Monday, June 14, 2010

Readings: Channeling Proust

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For some weeks now I’ve been inching my way through two weighty novels. The first is Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, and the second is Green Mars, the second volume of Kim Stanley Robinson’s outstanding sci-fi trilogy about the colonization of Mars. I’ve also read other, shorter, works during this period; but these two dense and amazing novels have been my constant throughout. Every day, three or four pages of the one, followed by four or five pages of the other.

Perhaps because I’m reading them in this manner, and because in Proust I’m now into the section “Swann in Love,” which delves in great depth into the psycho-social mores of French high society, the following passage from Green Mars that I read early this morning struck me as particularly “Proustian’:


Sax had noticed…in his student years…that there were people who would score high on any intelligence test, and were very good at their work, but who at the same time could walk into a room of people and within an hour have many of the occupants of that room laughing at them or even despising them. Which was not very smart. Indeed the most giddy of high school cheerleaders, say, managing to be friendly with everyone and therefore universally popular, seemed to Sax to be exercising an intelligence at least as powerful as any awkward brilliant mathematician’s—the calculus of human interaction being so much more subtle and variable than any physics, somewhat like the emerging field of math called cascading recombinant chaos, only less simple. So that there were at least two kinds of intelligence, and probably many more: spatial, aesthetic, moral or ethical, interactional, analytic, synthetic, and so forth. And it was those people who were intelligent in a number of different ways who were truly exceptional, who stood out as something special.

If we cast one of Robinson's cheerleaders in the role of Odette, Mars, it seems, is not so very different from Combray, after all.
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15 comments:

Mad said...

I envy your consumer pages away the way that Oprah puts away the bon-bons and spare ribs.

After two months, I was still slogging through Twain's "Roughing It" on an iPhone, then I realized literature was not made to be read on a stupid Apple/Barnes-Noble/Amazon "ereader" device (articles, treatises, news, yes; classical literature NO!!)

So I decided to stop using my phone for things other than calls (what a novel concept!!!) and just BUY a used copy of Twain.

I am now a much happier reader and making better progress.

Mad said...

I envy your consumer pages away the way that Oprah puts away the bon-bons and spare ribs.

Wow, Google really F-d THAT posting up. It SHOULD have read

"I envy your ability to consume pages the way that Oprah puts away the bon-bons and spare ribs."

Rodak said...

I liked "consumer pages." That's what they call a "felix typo" I think.

Mad said...

"I envy your consumer pages away" reads like like a bad post-WWII aping of an e.e. cummings poem. Feel free to continue the verse! (lol)

After Twain, I'll be heading to Washington Irving. Still pissed at myself for buying a 19th Century collection of his entire works for a mere $40 (at Powells, again) only to have the whole thing ruined by improper storage. Grrrrr...

Mad said...

Jesus, I only paid a mere $40 for this 16 years ago

http://cgi.ebay.com/1824-32-Works-WASHINGTON-IRVING-Leather-Book-Set-/200476607264?cmd=ViewItem&pt=Antiquarian_Collectible&hash=item2ead564320

Damned Intertubes!!

Rodak said...

As an English major, been-there-done-that. But enjoy. Hawthorne was the by far the best of all of them, though...

This has nothing to do with 19th century American fiction, but check out this little gem of an essay, posted by a chick whose name I don't even know, but who causes me to yearn...

Rodak said...

Stop torturing yourself. I'm going to bed and you'll have no audience.
G'nite!

Mad said...

"Talking 'bout my gen-er-a-tion ..."

You have to remember that "English" in my day and age, high school and college, was reading Salinger, Phillip Roth, Bellow, Cheever and Oates, with only a passing nod to Melville, Emerson, and Thoreau. Hawthorne et al were thoroughly ignored by the OFFICIAL CURRICULUM(tm). The 19th Century lit that stuck with me, was Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener."

Because I was an social-climbing egghead, I acquainted myself with great authors whose names were not known in the halls of 1980s public school education. Also, all us first generation computer nerds were more into Lewis Carroll, Huxley, Orwell and such authors as they fit well with pre-Breakfast Club cyberpunk types.

Alas, I used to be a regular reader of the New York Review of Books, as it was one of my "regular reads" before the Internet big bang occured. I didn't even know it was still being published!

Mad said...

By the way, remember that I'm in a different time zone now. We'll continue this trip down the book aisles tomorrow ..

Rodak said...

I was speaking of university English, not high school English. Although, that said, I'm quite certain that we read The Scarlet Letter in high school.

SINVILLE said...

Max, last summer, I read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and I don't think I would have enjoyed the experience with an e reader. I want to compare the new technologies, but I love taking notes inside a book. I am not sure, I could give up the satisfaction of noticing how many pages I have read, and not by looking at a number, but by the thickness of pages that are no longer pristine.
Rodak, the Robinson passage brought tears to my eyes. I have noticed this intelligence and it is the greatest gift for a child. I have wondered if emotional IQ, as I have heard it named, is a natural or a learned trait. This intelligence not only makes a person receptive, or universally popular, but also affects the relationships among other people. I remember hearing, after my oldest changed elementary schools, that she was missed because of her calming, friendly, and equalizing nature. My youngest has this gift too. It is amazing to see her peers' Pavlovian response when she enters a room. These children have a natural sense of humor, never take anything personally, and adults tend to reference their nature with positive memories of a childhood friend.

Rodak said...

Mary--
A major problem seems to be that--much like a boy soprano whose voice changes--so many of us lose those special gifts we possessed as children, when we hit puberty and start playing other games...

Mad said...

"The Scarlet Letter" was one of those "on my own" projects. I still prefer Melville.

SINVILLE said...

Robert, I thought about what you said, and I am not sure we all lose our childhood gifts. Is it comparable to skating every day in childhood, returning to the ice as an adult, only to realize that It is not as natural to your body? Or is it more like your gift for words? If you never spoke or wrote for a year, would you be able to resume your talent? I think some things are innate, why we see a daisy in the mud.

Rodak said...

Is this not why Jesus taught that one must revert to a child-like state to enter the Kingdom?