Swann's Way is Marcel Proust's literary masterpiece and is part of the multivolume novel Remembrance of Things Past.
In Swann's Way, the author recalls the youth of Charles Swann in the French town of Combray. Proust paints an unforgettable, scathing and at times comic portrait of French society at the close of the19th century and reveals a profound vision of obsessive love.
This is now the entire audiobook, not in two parts.
©2008 Marcel Proust (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
What could possibly be better? Now to read Proust and Signs by Deleuze! And then, perhaps Conrad just for counterpoise.
Emmanuel Levinas called Proust "a psychologist of the infinitesimal." The concrete images Proust crafts with infinite details and patience in his novel are not so much based on the visual experience as they are on the marvel of imagination rooted in the memory. Proust presents an incontrovertible case of imagination and memory for philosophers to examine. The fact that his descriptions are fictional matters not, because the novel stems from the experience he remembers and imagines. However, he is not interested in reproducing his experiences in modified and refined depictions. He is after something else. He is after the truth of the lost time which his mind cannot resurrect in "the storehouse of memory" (as Augustine puts it), as if the mind is in control of resurrecting and suppressing it, but which arises by itself on its own by a chance encounter with an object or memory that summons up the whole past or the whole bygone city. It is not I but something other than I that calls up the past in memory. It is something external to the I that calls up the past. The past belongs to something exterior to the mind, something beyond the domain of my intellectual power. He says: "It is a waste of effort for us to try to summon it [the past], all the exertions of intelligence are useless. The past is hidden outside the realm of our intelligence and beyond its reach, in some material object (in the sensation that this material object would give us) which we do not suspect. It depends on chance whether we encounter this object before we die, or do not encounter it" (46).
As a case in point, Proust offers the following description of a cup of tea his mother offered in one cold winter day with "one of those squat, plump cakes called petites madeleines" (47). He continues: "But at the very instant when the mouthful of tea mixed with cake crumbs touched my palate, I quivered, attentive to the extraordinary thing that was happening in me. A delicious pleasure had invaded me... by filling me with a precious essence: or rather this essence was not in me, it was me" (47). He continues: "Where could it have come to me from - this powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected to the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it went infinitely far beyond it, could not be of the same nature. Where did it come from? What did it mean? How could I grasp it? [...] It is clear that the truth I am seeking is not in the drink, but in me" (47). But is it up to me to recall the past, as if the past is entirely in my command? Do I re-create the past by my sheer will of imagination? No so, according to Proust. For he says: "It is up to my mind to find the truth. But how? What grave uncertainty, whenever the mind feels overtaken by itself; when it, the seeker, is also the obscure country where it must seek and where all its baggage will be nothing to it. Not only that: create. It is face to face with something that does not yet exist and that only it can accomplish, then bring into its light" (48).
The past that confronts him, occasioned by the taste of the tea mixed with petites madeleines, is quite strange, is something he must create as if it is totally new to him. It is the other. The past comes to him as the other, occasioned by the chance encounter with a cup of tea his mother offered with petites madeleines. His mother's madeleines brings forth another one he had in the past, dipped in the "infusion of tea or lime-blossom," offered by Aunt Leonie in one Sunday morning before the Mass at Combray (49).
The entire bygone past emerges out of the cup of tea as in the Japanese game of colored pieces of papers dipped in a bowl of water transforming themselves into different shapes of imagination: "As soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea that my aunt used to give me..., immediately the old grey house on the street, where her bedroom was, came like a stage-set to attach itself to the little wing opening on to the garden that had been built for my parents behind it...; and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square, where they sent me before lunch, the streets where I went to do errands, the paths we took if the weather was fine. And as in the game in which the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper until then indistinct, which, the moment they are immersed in it, stretch and shape themselves, colour and differentiate, become flowers, houses, human figures, firm and recognizable, so now all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne, and the good people of the village and their little dwellings and the church and all of Combray and its surroundings, all of this which is assuming form and substance, emerged, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea" (50).
The medeleines with tea his mother offered brings to his mind or to his memory the same he tasted when Aunt Leonie offered with tea in Combray, but this happens not as a result of an active work of association that his memory or mind makes. The mind does not create the link. It is the thing itself (felt in sensation) that creates the link beyond the power of the mind. For the link is created only when the mind is purged of all its baggage and its will power, only when the mind "create[s] an empty space" (48).
Only then, the lost past returns like "the murmur of the distance traversed" (48): "I go back in my thoughts to the moment when I took the first spoonful of tea. I find the same state, without any new clarity. I ask my mind to make another effort, to bring back once more the sensation that is slipping away. And, so that nothing may break the thrust with which it will try to grasp it again. I remove every obstacle, every foreign idea, I protect my ears and my attention from the noises in the next room. But feeling my mind grow tired without succeeding, I now force it to accept the very distraction I was denying it, to think of something else, to recuperate before a supreme attempt. Then for a second time I create an empty space before it, I confront it again with the still recent taste of that first mouthful and I feel something quiver in me, shift, try to rise, something that seems to have been unanchored at a great depth; I do not know what it is, but it comes up slowly; I feel the resistance and I hear the murmur of the distances traversed" (48).
The past resurfaces like a stranger in the memory. This appearance is not a result of the Socratic mimesis, where what is recalled is familiar to the mind that recollects it; or a result of the memory retained in the present moment of consciousness, as in Husserl; or a result of the memory that lacks existence before its existence is regained in "the storehouse of memory," as in Augustine. The past that appears again in "the immense edifice of memory" is quite strange to me who encounters it. It is like a dead soul returning to an objection of my possession, as in the Celtic belief Proust cites (46): "But, when nothing subsists of an old past, after the death of people, after the destruction of things, alone, frailer but more enduring, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, smell and taste still remain for a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, on the ruin of all the rest, bearing without giving way, on their almost impalpable droplet, the immense edifice of memory" (49). What arises in "the immense edifice of memory" is quite other worldly like a cadaver of the departed, as is brilliantly described in Blonchot's The Space of Literature in drastic contrast to the death affirmed in dasein's resolute march towards it, as in Heidegger.
The past thus re-emerged is not a living past, like a tradition held fast by daily practice or like a well trodden pathway maintained by travelers. It is the past that has been lost forever, something that no recollection can bring back to life. Proust's memorializes the bygone past like we do with the dead. The past is forever gone. We remember in the sadness of knowing that it could never return and come alive again.
Memory, for Proust, is not a "storehouse" from which the mind pulls what it wills. The "immense edifice of memory" in Proust in contrast is like a strange landscape in which the mind enters without the familiarity of associations and habits. It is strange because it is bygone, dead. Levinas notes this strange otherness in the memories Proust recalls: "The result is something unique in Proust, something unprecedented in literature. His analysis... merely translate that strangeness between self and self which is the spout of the soul" (Proper Name, 102). As in memory in Proust, the soul or psyche in Levinas is the otherness within the self, the self that responds to that which is beyond, to the other.
The following depiction of the glory of Mme Swann in stark contrast of the modern women's style of clothes illustrates this melancholy of having lost the bygone past forever, like death of the Gods: "The idea of perfection which at that time I had carried inside me I had conferred upon the height of a victoria, upon the slenderness of those horses, as furious and light as wasps, their eyes bloodshot like the cruel steed of Diomedes, which now, filled as I was with a desire to see again what I had once loved, as ardent as the desire that had driven me down these same paths many years before, I wanted to see before my eyes again at the moment when Mme Swann's enormous coachman, watched over by a little groom as fat as a fist and as childlike as Saint George, tried to control hose wings of steel as they thrashed about quivering with fear. Alas, now there were only automobiles driven by mustached mechanics with tall footmen by their sides. I wanted to hold in front of the eyes of my body, so as to know if they were as charming as they appeared in the eyes of my memory, women's little hats so low they seemed to be simple crowns. All the hats were now immense, covered with fruits and flowers and varieties of birds. In place of the lovely dresses in which Mme Swann looked like a queen, I now saw Greco-Saxon tunics with Tanagra folds, and sometimes in the style of the Directoire, made of liberty-silk chiffons sprinkled with flowers like wallpaper.... [....] But when a belief disappears, there survives it - more and more vigorously so as to mask the absence of the power we have lost to give reality to new things - a fetishistic attachment to the old things which our belief once animated, as if it were in them and not in us that the divine resided and as if our present lack of belief had a contingent cause, the death of the Gods" (427). The past is no longer alive in the memory. It is recalled as a memory of the dead not in the liturgy of worship and veneration but in the desolation of the death of God.
Listening to this is to feel one is entering Proust's mind, as well as his period. Amazing.
I have never heard a better performance, and can't imagine a better. Masterly.
I thought the 'part 1' in the title referred to this being the first book of À la recherche du temps perdu, It's not - Swann's Way is split into two parts. That being said, I thought the performance by John Rowe was amazing. As for the book - well, no wonder it's considered one of the greatest pieces of literature. I'm listening to this while at work, and even though I sometimes drop out and aren't paying attention every now and then, the writing is so amazing just listening to the words and sentences is a reward in itself.
I will definitively come back to this book.
No can do...
Ah yes. I am dead certain no one will surpass John Rowe's performance. Ever. This is an effortless, virtuoso reading. I can't properly praise this sublime synthesis of actor and author.
I can't find a complete recording of Remembrance by Rowe online?!?!???..
Is that possible? (Teresaakrueger@gmail.com) You Have A Friend Forever if you can help!
I stared at it until my eyelids felt heavy. It may be that it is a beautiful picture, and I know my mother would like it, but I couldn't bring myself to feel its greatness no matter how hard I tried.
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