Thursday, May 10, 2012

Reading Proust

Our teacher, Frank Dwyer, who is also a poet-actor-director-raconteur, is reading aloud to the class, in his mellifluous tones, Remembrance of Things Past, starting with Swann’s Way, in between his own digressions which only peripherally connect to the text just as Proust himself seems to have had total recall for events and observations in their minutia which probably never happened though it reads like a memoir and he writes in enormous sentences like this one with the subject and predicate separated by a dozen subordinate clauses so that without Frank’s anecdotes, such as the one in which he had recently finished his role in a high school production where he sat in a large cushioned chair and portrayed a king or some such potentate and later was walking in New Orleans with a girlfriend when he spotted a similar looking chair in a shop whereupon he entered, sat down and his friend grew angry and started crying and when asked why, she first said nothing at all but then admitted that she no longer recognized him when he sat in that cursed throne and so this somehow illustrated a point made by Proust but no one could remember just what that was; nevertheless we were all thankful for his interruption of himself so we wouldn’t, ourselves, slip into some reverie because our collective lids were getting heavy, not from boredom but due to the transport of his delivery of Proust's language as if forgotten ports were calling and we could not resist the flotilla down small tributaries, nor could we suspend the effort of holding the heft of the narrator’s brilliant illumination of bourgeois conventions many of which still pertain; namely how we do not quite say what we mean for fear of revealing aspects of ourselves we do not wish to disclose to those persons, though they may already be well-known to them or possibly how we withhold our true sentiments in polite conversation by habit and perhaps, on the way home, rehearse retroactively what we had wanted to say, all these revelations of the psyche worthy of pause commensurate with their value to us as truth-seekers, as I lapsed in and out of consciousness I was rewarded by the way meticulous details conveyed by the author brought to mind my own madeleine which was cooked bell peppers served at a neighbor’s table when I was about six years old and stored in my olfactory warehouse since then, along with my association of a brief inability to pronounce words beginning with the letter “L” causing much embarrassment since a girl across from me was named Lillian; all this comes back to me as Proust slowed time so that we, too, might regard the objects of our lives, largely unseen by familiarity, to be apprehended in their fullness, not only visually and by touch but metaphorically for what cargo is carried in each for us, as symbols; how a rubberband might regress me to age nine when I carried baseball trading cards in my pocket under crossed rubberbands or a sheet of onionskin paper reminds me of letters sent during World War II by an uncle in his graceful hand and the flood of memories released in that image in addition to which Proust’s rendering of a church steeple or a visit by a priest to his great aunt is described with manifold allusions which align him with the impressionists who painted seasons of haystacks as well as the cubists in their prismatic depiction of the human face as seen from various angles, all anticipates the demise of the European colonial system, thereby replacing the single perspective of a dominant culture with the post-modern view that we contain a multitude of versions.

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