June 17th, 2004

al fresco

idolatry, or the world through masques

the professor I had for Proust once said that if you could summarize all of Temps Perdu in one word, that word would be idolatry.

I agree with what someone else said here about how difficult it is to read about Swann's love for Odette, because she's so clearly playing him, and using him for money and other things. but I think the real purpose of that episode (or one of the real purposes) is to show how strongly people create their own realities, and how two people can see completely different parts of another person. especially after seeing Marcel's worship of the Guermantes family in the Combray section, and seeing how his idea, and the reader's idea, of Odette and the Guermantes evolves throughout the books, it seems to me that Proust's emphasis, and the purpose of all his twists and turns, is to show how endlessly complex people are. there are always different facets visible to different observers, and it's nearly impossible to create a whole, unified description of someone. Proust spends 3000 pages trying to do that for his characters, and still doesn't finish.

there's a bit much later in the books with a side character, who at first is introduced as having one profession, X, but Marcel discovers that she is also a call girl. and I think that what both Marcel and the reader are inclined to think, at first, is, why did she say she was X when she is really a call girl? as though there's some sort of fundamental identity that supersedes other identities. but the real key to this work, I think, is that there is no superseding identity, only thousands of sub-identities intertwined and overlaid, each inextricable from the next, and this fundamental unknowability is what governs human interactions.