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Posts Tagged ‘Proust

“A unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation”*…

 

meme

Is there any way to intervene usefully or meaningfully in public debate, in what the extremely online Twitter users are with gleeful irony calling the “discourse” of the present moment?

It has come to seem to me recently that this present moment must be to language something like what the Industrial Revolution was to textiles. A writer who works on the old system of production can spend days crafting a sentence, putting what feels like a worthy idea into language, only to find, once finished, that the internet has already produced countless sentences that are more or less just like it, even if these lack the same artisanal origin story that we imagine gives writing its soul. There is, it seems to me, no more place for writers and thinkers in our future than, since the nineteenth century, there has been for weavers.

This predicament is not confined to politics, and in fact engulfs all domains of human social existence…

Justin E. H. Smith rages against the machine.  Come for the righteous indictment of algorithmic culture; stay for the oddly redeeming conclusion: “It’s All Over.” [TotH @vgr]

But we might recall that Socrates (as reported in Plato’s Phaedrus) railed against the new technology of his time– writing– and its corrosive effect on memory.  Several readers of Smith’s essay have suggested that it is similarly “conservative.”  Smith engages those criticism here.

Pair with “The Age of Post-Authenticity and the Ironic Truths of Meme Culture.”

[image above: source]

definition of a “meme” in Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene (1976)

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As we muse on meaning, we might send epistolary birthday greetings to Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné; she was born on this date in 1626.  A French aristocrat, she is the most celebrated letter writer in French literary history.  Those letters– over 1,100 survive– as celebrated for their vivid descriptiveness and their wit.  Mme de Sévigné’s letters play an important role in the novel In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, where they figure as the favorite reading of the narrator’s grandmother, and, following her death, his mother.

Check them out at the Internet Archive.

200px-Marquise_de_Sévigné source

 

Written by LW

February 5, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Personality is everything in art and poetry”*…

 

Marcel Proust

From parlor game to psychological staple, the strange story of the Proust Questionnaire…

In 1886, Antoinette Faure, the daughter of the future French President Félix Faure, asked her childhood friend Marcel Proust to fill out a questionnaire in a book titled “Confessions. An Album to Record Thoughts, Feelings, & c.” A fashionable parlor game originating among the Victorian literate classes, the “confession album,” as it was known, presented a formulaic set of queries on each page—“What is your distinguishing characteristic,” for instance, or “What virtue do you most esteem?” The album’s owner would pass the volume around among her friends, collecting their comments as a kind of souvenir, not unlike the notes that high-school students leave in one another’s yearbooks. Though Proust was only fourteen years old when he filled out Faure’s album, he responded to the questionnaire in precociously Proustian style. Beside the prompt “Your favorite virtue?,” he wrote, “All those that are not specific to any one sect; the universal ones.” To the rather pedestrian question “Where would you like to live?,” he answered, “In the realm of the ideal, or rather my ideal.” His “idea of misery,” true to form, was “to be separated from Maman.” And when asked, “For what fault have you most toleration?,” he replied, “For the private lives of geniuses.”

The young Proust wrote his answers in French, though Faure’s album, a British import, was printed in English. In his early twenties, Proust would fill out a second questionnaire, in a French album titled “Les Confidences de Salon.” He was far from the only significant cultural figure to participate in this ritual. In 1865, Karl Marx confessed that he considered his chief characteristic “singleness of purpose,” and that his favorite occupation was “bookworming.” Five years later, Oscar Wilde wrote in an album called “Mental Photographs, an Album for Confessions of Tastes, Habits, and Convictions” that his distinguishing feature was “inordinate self-esteem.” Arthur Conan Doyle, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Paul Cézanne all filled out similar forms. But while these other confessions are curios of their era, remembered only by historians, Proust’s questionnaires have had a far-reaching influence that their young author could scarcely have foreseen, becoming, over time, the template for one of the most widely administered personality quizzes in history.

This peculiar afterlife began in 1924, two years after Proust’s death, when Antoinette Faure’s son, the psychoanalyst André Berge, discovered his mother’s confession album in a pile of old volumes among her effects…

More at “How the Proust Questionnaire went from literary curio to prestige personality quiz.”

* Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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As we answer authentically, we might spare a thought for Raymond Loewy; he died on this date in 1986.  A pioneering industrial designer, he shaped landscape of manufactured goods in the U.S., from the Coca-Cola bottle and vending machine, through the automobile (e.g., the Studebaker 1947 Starlight Coupe, the 1953 Starliner Coupe,  the 1961 Avanti, and the Greyhound Scenicruiser bus) and appliances (the 1947 line of Hallicrafter radio receivers that conveyed a crisp precision far ahead of their time; the 1929 Gestetner duplicating machine, the 1934 Sears Coldspot Refrigerator), to the heavy industrial (the Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 and S-1 locomotives); and he created logos for companies including Shell, Exxon, TWA, and the former BP. (A more complete list of his work, here.)  For all of this, he earned the epithets The Man Who Shaped America, The Father of Streamlining, and The Father of Industrial Design.

Loewy standing on one of his designs, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s S1 steam locomotive

source

 

Written by LW

July 14, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I am my own secretary; I dictate, I compose, I copy all myself”*…

 

In this age of the email attachment and of the “duplicate” and “save as” commands, we’ve come to take copies for granted.  But the quest for a way easily to make/keep duplicates of correspondence and records without transcribing them has a long history: most readers will be old enough to remember the days when Xerox machines– introduced in 1959**– were the duplicators of choice; and some, the era of the carbon copy.  But while xerography ruled for around 50 years, carbon paper held sway for over 100.

The first version of carbon paper was patented by Ralph Wedgwood—an estranged member of the famous Wedgwood pottery family—in 1806. The paper was the central component of Wedgwood’s  “Manifold Stylographic Writer,” which was originally meant to aid the blind in writing (through the addition of thin metal wires to guide in forming words along lines), but was soon used primarily as a copying device. Wedgwood wasn’t the only manufacturer of manifold writers; the portable (approx. 8.5 x 10 in) leather wallet above includes a label naming “inventor and patentee” F. Folsch.

Early adopters were mixed in their reviews.

Poet Robert Southey called it a “very excellent contrivance”; on the other hand, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Charles Willson Peale in 1807, noting with disapproval the olfactory effect of the oil used to create the carbonated paper: “The fetid smell of the copying paper would render a room pestiferous, if filled with presses of such papers.”

In the end, wide adoption of carbon paper came in the 1870s with the introduction of typewriting (and the development of better-smelling ink).

Read more at Slate in Nora Wilkinson’s “The Nifty, Portable Copying Technology Used by Early-19th-Century Letter-Writers,” and even more in her longer post on the subject on the Bodleian Library’s Conveyor blog.

* the Venerable Bede

** The Xerox machine was the much sharper competitor of- and, with it’s technological copycats, ultimately replacement for– the first office copiers, introduced in 195o (main among them, 3M’s Therma-Fax machine).

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As we savor sharing, we might send nostalgic birthday greetings to that most exquisite of (self-)copiers, Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust; he was born on this date in 1871.  Proust spent the last three years of his life confined to his cork-lined bedroom, working to complete what Somerset Maugham called the “greatest fiction to date,” the seven-volume novel A la Recherche de Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past, or as more recently translated, In Search of Lost Time).

All the greatest things we know have come to us from neurotics. It is they and they only who have founded religions and created great works of art. Never will the world be conscious of how much it owes to them, nor above all of what they have suffered in order to bestow their gifts on it.

– Remembrance of Things Past: The Guermantes Way

 source

Remembrance of Paintings Past…

Giotto’s frescoes Charity, Envy, and Justice (1304-6)

Throughout his seven-volume A la recherche du temps perdu– in his attempts to describe scenes and emotions, to help elucidate a point, to sharpen an image, or simply as a subject in itself – Proust would time and again turn to the visual arts.

As Proust says in Volume One, Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way), “it is only through art that we can escape from ourselves and know how another person sees a universe which is not the same as our own and whose landscapes would otherwise have remained as unknown as any there may be on the moon.” He mentions more than a hundred painters from the 14th through the 20th century– making his novel, as artist Eric Karpeles points out, “one of the most profoundly visual works in Western literature.”

As a celebration of the centennial of its publication, Public Domain Review has put together a few highlights of Proust’s many mentions of artworks to be found in the first volume, Swann’s Way, in which the narrator uses the art to “illustrate” his experiences growing up, participating in society, falling in love– and indeed, learning about art.

(The translations are from C.K. Scott Moncrieff’s English translation, available here on project Gutenberg, in the public domain. PDR acknowledges its debt to Karpeles’ exquisite Paintings in Proust, a book for which readers should reach.)

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As we manipulate our madeleines, we might send dark, but heartfelt birthday greetings to Proust’s literary contemporary Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, or as he’s better known to English readers, Joesph Conrad; he was born on this date in 1857.  An early modernist who spoke and wrote in three languages (his native Polish, French, and English), he imported a non-English diction and tragic sense to his work, which included Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Nostromo, 17 other novels, and dozens of short stories.  A success in his own time, Conrad’s influence grew; he’s been cited as a formative influence on writers including D. H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Graham Greene, Malcolm Lowry, William Golding, William S. Burroughs, Joseph Heller, Italo Calvino, Gabriel García Márquez, J. G. Ballard, John le Carré, V.S. Naipaul, Philip Roth, Hunter S. Thompson, J.M. Coetzee, and Salman Rushdie.

 source

Written by LW

December 3, 2013 at 1:01 am

“If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: President Can’t Swim…”*

Throughout its first fifty years, The New York Review of Books has asked many questions: What is Art? How Did it Happen? Where Do We Go From Here? Yonder Shakespeare, Who Is He? Tennis Anyone? How Dead is Arnold Schoenberg? Aimez-Vous Rousseau? Is There a Marxist in the House? How Smelly Was the Palladian Villa? Do Fish Have Nostrils?

… and exclaimed, and teased with indefinite antecedents– and just generally delighted.

Click through the highlights of NYRB‘s first half century at “Yuk! Pshaw! Excelsior! Fifty Years of Headlines from The New York Review.”

* Lyndon B. Johnson

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As we tip our hats to the tease, we might spare a thought for François-Anatole Thibault; he died on this date in 1924.  Better known by his pen name, Anatole France, he was the poet, journalist, and novelist considered the ultimate French “man of letters” of his time.  A member of the Académie Française and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1921), France was active in affairs of the state– perhaps most prominently as an ally of Zola’s in the Dreyfus Affair.  But he’s in your correspondent”s Pantheon as the model for narrator Marcel’s literary idol Bergotte in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (or, as your correspondent knew it, Remembrance of Things Past).

 source

Written by LW

October 12, 2013 at 1:01 am

“There is only one way left to escape the alienation of present day society: to retreat ahead of it”*…

As many as a million young people. mostly young men, in Japan are thought to have become hikikomori— to have holed up in their homes, sometimes for decades at a time.

 click here and agin to enlarge

The BBC has the full story at “Hikikomori: Why are so many Japanese men refusing to leave their rooms?

* Roland Barthes

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As we burrow under our blankets, we might slip birthday greetings under the bedroom door of that most-famous literary shut-in,  Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust; he was born on this date in 1871.  Proust spent the last three years of his life confined to his cork-lined bedroom, working to complete what Somerset Maugham called the “greatest fiction to date,” the seven-volume novel A la Recherche de Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past, or as more recently translated, In Search of Lost Time).

All the greatest things we know have come to us from neurotics. It is they and they only who have founded religions and created great works of art. Never will the world be conscious of how much it owes to them, nor above all of what they have suffered in order to bestow their gifts on it.

Remembrance of Things Past: The Guermantes Way

 source

For emergency use only…

 

Emergency Compliment: “a steady supply of emergency compliments to be used at times of great insecurity.”

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As we feel better about ourselves, we might spare a thought– well actually, lots of thoughts– for Marcel Proust; he died on this date in 1922.  He spent the last three years of his life in ill health, confined to his cork-lined bedroom, struggling to finish his masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past). He died before he was able to complete his revision of the drafts and proofs of the final volumes, the last three of which were published posthumously and edited by his brother, Robert.  Still, Graham Greene called Proust the “greatest novelist of the 20th century,” and W. Somerset Maugham called the novel the “greatest fiction to date.”  Indeed.

 source

 

Written by LW

November 18, 2012 at 1:01 am

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