Sunday, November 7, 2010

Notes on In Search of Lost Time (1)

First, again, there is place, the place - world, continent, country, town, home. The time: World War I, 1914 and then 1916. The place is first a place, location and locale, villa, plaza, vista, chateau, bungalow. Proust's hermeneutics, in place of remembrance, is that of forgetting, the invisible condition, actual as it is unreal: of habit. We find Marcel (pseudo-, Proust) the addressee of letters from Robert and Gilberte upon one return to Paris and then another, and with the second occupation by the Germans possible if not imminent. Gilberte describes, in her first letter, the glory, modesty, and nobility of the Germans who occupy her home; trying to get at the sense of their presence, she tells Marcel that one soldier requested permission to pick forget-me-nots from her garden. The Germans lack the violence and rancor of the French, she says. Gilberte expresses this train of German nationalism, and Marcel wonders whether, by sacrificing her home to Germans, she has not become absolutely passive to their passing-through, their passage through the Meseglise way. This is the first Combray: passive, giving, sensuous even in thrall and in suffering, in the sense of its ownership passive, the gathering of forget-me-nots which ensures that the Germans, in the tension of their moment, will not be forgotten, or, on the hither side of remembrance, will not cease to forget that this is the home of another. This is the Meseglise Way and all we can say of its content (its direction and form): its generosity, its shelter beneath rainfall in the beginning, beneath the shifting weather and the sky's duration. Or, who knows, it is the Guermantes Way; perhaps someday it will be or have been Swann's Way, the way of the double, the direction of the me in me who is absolutely not "I" in the moment I turn back to take him to me in the homosexual encounter of sight, of seeing the double, the eyes and the rotation of the two, now this way, now that. That is the first letter of Gilberte. In-between the two signatures of Gilberte, between which intervenes Marcel's stay, for two years, in the sanatorium, arrives Robert's letter: more Saint-Loup than Guermantes, more Robert than Rachel. Robert reports the act of war in its dissemination, its activity, its passing-through and breaking-through, in the serial vice and vicissitudes of its morphologies, typologies, the work of war and the erosion with which it signs the land that it not only devastates but turns into memory. Robert echoes Hegel in remarking that war is a "process of becoming," an event repeating itself almost automatically, with only its direction available to the trained and voluntary (volunteer) eye, between and out of the contradiction between French and German. Combray as it once was but as the love that never was, from which we are forever exiled and have been from the beginning, or the Combray that existed only in the looks between us, in glances, and in precious stares. As letters, signatures on the land, erased by rain years before war, now given back by the latter, as if sifting through the surplus that is my home. The land lives again so that the love dormant inside of it, which it also is as a double, can be issued as the impossible call of a love, or, at an about face, a second nature. The French and German forces are not purely enemies but unloving forces, wed as they are rent apart, in the same home, the Combray of Marcel's childhood, which is never the same home as such, the child was always something more and less and never the child as such. Robert and Rachel, Marcel and Albertine, Saint-Loup and the daughter of Odette, Proust and Gilberte, Swann and his perfidious wife: Marcel Proust and myself, the reader. Both strangers in this dwelling; we are never, together, one, but friends or lovers, readers or the one who writes, at the very same time the end and the beginning all over again of this book before me, of this home and how it is shared, partitioned and positioned before and after its destruction, and again, despite the remonstrations of a memory that will inevitably be forgotten, a source of distribution. Here the foresworn fertility of Gilberte: there Proust's abortion. How would it be to have this home again, to have each other, but first you, back, as flesh, as life before my eyes and before the event? How would we fight with the same home between us and above us once more? We are under this roof together, both of us sheltered by the book. This is the first World War, but, too, the second time it has occurred. For the world, meaning Marcel as such, has forgotten, and plays it out again, as if, to reiterate, it is the Great War that he passed by in the trappings of habit; the first war is always the second, farcical and a simple address and reply, never met but only intimated in glances revealed and obscured: a letter about around and within our home, an about face toward the home that we share as mutually not and never simply ours, the Combray that will never cease to remember our love, so long as we in turn never cease to forget it. This is the home that we share even as we never mean to, and us, tracing ways that simply take off and turn about Combray.