Monday, 18 February 2008

Czapski on Vanity in Proust

Czapski says that Prousts view on vanity to an extent is influenced by Pascal and Anatole France. At any rate, Czapski himself, so he says, draws a pascalian conclusion from Proust's work. He contrasts this view with the opinion of the polish translator of Proust, Boy-Zelenski, who thinks that with a figure like the wonderful Baron Charlus there is an awful lot of humour and love of life in the Recherche. Czapski though refers to Pascal and his anti-sensual approach to life and admits this seemingly paradoxial view when one considers that Proust was influenced by Anatole France. For a more hedonistic view speaks also that Proust did enjoy life and all it has to offer to the senses, in a letter to Daniel Halévy Proust says he wishes only one thing, to enjoy the pleasures of (physical) love.
And here Czapski points out a very important point, that in all those thousands of pages of the Recherche God is not mentioned, nor any absolute idea or anything absolute or a hunt for some absolute ideal. Which is precisely what leads Czapski to think that there is a sort of ash-like Pascalian aftertaste after all in those perishable pleasures of life. An ash-like aftertaste that lead Proust to take to his lonely room and shut out the world and to serve in contrast - and here the absolute comes back - to serve his art which for him was the absolute which of course - as Proust himself knew very well - was and is unattainable.
Czapski then shortly distincts five kinds of vanity in Proust.
The first is the vanity of society, of superficial relations in society. His example here is Swann who tells the Guermantes that he is about to die soon, she was just about to go to a party and just leaves him standing so as not to come to late to the party - yet her husband notices that her shoes do not fit and so they postpone leaving. They rather come to late because of wrong shoes than instead of listening to their dying friend.
Then there is the vanity of the aristocracy, the aristocracy, in danger now, because all those snobbish americans take over and enter their circles.
The perfect example for the vanity of the young and beautiful is Odette, who had so many lovers and in the last volume of the Recherche, finally old and senile, people act superficial deferential towards her, but actually just laugh at her. And here writes Proust that at that point the narrator for the first time could feel some sort of sympathy for her.
The example for the vanity and nullity of fame is the Berma, especially the scene where the daughter of the Berma with her husband feel oblieged to go to the reception of the Berma, they sit there and bore themselves to death, and just rather want to be at the reception of the rival of the Berma. In the end they annoyed leave and the old Berma is alone, too.
The Baron Charlus is the example for the vanity of love, he who in younger years participated in all sorts of masochistical practices, chained to matter like Prometheus to his rock, Czapski writes, he ends up old and senile, can't walked anymore yet is gently being cared for by Jupien who is the only one who stays with Charlus. Albertine of course has to be mentioned, and the story related to her Czapski calls one scream of despair and a ruthless exploration of jealousy. However, Czapski notes how Proust as someone who has loved so much in the end speaks so desinterested, noninvolved about love. He says in the end love is useful, a useful thing against the glamorous and numbing distractions of society which can be so harmful for the writer. Better have a bit of sensual love as antidote, so Proust. And this is an important contrast to the complete damnation of everything sensual of someone like Pascal. A bit of sensual love also, for Proust did not want to be like this horse in the ancient times that was only fed on roses. According to him, the artist has to be lonely, does not have to have disciples or followers for they weaken the artist. Czapski says that Proust only allows (accepts a tiny little bit, writes Czapski) some sensual love for his views on love are so pessimistic that they only lead to some heightened awareness of loneliness and cut precious wounds.


Joe said...

beautiful! thanks for this.


Antonia said...

thank you, joe.