Monday, August 11, 2014

A la Recherche de la Paix et de Calme

This is not the time or place to write in detail about my struggles with and emotions about Facebook. However, in prefacing the rest of this post, I have to say that during my vacation last week, I looked at Facebook hardly at all, in contrast to the prior week and a couple of years' worth of weeks before that, when I looked at Facebook on and off all day long. In brief, I stay on FB all the time because I'm afraid of missing anything that happens on FB, and last week, I wanted to miss everything that happened on FB, the better to pay attention to what was around me.

It was a beautiful week. It was slow, it was gentle. It was warm and cool at all the right times. There were friends and music and good wine and better food. There were loud staircases and quiet fans. There was a morning jog by a lake like a mirror. There were two men fishing from a skiff on the surface of that rippling, benevolent sun. There was life.

On my first weeklong vacation to this place - almost ten years ago now - I read The Fountainhead. It was nice to rip through it in a week and know that I never had to read it again, and I kind of marked this geographical spot in my mind as a place where I can get serious reading done. Chorelike reading, if necessary. So I brought with me the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past,* which I've owned for well over a decade, not in the hope of finishing all 1,018 pages but in the hope of getting far enough into it that I wouldn't find it easy to quit once I was home. I succeeded; yesterday I got past the 1/3 mark

and I intend to finish it this month. I don't know whether I'll start on the next one right away. We'll see.

Just in terms of conversations I've had with people (i.e. not in terms of his reputation in the highfalutin literary community), I find that Proust, like Wallace, is famous more for his maximalism than for his actual content. I'm here to tell you that's a real shame for both writers. So far, Temps Perdu is not a little frustrating, because it is ridiculous how much wordage this guy can trowel onto the simplest moments, but I have no complaints about how lovely it is to read his sentences. They're long, they're teetering, they're hard to follow, and they're almost certainly nothing like what they are in French, but they're also romancing the hell out of me.

During our travel home on Saturday, I spent a lot of time looking at things. Matt mostly played an RTS game on his iPad, but I sat (or stood, or walked) and looked around. Everything was fascinating. The way people walked and sat and ate and squirmed and coped with their kids and chatted with each other and zipped their bags and sipped their lattes. I would have missed so much if I'd been scrolling through Facebook on my phone.

I don't know, but I think, that nearly 300 pages of Temps Perdu had forced me into seeing the world in greater detail. Proust describes all he sees (or saw) at such great length that he had to have looked at that tree, that river, the interior of that house long enough or often enough to see every last thing there was to see about it. He's making a project of memory, so I understand why he spends dozens of pages on the flowers that lined a certain path from his parents' house to his great-aunt's house, but I'm not going to say it's a fun or breezy read. Nevertheless, I think it's altering, for the better, the way I see the world right now, as I'm reading it. The world seems to exist in such gradual detail. I've felt for years that the wealth of stories that exist among the human race is best demonstrated at an airport, where you can personally witness hundreds of stories happening across a single day, but I took a lot more notice of Indra's net on Saturday than I did on the flight out, before I'd started Temps Perdu.

Maybe it's not Proust, though. Maybe a week of little to no responsibility, of listening to quiet and watching leaves flutter in the wind, of strumming my uke on a porch, is what helped me slow down and look. Maybe the lack of Facebook, a week of me clamping off my brain from the dump-truck of information available there (which overwhelmed me the few times I looked at it over the week), made a much bigger difference than I can understand right now. Or maybe all three things helped me to find some peace - the intricate detail of Temps Perdu, the silenced buzz of Facebook, and the cool grass of my vacation, all combined, did the trick.

I don't really care. I just don't want it to end.

*Can I just say? The new Penguin translation of À la recherche du temps perdu translates the title as In Search of Lost Time, so the Wikipedia page and a lot of other material has been changed to reflect that, rather than Remembrance of Things Past, as it was known in English for almost a century. While In Search of Lost Time seems like a more faithful rendering of the phrase, Remembrance of Things Past is so much more evocative. And the version I own and am reading is translated that way, anyhow, so it's how I'm going to think of it. (There's other stuff to say about the translations and how I've decided to go ahead and read a translation that's quickly being rendered obsolete, but it's pretty boring.) 

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