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In Search of Lost Time 3-19-2022

I finished the first volume of In Search of Lost TimeSwann’s Way, the other day, and then I began the second volume, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. The writing style is still similar with long sentences interrupted by appositives and asides. (And as I finished that sentence I thought of Charles Olson’s poetry and remembered how he would move on a tangent and start the new thought with open an parenthesis to indicate a side thought or association and just keep on writing without every arriving closed parenthesis. And of course the next aside started with another open parenthesis. The difference is that Proust returns to the original subject/verb of the sentence . . . no matter how long the sentence is, and they quite often long.)

The opening of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower acts as a reminder of and an introduction to characters, who are described for a few pages each, including Swann, Professor (sometimes Dr.) Cottard, Marquis de Norpois, the narrator’s mother and father, and a long passage on the actress La Berma, who, apparently, is based on the great French actress of the late 19th and early 20th century — Sarah Bernhardt. With La Berma, the narrator’s imagination delivers a portrait of her that reality can’t match. Again, his imagination bests reality. His imagination of expectations, again, leads to a let down. This experience of seeing her perform led me to wonder about media and how it affects perception. I mean, it does, but let me explain what I was thinking.

What led me to this was when the narrator finally decides, which wasn’t an easy decision, to see La Berma perform in one of his favorite plays Phèdre by Racine. The narrator’s whole day was delightful until he saw her perform. He was actively watching La Berma and the other actors act, but he was not pleased with La Berma’s performance. He then borrowed his grandmother’s opera glasses to see if that would change anything, and here’s what happens:

But when you believe in the reality of things, using an artificial means [opera glasses] to see them better is not quite the same as feeling closer to them. I felt it was not La Berma that I was seeing, only an enlarged picture of her. I put the glasses down — but what if the image received by the naked eye was no more accurate, given that it was an image reduced by distance? Which was the true Berma? (21)

The medium of opera glasses did alter his perception of her but not his experience of her acting, and it did make him concerned that he wasn’t sure which reality was the true one. Later, his interpretation of her acting changes as the crowd applauds certain acting moments by La Berma. The medium of the audience changes his perception of the acting. Even the medium of play reviews changes his perception days later. But then he realizes the he “let the cheap wine of this popular enthusiasm go to my head” (23). I love that arrogant and pompous line. 😀

All of this led me to what I want to get to: is imagination a medium? His imagination created an experience of her acting that he could perceive just as the medium of the opera glasses and the crowd and the review altered his perceptions. Or is the imagination embedded automatically within any medium of experience. I had to write all this to discover that imagination is enmeshed within each medium or lack of medium. My conclusion: imagination is a medium on its own, and imagination is also ingrained within each medium of experience.

Thank you, Writing, for helping me think that out.


Diva Actors:

I have heard of actors requiring certain things to be available behind stage, on set, or in the trailers, such as a certain type of water, donuts, soda, liquor, flowers, etc. I thought that was a modern thing, but it’s not as I learned from Proust. La Berma required that “hired clappers must never applaud her” (18). I assume she wanted the aura of genuine pleasure. (I was also surprised to learn such a thing existed. I assume this is the predecessor to canned laughter.) She also required “that windows had to stay open till she was onstage, but every single door must then be closed, that a pitcher of hot water must be concealed near her, so as to keep down the dust” and to ensure “the house temperature was right” (18).


Words of the Day:

plenipotentiary (p. 6) — a person, especially a diplomatic agent, invested with full power or authority to transact business on behalf of another.

nugatory (p. 14) — of no real value, trifling, worthless. Vain. Not valid.


Exclamation Points:

I won’t be counting exclamation points anymore, but they are occurring as frequently in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower as in Swann’s Way. The final count of exclamation points in Swann’s Way is 72! 72 exclamation points over 444 pages, which is 0.162 exclamation points per page or one every 6.166666667 pages. . . . I think that math is correct. 😀



In Search of Lost Time 3-15-2022

Swann’s Way is the first volume of In Search of Lost Time. Swann’s Way has three parts: Combray (which has sections 1 and 2); Swann in Love; and Place-Names: The Name. I recently finished Swann in Love. It could be a stand alone novel at 203 pages in length. This section focuses on Swann thinking or convincing himself that he is falling in love with Odette, who sleeps around with men, women, and in orgies, who is not attractive or intelligent, who lacks class, but is very well dressed. Swann in Love ends: “he [Swann] exclaimed to himself: ‘To think that I wasted years of my life, that I wanted to die, that I felt my deepest love, for a woman who did not appeal to me, who was not my type!” It’s a sad realization to have, but it’s good to have. As Swann’s Way ends, I feel relieved for him because he is finally over his delusion, jealousy, and obsessiveness. Good for you, Swann.

The final part of Swann’s Way is Place-Names: The Name. This begins with the narrator writing about his nameless self again and his “nights of insomina” (399). It recalls the ten-page opening of the volume. When I read it, I think, “Oh, yeah. There was another story about the narrator.” At first, the transition does not make sense. It’s like the initial story was interrupted for 203 pages to learn about Swann and his idea of love and falling in love. Place-Names: The Name begins by exploring how the name of a thing is “absorbed forever [in] the image” (403) of the thing or place. It then briefly explores semiotics by showing connections between a word, a sound, and the imagination. And then I meet Gilberte, the daughter of M. Swann and his wife, Odette. Oh my. The reminder. Earlier in the volume, I knew this but forgot. Swann did not get over Odette. That’s even sadder than the end of Swann’s Way. Gilberte is also the girl whose name the narrator mispronounced when he met her in the Combray section and whose eyes he changed color via his imagination. And now this section begins to make sense. The narrator told us about Swann so a parallel could be seen with the narrator. The narrator has similar love delusions as Swann. The narrator, in fact, creates two Gilbertes. One is the Gilberte in the waking world, who does not love him just as Odette did not love Swann, and the other is the one in the narrator’s imagination. The one he created he expects to write him a letter when she is gone. The created one is not like the real one who is dismissive and who is mainly concerned with herself. I mean dig this scene:

On one of those sunny days that had not fulfilled my hopes, I did not have the courage to hide my disappointment from Gilberte.

“I had so many things to ask you,” I [the narrator] said to her. “I thought that today was going to mean such a lot to our friendship. And as soon as you get here, you have to leave again! Try to come early tomorrow, so I can finally talk to you.”

Her face shone and she was jumping with joy as she answered me:

“Tomorrow, you may depend upon it, my dear friend, I won’t be coming at all! I’ve got a big tea party; nor the day after tomorrow, either, I’m going to a friend’s house to watch the arrival of King Theodosius from her windows, it will be splendid, and then the day after we’re going to Michel Stogoff and then after that, Christmas will coming soon and the New Year’s holidays. Maybe they’ll take me to the Midi. How nice that would be! Though it will mean I won’t have a Christmas tree; anyway, if I stay in Paris, I won’t be coming here because I’ll be paying calls with Mama. Good-bye, there’s Papa, he’s calling me.” (424-5)

Whew. That’s devastating. Their relationship is clearly portrayed in this passage. He loves her, and she doesn’t really think much of him other than as a form of entertainment and as a person to play “prisoner’s base” with.

I thought, “Ok. He”ll learn from this and move on.” But no. He doesn’t learn. He imagines her writing him letters with remorse. He imagines a lot. He’ssimilar to Swann, and it’s sad. I hope he recovers. I have 15 more pages to read in Swann’s Way, and then I’ll be done with the volume. So I wait to see what happens. I may not find out until Thursday, because Wednesday is my 11-12 hour day of teaching, with a break towards the end where I can read or nap to rest up for my three-hour night course.


Exclamation Points:

As of page 429, I have encountered at least 67 exclamation points! That seems excessive, but Proust is excessive in describing and exploring except when it comes to food.


I was expecting there to be a lot of food and drink in this first volume of In Search of Lost Time, Swann’s Way. I circled every food and drink I encountered as I read. Below are the only food and drinks I noticed:

  • tea (p. 45). Without the tea, the following food may not have worked.
  • petites madeleines (p. 45). I like how this is the first food as it is the most important as it stimulates the narrator’s memory.
  • madeleine (p. 53)
  • chocolate custard (p. 73)
  • marzipan (p. 74)
  • tangerine (p. 74)
  • marzipan (p. 77)
  • tangerine (p. 77)
  • licorice water (p. 91)
  • vichy water (two times on p. 103)
  • vichy water (p. 109)
  • potatoes (p. 118)
  • béchamel sauce (p. 118)
  • mashed potatoes (p. 118)
  • casseroles (p. 123). I didn’t know they existed back then. I thought they were invented in the 1950s.
  • game (p. 123)
  • pastry (p. 123)
  • cream (p. 123)
  • peas (p. 123)
  • asparagus (p. 123)
  • vegetables (p. 123)
  • chickens (p. 124)
  • coffee (p. 124)
  • vichy water (p. 126)
  • orangeade (p. 220)
  • Japanese salad (p. 265). The narrator does not indicate what is in a Japanese salad, but it seem like a rare delicacy.
  • Japanese salad (p. 266)
  • orangeade (p. 310)
  • orangeade (p. 311)
  • fruit (p. 322)
  • orangeade (p. 391)
  • spice cake (p. 418). The translator’s note reads: The French pain d’éspices is define in dictionaries as “gingerbread.” But unlike gingerbread and our spice cake, it is a rather heavy and not very sweet breadlike cake made of rye flour, honey, sugar, and spices, including anise, and is mildly laxative. . . . Until the last parts, I was getting excited to make this on Tuesday bread-making day.
  • red barley sugar (p. 418)
  • plum (p. 418)

I still need some madeleines stat. I also want to try this recurring orangeade.

This list makes it seems like there is more food and drink than there is.


Words of the Day:

lorgnon (p. 330) — Eyeglasses with a handle. They were fashionable for the day. They are more for jewelry than for vision.

anfractuosity (p. 337) — Characterized by wingdings and turnings.

arcature (p. 337) — An arcade of small dimensions.

fabliau (p. 404) — The translator’s note reads: A short, usually comic, frankly coarse, and often cynical tale in verse popular in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Prophet’s constipation (p. 418) — I’m not sure what this is, but it is a reference to something Jewish, and Swann who is Jewish is suffering from this ailment.



In Search of Lost Time 3-8-2022

Love stinks, yeah yeah

— from “Love Stinks” by The J. Geils Band

Surely, Swann must feel this way. Or at least he pretends to. Swann has fallen in love with Odette, a person who is not intelligent, is not good looking, and lacks class. She borders on being, and may be, a prostitute. In the least, she’s an escort. The intelligent Swann, however, has fallen in love with her because of how he palimpsests (I just made a verb) her via art, as mentioned in the previous post. As the story progresses, he experiences what I am calling “love paranoia,” “love jealousy,” “love obsessiveness,” “love anger,” and “love dumb.” That means he doesn’t trust her with another man and that he doesn’t even really know what love is. In other words, he suffers from what Proust calls “a paroxysm love” (311). In other, other words, he is going crazy because he thinks he is in love, and it is creating emotions for self-dramatic effect.

Here is what I mean: Odette has started hanging out with another man named Forcheville, who is a recent convert to the Verdurin’s cult and who has the hots for Odette. The Verdurins even prefer him to Swann, and they probably prefer him because Swann won’t convert. Swann becomes “love jealous,” which leads to “love paranoia” and “love obsessiveness.” Not only can he not stop imagining implausible actions between Odette and Forcheville, but he has to spy on them, and he does so in a most “love dumb” manner. After Odette made Swann leave her place before he wanted to, Swann went home. Then his “love dumb” and “love jealous” mind started creating fictive certainties about what the two were doing. He imagined Odette made Swann leave earlier so she could be with Forcheville. Swann’s “love obsessiveness” dwelled on this until he decided to go spy on her apartment. He saw the light on and heard voices, so he knocked on the window until someone answered. If Odette answered, he was going to use the lame excuse that he was in the neighborhood at midnight and was just checking in on her to see if she was feeling better. It’s the lame excuse of a teenager. Then someone answered, and it turned out he was at the wrong apartment. Later, he asked a friend spy on her.

What Swann thinks is love is a creation of his imagination, which leads me to realize Swann does not love Odette. It does not seem plausible that Swann could love her since she is not attractive, not intelligent, and lacks class. In fact, I think Swann does all of this out of self-indulgence. It’s like she’s an experiment to occupy his time and generate feign emotions. Swann is clearly lonely and not capable of love. He’s a lady’s man but incapable of love.

I’m writing about this because I identify with Swann. It helped me understand a previous version of myself, who has experienced many of the above described emotions. However, mine were not as extreme, and I did not stalk someone or hire a spy, but I was in love. Proust’s ability to get inside a character so deeply and detailed creates a character that is real and translates over into the real world beyond the page. Reading Proust is becoming therapy, at times. Oh, my old, stupid self. I was so love naive. Swann and I experienced a love “embellished by . . . ignorance” (319).


Exclamation Points:

As of page 155, there was only one exclamation point. That has changed. I am currently on page 324, and there have been 33 more exclamation points. On page 297, there was even a triple exclamation point!!! and between pages 312 and 313, there were ten, count them ten, exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t know why I am tracking this, but I am!


Word of the day:

pneumatic machine (318) — a tool or instrument that utilizes compressed air. I’m sure you knew that, as I did. What I didn’t know is that this device existed before the publication date of Swann’s Way on November 14, 1913. According to

In the 17th century, the German Otto von Guericke experimented on and significantly improved compressors. In 1829 a stage, or compound, compressor, which involved compressing air in successive cylinders, was patented. Cooling by jets of water sprayed into the cylinder during compression was introduced about 1872; later, a better system of cooling by the use of water-jacketed cylinders was developed. In the United States the first compressor used in large-scale work was a four-cylinder unit for the Hoosac Tunnel, at North Adams, Massachusetts, in 1866.

So it’s much older than I thought.


Thanks for reading.


And now for your listening pleasure:



In Search of Lost Time 2-27-2022

Marcel Proust’s first volume of In Search of Lost Time is Swann’s Way, which is divided into three parts: “Combray,” “Swann in Love,” and “Place Names.” Since my last post, I have entered the second part, “Swann in Love, and there is quite a difference from the first part. In the first part, the narrator (who, despite being unnamed, is referenced by critics and readers as Marcel) presents his young life along side his adult life. The transitions between the two are seamless, and sometimes, it takes me a while to figure out which one I am reading about. The first part, “Combray,” presents an idealistic view/understanding of the author’s community and experiences in such a small environment. He has ideals about art, how to view art, writing, how to read, and falling in love for the first times. He’s biggest concerns, if I remember correctly, are receiving a kiss from his mother before going to bed (and there is Freudian undertones to his relationship with his mother) and writer’s block. Marcel is young and his experiences are limited to his town and two paths to two other towns. In brief, that is the gist of Swann’s Way.

The second part of Swann’s Way, “Swann in Love,” right away moves into the community of Verdurin’s house, which appears to be a cross between a brothel and a cult that has even married two women, which must have been scandalous for the time. It is here that Swann meets his love, Odette, who is a member of the brothel and cult. She is not very “beautiful,” but she is the “best-dressed person in Paris” (205). Or is she beautiful?

Part of this answer rests with art. In “Combray,” Marcel’s imagination used art to make a person’s black eyes blue. He didn’t paint her. He chose to decide to see color her eyes that way. He imposed a reality, an art, on her to make her beautiful, a beauty which he had previously imagined her to be. In “Swann in Love,” art acts similarly but has more nuance. For instance, art has capitalistic aspects in its “expressive value” (217) and as something Swann can possess and have in his house (219-20) with the “sensuality of a collector” (233). At the same time, art challenges Swann, and art is used to make Odette beautiful to him. For Swann, art is the challenge that enables him to confront the “the frivolity of the society of people” (231) he interacts with and the generalizations he interacts with. This maybe why or how he uses art to challenge Odette’s non-pleasant appearance. If it were not for Botticelli’s art, and another artist whose name I can’t currently locate, and the associations their artworks create in Odette, she would not beautiful. As the narrator says of Swann and his perception of Odette:

He no longer appraised,” (note the capitalism in “appraised”) “Odette’s face according to the finer or poorer quality of her cheeks and the purely flesh-colored softness he supposed he must find when he touched them with his lips if he ever dared to kiss her, but as a skein of of subtle and beautiful lines that his eyes reeled off, following their winding curve, joining the cadence of her nape to the effusion of her hair and the flexion of her eyelids, as in a portrait of her in which her type became intelligible and clear. (232)

Swann has used art, particularly Realism, to create a beauty. Swann would not be able to love her and this newly created beauty without having a knowledge of and experience with art. If it wasn’t for art and the associations to and from art he creates for Odette, she would be ordinary. In fact, Odette is a a palimpsest on which Swann layers art and associative beauty to which she will become “precious” (232) and he will own. In fact he thinks, “How nice it would be to have a little woman like that in whose home one could always find that rare thing” (230). He views her like some collectors view art — something that has an aura of authenticity and as something to own.

The world of In Search of Time has become complicated and exciting.


Fun observations.

Fauvism was new at the time of Proust’s writing, but he makes mention of it when he shows people reacting to the modern art of the time: “women do not have lavender hair” (221).

The first, and so far only, exclamation point appears on page 155!


Words of the days to make up for missed posts.

Demimondaine (198) — a woman considered to belong to the demimonde. Demimonde — a class of women who have lost their standing in respectable society because of indiscreet behavior or sexual promiscuity. — Think Odette.

Neuralgia (214) — sharp and paroxysmal pain along the course of a nerve.

Orangeade (220) — a beverage consisting of orange juice , sweetener, and water, and sometimes carbonated. This word makes the list because I didn’t realize it had been around for so long.



In Search of Lost Time 2-10-2022

I brought Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time to my appointment with my podiatrist. He saw the book and asked me, “What’s it about?” I paused, and said, “Nothing yet. Just exposition.” I said that after reading about 90 or so pages. It’s true. Not much plot line has really happened. There’s a 10-page passage about falling asleep, a one-minute meeting with his wealthy Uncle Aldophe and his new flame that lasted about six pages, 10 pages about reading, a long passage about being outside and waiting for Swann, an eight-page description about the church and it’s place in town, where he explains time as a dimension which the church has moved through, and it’s all fascinating. But nothing has really happened. The two most substantial conflicts so far are the narrator’s young self waiting for and trying to con his mother into giving him a good night kiss and Bloch, a friend who introduce him to the the writings of Bergotte, not being “invited to the house again” (92). And now I think the novel title should be In Search of Lost Plot 😁

. . . 

Not only does the narrator not have a name, but neither do his mother, father, or grandparents. And the narrator makes fun/notice of this when his Uncle Aldophe introduces the narrator to the uncle’s new woman of the moment when the narrator writes, “She looked at me, smiling, my uncle said to her, ‘My nephew,’ without telling her my name” (77), and this made me laugh. Now, I think the novel title should be In Search of Lost Names 😆

. . . 

Today’s word of the day is: licorice water (page 91). I can’t really find anything about it, except it’s good for hair and skin care. I wonder what it tastes like. I keep thinking black licorice Sambuca.


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