changing as I read it. Sure, I look the same and sound the same and have the same stupid ideas, but you just wait.....

Bitch said...

Reading a good book can change your
I am only interest in poetry.
Do you love Odysseas Elytis or
so many other Greek poets?

Woman in a Window said...

I laugh at your fiesty, you just wait! Ha!

I've not read Proust. I wonder if you'd share some of the most indelible moments for you in your reading?


William Michaelian said...

Monika, one of my favorites, and not just of Greek poets, is Kazantzakis.

Erin, I think you’d love the book. And I probably will write a bit more about it in the coming days; then again, who knows — it might take awhile to clear out those stupid ideas of mine. Until then, here are three short passages from the book that I posted in recent weeks, and which pretty much stopped me in my tracks:

“Yes, I have been forced to whittle down the facts, and to be a liar, but it is not one universe, there are millions, almost as many as the number of human eyes and brains in existence, that awake every morning.”

“It seems that events are larger than the moment in which they occur and cannot confine themselves in it. Certainly they overflow into the future through the memory that we retain of them, but they demand a place also in the time that precedes them. One may say that we do not then see them as they are to be, but in memory are they not modified also?”

“We believe that according to our desire we are able to change the things around about us, we believe this because otherwise we can see no favourable solution. We forget the solution that generally comes to pass and is also favourable: we do not succeed in changing things according to our desire, but gradually our desire changes. The situation we hoped to change because it was intolerable becomes unimportant. We have not managed to surmount the obstacle, as we were absolutely determined to do, but life has taken us round it, led us past it, and then if we turn around to gaze at the remote past, we can barely catch sight of it, so imperceptible has it become.”

Gerry Boyd said...

All good William. Let me just toss in this bit of exquisite-ness:

"Many years have passed since that night. The wall of the staircase, up which I had watched the light of his candle gradually climb, was long ago demolished. And in myself, too, many things have perished which, I imagined, would last for ever, and new structures have arisen, giving birth to new sorrows and new joys which in those days I could not have foreseen, just as now the old are difficult of comprehension."

Of course, if we continue, we shall replicate the entire work, like that character from Borges whose genius was to rewrite all of Shakespeare.

William Michaelian said...

Beautiful. And it’s funny you should say that, because just a little while ago, in an email exchange with my son, I told him that since I was done with the book, the next logical step would be to retype the entire work in tiny daily installments and post them on a new blog. His answer? “I’m going to reread it in French.” And even though he will have to learn French first, he will still probably finish before I do. Then again, there’s my collection of Madame de Sévigné’s Letters....

Gerry Boyd said...

It's already online in numerous places. You don't think I've memorized these passages?

When I read this, I cried for about 30 minutes (although reading it out of context should be safe):

"And as the average span of life, the relative longevity of our memories of poetical sensations is much greater than that of our memories of what the heart has suffered, long after the sorrows that I once felt on Gilberte’s account have faded and vanished, there has survived them the pleasure that I still derive — whenever I close my eyes and read, as it were upon the face of a sundial, the minutes that are recorded between a quarter past twelve and one o’clock in the month of May — from seeing myself once again strolling and talking thus with Mme. Swann beneath her parasol, as though in the coloured shade of a wistaria bower."

Last one. Promise.

William Michaelian said...

You can go on all night if you want to. And on the contrary, I’m sure you’ve memorized these passages. Now — where’s that handkerchief.....

Two Tigers said...

Congratulations! And isn't it interesting that for so many people "conquering" such a book, however enjoyable an experience it might be, is an ending, a crossing off of an item on a life list, and for others like you and your son, it is a new beginning, as if you had just been given some new ability or quality and the first thing you want to do is go out there and try it out, like a new pair of glasses or after shedding 50 pounds. "Ah, let's see what life is like after Proust! How will things feel now?" That book has such power to change...in ways large and small, according to the reader's need and desire and willingness. What more can be said about such a book that someone is willing to learn a new language just to read it in the original?

William Michaelian said...

Gabriella, about all I can add to your beautiful observations is that having read the book, there is no life after Proust, there is only life with Proust, just as there is no life, for me, without Raskolnikov and Don Quixote, and so many others.