Sunday, May 2, 2010

Born Again with the Weather, with Proust

Although it was simply a Sunday in autumn, I had been born again, life lay intact before me, for that morning, after a succession of mild days, there had been a cold fog which had not cleared until nearly midday: and a change in the weather is sufficient to create the world and ourselves anew. Formerly, when the wind howled in my chimney, I would listen to the blows which it struck on the iron trap with as keen an emotion as if, like the famous chords with which the Fifth Symphony opens, they had been the irresistible calls of a mysterious destiny. Every change in the aspect of nature offers us a similar transformation by adapting our desires so as to harmonise with the new form of things. The mist, from the moment of my awakening, had made of me, instead of the centrifugal being which one is on fine days, a man turned in on himself, longing for the chimney corner and the shared bed, a shivering Adam in quest of a sedentary Eve, in this different world.

(Marcel Proust, Guermantes Way, In Search of Lost Time; trans. Moncrieff, Kilmartin, and Enright)

Reborn by the changing of the weather leads to something else. It is an exterior change that leads to interiority and a search for a new Eden. But it is not just weather, it is adapting to new forms. As it turns out, these new forms turn out to be literature. New forms of literature are new because they create new associations between things, associations heretofore unseen. When this new literature shows new associations between things, we ourselves are transformed as we adapt to these new associations. This, however, means something about literature--that is is not static, that it progresses. In fact, it is a different perspective of art in the association between works of art:

And I was led to wonder whether there was any truth in the distinction which we are always making between art, which is no more advanced now than in Homer's day, and science with its continuous progress. Perhaps, on the contrary, art was in this respect like science; each new original writer seemed to me to have advanced beyond the stage of his immediate predecessor; and who was to say whether in twenty years' time, when I should be able to accompany without strain or effort the newcomer of today, another might not emerge in the face of whom the present one would go the way of Bergotte? (ibid.)

Bergotte is the writer the narrator adored in his youth, but now has found new forms of art that show new associations between things that build upon, advance beyond his youthful favorite author. That new author, in turn, shall be surpassed as new associations between things are discovered or, better yet, imagined. In reading something new, by seeing new associations, we are reborn as we incorporate these new associations into ourselves and see them in our own lives.

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