Monday, July 16, 2012

But as I had no powers of observation at all

Even though on the very next page he describes for us the patterned grey damask of the napkins at Gilberte's house, the narrator of À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs succeeds in making us believe:

Mais comme je n'avais aucun esprit d'observation, comme en général je ne savais ni le nom ni l'espèce des choses qui se trouvaient sous mes yeux, et comprenais seulement que quand elles approchaient les Swann, elles devaient extraordinaires,  il ne me parut pas certain qu'en avertissant mes parents de la valeur artistique et de la provenance lointaine de cet escalier, je commisse un mensonge. (p. 76)

But as I had no powers of observation at all -- as usually I would know neither the name or specific nature of the things that I happened to see -- and understanding only that when they had some connection to the Swanns they became extraordinary -- it did not seem by any means certain that, in drawing my parents' attention to the artistic value and the remote origins of the staircase, I was lying to them. (my very loose translation...)
Perhaps this is because, for Proust, the details of things are always mimetic, always expressive of somebody or a relationship to that somebody -- and so expressive too of the disturbing power of the mores that buffer them stiffly there, that the particularities of those objects are at the same time 'exigées par l'étiquette et particulière aux Swann'.

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