Thursday, 3 January 2008

Samuel Beckett on Proust (1931)

"There is no escape from yesterday because yesterday has deformed us, or been deformed by us. The word is of no importance. Deformation has taken place. Yesterday is not a milestone which has been passed, but a daystone on the beaten track of the years, and irremediably part of us, within us, heavy and dangerous. We are not merely more weary because of yesterday, we are other, no longer what we were before the calamity of yesterday." (P13)

"The aspirations of yesterday were valid for yesterday's ego, not for today's. We are disappointed at the nullity of what we were pleased to call attainment. But what is attainment? The identification of the subject with the object of his desire. The subject has died - and perhaps many times - on the way. (P13f)

"Voluntary memory (Proust repeats it ad nauseam) is of no value as an instrument of evocation, and provides an image as far removed from the real as the myth of our imagination or the caricature furnished by direct perception. There is only one real impression and one adequate mode of evocation. Over neither have we the least control." (P14)

"But involuntary memory is an unruly magician and will not be importuned. It chooses its own time and place for the performance of its miracle. I do not know how many times this miracle recurs in Proust. I think twelve or thirteen times. But the first - the famous episode of the madeleine steeped in tea - would justify the assertion that his entire book is a monument to involuntary memory and the epic of its action. The whole of Proust's world comes out of a teacup....."(P34)

On Page 54, quoting Proust: 'How can we have the courage to wish to live, how can we make a movement to preserve ourselves from death, in a world where love is provoked by a lie and consists solely in the need of having one's suffering appeased by whatever being has made us suffer.?' (Proust, of course, is at this point dwelling on his painful and labyrinthine relationship with Albertine.)

Beckett comments: "Surely in the whole of literature there is no study of that desert of loneliness and recrimination that men call love posed and developed with such diabolical unscurpulousness." On Page 64, quoting Proust: 'One lies all one's life long, and above all to that stranger whose contempt would cause the most pain - oneself.'