Reading Proust (pt.1)

Recommend, review, discuss and share books, podcasts, videos and links to philosophy and related resources.

Reading Proust (pt.1)

Postby toucana on December 20th, 2015, 12:15 pm 

Marcel Proust

"The book is unreadable, the author paid all the costs of publication himself "

This unflattering comment was supposedly made in private by Bernard Grasset, shortly after his firm published Du Côté Chez Swann ( Swann's Way) by Marcel Proust in 1913. It was the first part of Proust's monumental seven volume masterpiece A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (In Search Of Lost Time).

It is a masterpiece that remains hard for English readers to approach even today, partly because of its extreme length, but also because it is one of those particular works that almost defy satisfactory translation. Rather like the classical Ionian Greek of Homer's epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey, Proust's mercurial French embodies a protean and lightning quick kaledoscopic quality coupled with a limpid lucidity that creates a poetic word play and unique music that is almost impossible to render adequately in any other language. A translation that captures the complexity and lucidity of his thought sacrifices the simplicity and poetry of his language.

If you plan to read Proust, and if you hope to 'get' him in any sense, then there is no alternative, you need to summon up your courage and make the effort to read his work in the original French. By all means use a crib like the Moncrieff English translation, but dive in at the deep-end first and read the French. You are unlikely to regret it, once you get over the shock.

A writer like Iris Murrdoch conceded that Proust could become long winded in his more complex phrasing, but also said that "he writes like an angel." In fact Proust often starts from the very simplest constructions using the language and narrative perspective of a young child. How difficult is this passage from near the beginning of 'Swann's Way' to understand in its original French ?

"Ma seule consolation, quand je montais me coucher, était que maman viendrait m’embrasser quand je serais dans mon lit. Mais ce bonsoir durait si peu de temps, elle redescendait si vite, que le moment où je l’entendais monter, puis où passait dans le couloir à double porte le bruit léger de sa robe de jardin en mousseline bleue, à laquelle pendaient de petits cordons de paille tressée, était pour moi un moment douloureux. Il annonçait celui qui allait le suivre, où elle m’aurait quitté, où elle serait redescendue. "

"My only consolation as I went upstairs was that mummy would come and kiss me once I was in my bed. But this happiness lasted for such a short time, and she went back down so quickly, that the very moment when I heard her coming up along the double door corridor with a slight rustle of her garden dress of blue muslin from which hung small tresses of braided straw was also for me a moment of sadness. It foretold what was to follow, that she would leave me and go back down."

If you are tempted to feel that you are treating Proust's works with a certain lack of respect by approaching them with an imperfect grasp of the language they are written in, then you may perhaps draw some comfort from the fact that Proust did exactly the same thing at a formative moment in his own development as a writer. Some years before he embarked on writing A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, Marcel Proust set about translating the writings of his own favourite English writer and thinker John Ruskin into French. Proust was quite undaunted by the fact that his own grasp of English was wholly inadequate to the task. He simply enlisted the help of his mother whose English was much better than his own, and several other friends as well, to establish a panel of translators to help him in his work. When he was challenged by his own editor about his lack of qualifications as a translator, Proust replied "Sir I never claimed to understand English, I understand Ruskin". If you find yourself paddling through A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu with the help of an English crib, then fear not, Proust of all people would smile and thoroughly approve.
User avatar
Chatroom Operator
Posts: 1228
Joined: 20 Sep 2006
Location: Bristol UK
Blog: View Blog (7)
Lomax liked this post

Re: Reading Proust (pt.1)

Postby Heavy_Water on May 4th, 2017, 9:54 pm 

Life's too short to read Proust.

Overblown, self indulgent verbose drivel.

Had to read him in undergrad school.

It was good for my insomnia, though.


Can't sleep?

Pick up some MP and you'll be off to lala land in minutes.

Just my dos centavos.
User avatar
Banned User
Posts: 61
Joined: 02 May 2017
Location: Texas

Return to Books, Media & Internet Resources

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest