Proust in Search of Redemption

I have been re-reading “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu” recently, and during this time I found on the internet a couple of interesting pieces by Armelle Barguillet-Hauteloire, a French poet and essayist. After leaving some comments on her blog I was very pleased that she took the trouble to write back to me. She wrote a book “Proust- ou la recherché de la redemption” which I ordered through Amazon and devoured in a single afternoon, as I found it impossible to put it down. The book has two parts – one devoted to Proust himself, and the second focused on the core of Proust’s message in the Recherche, which she thinks is fundamentally religious, something that had not occurred to me before. As she notes, certainly Proust writes very often about churches, but his hero and his characters do not talk much about religion. Instead Proust pursues the goal of immortality by resurrecting the past, both by overt recollection of the past, and by celebrating the famous involuntary memories (déjà vu), touched off by sounds or tastes, sometimes by sights, which evoke with amazing completeness specific moments of the past. She notes that many turn away from Proust, unwilling to spend time on what they feel is an excessively detailed recitation of the inner life of the hero, a sensitive and sickly person, a close observer of others, who feels a vocation for writing but does little to pursue it, because he cannot think of a subject. In the last chapter of the Recherche, Proust apparently speaks through his hero, and describes how he came to realize what he had to write about – namely his own internal life, with all the complex relationships that connected it to the worlds of art, literature, and even science, as well as the people he knew. This will bring back the past in a real way for him, allowing him to dwell in multiple times, and allow him to speak to future generations, the closest we can get to eternity in the real world. It is this sentiment, so powerful that it led Proust to live his final years as an ascetic, that Armelle Barguillet-Hauteloire finds religious.

This reminded me of the poem by Horace (3.30)

Exegi monumentum aere perennius

reglalique situ pyramidum altius…

Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei

vitabit Libitinam…

« I have erected a monument more lasting than bronze and loftier than the royal structure of the pyramids…I shall not wholly die and a greater part of me will evade Libitina (Goddess of Death)… ».

I can add to this example the Shakers, the religious sect that thrived in the northeastern United States from the late 18th to the early 19th century, who thought that their celibate way of life, organized around common labor and housing, was a paradise on earth.

Armelle Barguillet-Hauteloire writes at the end of her book on Proust: “Listen to him.” I have to agree with this; this is an immense and influential work,very worthwhile to read, and more than once. For the artist, and as Proust conceded, for the savant, work is a kind of salvation from obscurity. We want our lives to have meaning in the real world, and those who can create something for future generations to use or treasure are more likely to succeed in this than most.

Cosmos Revisited

Neil de Grasse Tyson is hosting a new version of Cosmos, the documentary on the universe originally produced by Carl Sagan (Sundays 9 PM on Fox; Mondays on National Geographic). The first episode was disappointing to me, for two reasons. First, it was excessively simplified. Although Tyson covered many important points about the history of the universe, it was rare that he offered evidence for them. One exception was when he mentioned the background radiation left over from the big bang. The other disappointment was the frequency of commercial interruptions. These were very intrusive, and sometimes deceptively so, such as the ad from Boeing, which had some of the graphic aura of the documentary. There is a simple solution for me, and that is to record the show on my DVR and fast-forward through the commercials next time. Still, it is annoying. I understand that PBS made unacceptable demands for editorial control of the program, but the demands of commercial television do not fit very well with my idea of a documentary. Another feature that some might not like is the use of animated cartoons to depict the story of Giordano Bruno. This was a good topic to tackle, illustrating the negative role of religious dogma. Bruno was a visionary, not a scientist, and he had little evidence to back up his radical views on the infinite character of the universe. From the lens of today, burning at the stake seemed truly an unjust punishment. Tyson is not a polemicist, but this was a hard shot at dogmatism. On balance using a cartoon and not actors and sets to illustrate a straight historical narrative seemed to work. Not everything need be a movie. So I reserve judgment. I am planning to watch the next episode, but I hope it gets into details and evidence and not just fancy graphics embellishing the narrative history. The whole point is to convince people that they should believe the narrative; only the most naïve will accept a bald story.

La Belle Personne

« La belle personne » est un film de jeunesse (2008). (Alerte Spoiler – toute l’histoire est racontée ici). L’histoire commence avec Junie, une jeune fille qui arrive à un lycée à Paris. Elle a perdu sa mère récemment et elle habite avec son cousin Matthias, aussi un étudiant au lycée. Elle assiste à des classes. On perçoit immédiatement qu’il y a un instituteur d’italien, de Nemours, un jeune homme beau et un séducteur et des étudiantes et des institutrices !!

Un jeune homme qui s’appelle Otto tombe amoureux de Junie, et après un peu d’hésitation, il se dit amoureux d’elle. Elle lui donne des baisers, et demande qu’il lui reste fidèle. Or, personne  ne sache que de Nemours lui aussi est tombé amoureux de Junie. De Nemours rompe avec toutes ses maitresses, institutrices ou étudiantes, sans explications.

Matthias, le cousin de Junie, est gai, et il est poursuit par un jeune homme dont il n’est pas amoureux. Matthias aime un autre jeune homme et il écrit une lettre d’amour ni adressée ni signée, mais indiscrète, qui tombe dans les mains de tout le monde, mais que tout le monde pensent ait tombé de la poche de l’instituteur,  de Nemours. L’amant de Matthias demande à l’instituteur de réclamer la lettre à Junie, qui était la dernière d’avoir lu la lettre. Mais il demande que de Nemours dise que la lettre est vraiment de lui-même, d’éviter l’embarras pour Matthias. C’est ce que de Nemours consent à faire. Mais Junie dit qu’elle a déchiré la lettre. Alors elle, l’amant de Matthias, et l’instituteur récrivent la lettre en effet. L’histoire passe en avant.

Le jeune homme qui n’est pas aimé de Matthias, qui n’était pas convaincu par cette fausse histoire de la lettre, attaque Matthias et lui blesse avec des ciseaux. La police l’arrête, mais il est relâché peu après.

Junie déclare à Otto qu’elle va partir, parce qu’elle a peur de quelqu’un. Otto n’accepte pas cette histoire. Elle explique finalement qu’elle a peur de tomber amoureuse d’un homme, qu’elle ne nomme pas. Elle lui donne un petit livre et invite franchement des caresses d’Otto. Le lendemain Junie reste absente de la classe d’Italien. Otto demande à un autre ami d’espionner à Junie. Il voit Junie et de Nemours parlant ensemble. Cet ami stupidement donne à Matthias un rapport assez inexact que de Nemours et Junie s’embrassaient.

Le lendemain matin Otto se suicide en sautant d’un balcon à l’école. L’instituteur d’Italien donne sa démission en effet, afin de faire ses attentions à Junie. Mais elle, amoureuse de lui mais craignante son infidélité, décide à fuir la situation. C’est la fin.

C’est fondé en partie sur une ancienne histoire attribuée à Mme de Lafayette, « La princesse de Clèves. »

Dirigé par Christophe Honoré

Junie – Léa Seydoux

Nemours – Louis Garrel

Otto – Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet

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