Friday, November 11, 2005


I'm reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past for fun reading, and this is the kind of things I'm having to work through:

And so I must set forth without viaticum; must climb each step of the staircase "against my heart,"[1] as the saying is, climbing in opposition to my heart's desire, which was to return to my mother, since she had not, by kissing me, given my heart leave to accompany me forth. That hateful staircase, up which I always went so sadly, gave out a smell of varnish which had, as it were, absorbed and crystallised the special quality of sorrow that I felt each evening, and made it perhaps even crueller to my sensibility because, when it assumed this olfactory guise, my intellect was powerless to resist it. When we have gone to sleep with a raging toothache and are conscious of it only as of a little girl whom we attempt, time after time, to pull out of the water, or a line of Molière which we repeat incessantly to ourselves, it is a great relief to wake up, so that our intelligence can disentangle the idea of toothache from any artificial semblance of heroism or rhythmic cadence. It was the converse of this relief which I felt when my anguish at having to go up to my room invaded my consciousness in a manner infinitely rapid, instantaneous almost, a manner at once insidious and brutal, through the inhalation—far more poisonous than moral penetration—of the smell of varnish peculiar to that staircase.

[1] à contre-coeur: reluctantly.

It's so... high school literature. Proust takes a whole, convoluted paragraph to describe this kid walking up the staircase to his room for bed, when he would rather stay in the dining room with his parents entertaining that night's guest. I would never ascribe such deep and refined thoughts to a child, but the anguish described in the above paragraph is such an accurate reflection of the depth of feelings kids have when separated from their parents, isn't it? And don't you love the mess of analogies—drowning girl, line from Molière, toothache—and the idea that his anguish is crystallized into the varnish on the bannister? Great stuff, it's like the classical music of writing: intricate, challenging, strengthening.


At Nov 23, 2005, 6:46:00 AM, Blogger flexnib said:

Which translation are you reading?

At Nov 23, 2005, 9:46:00 AM, Blogger Micah Sittig said:

From the translator's note, I remember it's a recent revision of an old translation; lemme see... it's "the definitive Pléiade edition, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Killmartin", originally translated by Moncrieff in 1922 and updated following a 1954 revision of Proust's works, by Killmartin in 1981.


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