‘The only real journey, the only Fountain of Youth, would be to travel not toward new landscapes, but with new eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them can see, or can be; and we can do that with the help of an Elstir, a Vinteuil; with them and their like we can truly fly from star to star.‘ – from p.237 of The Prisoner by Marcel Proust – translated by Carol Clark
Seeing Proust’s hundreds of universes is always a remarkable thing.
I picked up The Prisoner once again today, having started it back in August and plugged away at it for a few weeks here and there since then. I’d really like to finish it before this month is over, then knock out The Fugitive in December and finish the last volume in January, bringing this journey to a close exactly two years after I began it.
As always, once I get the hang of reading Proust’s prose again, I am swept up in his rhythm and passions. I especially enjoyed the section I read today, which found Marcel caught up in a performance of a previously unheard piece by the composer Vinteuil. I always love when Proust writes about music, and the following passage struck me particularly, especially given the fact that this morning when I was listening to Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides) during my morning commute the narrator was bemoaning the lack of words available to properly express human emotions:
‘And just as certain creatures are the last example of a form of life which nature has abandoned, I wondered whether music were not the sole example of the form which might have served – had language, the forms of words, the possibility of analyzing ideas, never been invented – for the communication of souls. Music is like a possibility which has never been developed, humanity having taken different paths, those of language, spoken and written.’ p. 237
I am on the brink of spending some time actively looking into the development of language, something I am very interested in, but it is always amazing to me to experience how hugely effected I can be by what is said and heard through music.
Speaking of music – Vinteuil’s Sonata to be exact – I found this article on the theories about what real-life musician and specific piece of music inspired Proust’s character and fictional sonata. I had wondered when reading the passages about Swann and ‘the little phrase’ if the music Proust described was a real piece. I guess not. When I get home from work I have every intention of listening to the samples of Proust’s possible musical inspirations offered in the article.
For now I’ve got to get back to my reading though. As long as no one comes into the shop looking for a cappuccino, I’m free to get lost in Proust’s hundreds of universes.
The image above was painted by David Richardson for a book not yet published called The Bedside Proust. The painting is titled Odette Plays Vinteuil. I’ll be curious to see this book when it comes out, as it is an abridged version of Proust’s mamoth novel, written in the form of 140 character Tweets! Should be interesting.