Published on February 15th, 2012 | by Thompson0
Been There, Done That, Burned the T-shirt
Marcel Proust is an acquired taste, and it only took nearly 200 pages for me to acquire that taste. Perhaps it’s because I was savoring it, like a neat glass of 15-year-old Scotch, holding the alcohol in my mouth, allowing all the taste buds their chance to be overwhelmed with the burning sensation and then soothed by the smokey aftertaste as the poison slithers its way down my throat and into the bloodstream. After the first taste, each subsequent sip becomes easier and easier to swallow, allowing for debauchery of the lowest form. Proust goes down the same way. At first you’re intimidated, then immersed, and then inebriated by Marcel’s memories, confusing them with your own. And it makes sense, because these are the memories that influenced the artist, and we as artists should have similar memories. Everyone remembers their first love. Everyone remembers their favorite books. Everyone remembers.
I was particularly shocked when Swann’s relationship with Odette brought back buried memories of a former love. Swann’s relationship with Odette so mirrors my own that it’s impossible to bury my undead memories. They make their way into my mind, but I don’t stop reading because they take their appropriate places at appropriate times. In a sort of drunken stupor, I started inserting myself as Swann and my former love as Odette, but Swann reassured me that this is quite common. “Swann had always had this peculiar penchant for amusing himself by rediscovering in the paintings of the masters not only the general characteristics of the real world that surrounds us, but what seems on the contrary the least susceptible to generalization, the individual features of the faces we know” (Proust, 231). We have a predilection to make art into life and life into art, just as Marcel is doing by overwhelming us with sights, scents, and sentiments.
Swann’s difficulty with staleness in his relationship with Odette is something we’ve all been through – the fear of boring our significant other. “And yet he strained his ingenuity not only to prevent Odette from becoming tired of him, but also, sometimes, to prevent himself from becoming tired of her; feeling that, ever since Odette had had every opportunity to see him, she did not seem to have much to say to him, he was afraid that the rather banal, monotonous, and more or less permanently predetermined manner she now had when they were together would end by killing the romantic hope he had that one day she would declare her passion, a hope which alone had made him fall in love and stay in love” (Proust, 233-234). But what if that hope is never realized? “He trembled at being deprived of a pleasure that he was now measuring for the first time, having had until then that certainty of finding it when he wanted it which in the case of all pleasures diminishes for us, or even prevents us from perceiving at all, their greatness” (Proust, 235). The age-old creed “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” has affected us all, which is why it’s so seamlessly simple to substitute our own misadventures into Swann’s Way. He awakes in us memories we’d like to forget because he knows if we forget them we’ll feel incomplete. Sometimes the worst memories are the best to hold onto. No pain, no gain.