Years ago, growing up and doing a lot of reading, I would quickly get bored with long monologues . Not having the heart to skip them, I would just skim over them, which I found to be a more conscience-friendly way of helping them out that other ear. Today, I’m very picky about what I read. And dialogues comprise rather a small part of my literary diet. Today, I prefer language which I ‘d never encountered before, language that can be only expressed through the author’s direct thought – the monologue. Maybe I figured that never-before encountered language in a dialogue is mostly, well – either straight down obscene or otherwise superficially pretentious at being something it’s not. I hate the latter more than the former. Of course, there are great exceptions, and I’m not pretentious enough to overlook them.
However, memoirs, autobiographies, and authors considered unreadable by a large part of the reading public have struck the most nerve endings in my brain as of the past 8 years. Struck them in a way that played with them, not on them. Like with many of us, it was often life that played on my nerves, but the best books played with them, sort of tickled them in a fashion which eventually was the only remedy that made them relax. Suddenly I had a thought that there must be a pattern behind all this. I realized there was a pattern after I read “Le Temps Retrouve” by Marcel Proust- rather its second half. The famously prized great “essay” not only on Art – on Time. And then I realized that what I’m really looking for in a book (and often missing) is the feeling of Time. Or, as Proust says, being free from Time, hovering between Time, having our spirit hover in the no-time zone. These are the moments that make the narrator of Time Regained rediscover his whole life and answer questions left unanswered – forgotten by Time- for over 40 years.
Oh, a word about those questions. I have a strong feeling that the only questions worth devoting a lifetime to answering are those that are so deep inside us that there’s a good chance no one else may care about them – or those would be so few, that we may only encounter them in books. All too frequently we break our head over them for a short time -in youth, generally- only to shove them back into the depths of the deep. But perhaps these are not meant for breaking your head over- they will resolve themselves only on their schedule and only on one condition: remembrance. For once they retreat into the distant subconscious they’re still there, only with a load of garbage on top which makes them invisible but tangible – and sour to taste when they do come up as a result of a periodical reflux disease. For Proust this was a lifelong burning question of literary abilities – the urgency and desire to write vs. an inability to capture a butterfly mid-flight and cup it in the hands without pinning down. Capture it with the feeling of an artist cupping time for only a second to release it back into flight, because as a poet had said, “Friend entomologist, for light there are no pins, as for darkness too.”
There are moments I so loved in Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”, that I was doubly wondering why he must write about a social soiree for hundreds of pages on end, and only from time to time spend a few dozen, or a hundred, if you’re lucky, pages, on those great moments he is famous for (and why always the famous madeleine cookie – there are many much more delicate sensations). But when he finally does write, oh how he does it! A sunset beam passing through the wall of a strange room. A pitch black corridor illuminated faintly on one end. A summer ocean breeze with Albertine running in the sand. An old ruined chapel in a quaint village at sunset. Combre. The two ways. They will always remind me of the certain two ways in the distant Combre of my own memory.
However, quick to judgement, perhaps we don’t realize that without the former, there would be no latter- importantly, there would be no great contrast with this calm happiness. After all, it’s contrast that itches our nerve endings. And, one more thing, the social scenes are part of our everyday life as much as they were part of Proust’s. I will not go into judging who is having a more painful time in society, whether it’s we in our often uncultured modern boiling pot, or Proust in his attempt-at-cultured one. The point is that it’s something that all of us can understand when we notice (and get bored with- forgive me, Marcel) the social function in “Le Temps Perdu”. And this complaint is something that I’ve encountered most often from people who’ve been reading Proust.
I also hope that Marcel won’t have to truly forgive me because I feel that his purpose may not at all be to describe these soirees in all their minute detail as much as to show the absurd (which he had spent no less time being part of than we must spend reading) through language itself. For language can show us the absurd without using one absurd word. But we can get the sense (or perception) of absurdity by simply reading about it long enough. Happiness is different. Only a moment, only a sound, only a smell suffice to cup happiness. It may beat wildly in our palms, impatient to fly back into the Universe the next second, but its wings will have scratched us. Sometimes the most important thing is knowing that it’s always close -how close it is. This is something that Time knows best. Marcel knew it, as Its disciple. And so do we, deep inside.