01 July 2010

Other People's Things

I've been reading some Proust at night before bed. A slender volume that is nice to hold when lying down.

jacket image for Days of Reading by Marcel Proust

The length of his sentences and the interceding commas make for a literary lullaby. I find his descriptions of the art of reading and of the spaces of reading to be especially thoughtful and prosaic. For instance, he describes how remembering the books of one's childhood brings back not images of the story but rather of the spaces and events that comprise the reading environment.

Of particular note is his description of reading in an unfamiliar bedroom...

"I leave it to people of taste to make of their bedrooms the very image of their taste and to fill them only with those objects of which it can approve. For myself, I only feel myself live and think in a room where everything is the creation and the language of lives profoundly different from my own, of a taste the opposite of mine, where I can rediscover nothing of my conscious thought, where my imagination is exhilarated by feeling itself plunged into the heart of the non-self;

...that you are everywhere touching the bareness of this life in the intention of disturbing yourself by your own familiarity, as you put your things down in this place or that, playing proprietor in a room filled to overflowing with the souls of others and which preserves the imprint of their dreams in the very shape of the firedogs or the pattern on the curtains, or as you walk barefoot over its unknown carpet..."

Marcel Proust, Days of Reading

Foreign objects, serving no purpose exterior to their own existence as things, reinforce the imaginative life of the self by signifying what is non-self. For Proust, the vial of orange flower essence on his nightstand with no relevance to his life signifies the act of reading and immersing himself in what is completely alien to the self.

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