Thursday, 14 February 2008

Narrative in Proust

Proust's long sentences, which appear before the reader in a serpentine fashion, might, to the undiscerning, seem too long. It cannot be argued on the basis of style alone. Literary styles vary, with some writer's having their own distinct touch and sometimes a too rigid adherence to that. But the complexity of thoughts cannot always be linked to the stylistics of prose, for we see sometimes within a short parable, effective wisdom. But Proustian fiction is not about wisdom or style alone, for while Proust's narrator is a philosophical type, he is not a philosopher. Brevity is not wit here, brevity is not always witty, sometimes words must flow, like a list of long nights.

Right from the beginning of in search of lost time, we are in the midst of not so much a density of thoughts but a multitude of thoughts, for even while reading any text, the vigilant reader has his own consciousness to attend to, the factual nature of his or her own existence, which does not dissipate in any manner, not even in the presence of Proust. The river of these sentences, for rivers they are, flow into us and I am not speaking metaphorically. I have always felt myself floating, drifting, semi-aware of myself while reading Proust, for not only are the sentences mellifluous but consciousness attenuating, allowing the narrator to envelop the reader in this cacophony of the past, for it is past, it is always past. This literary device allows the narrator to speak in a real way, for when we talk, in reality, we also bring in elements into our conversations that are not of immediate concern.

Most classic literature is descriptive of situations, wherein , once a scene is described and lead upto, the characters step in. Afterwards, even in really good novels, an alternating conversation takes over, which to be fair in particular times, was not considered unrealistic. The evolution of the stream of consciousness as a literary device, with its brilliant example in Ulysses however does not always solve the problem. The problem is not just of the present state of mind but alternating states of mind, which are so contingent, as I have mentioned here previously, on a past state, on posterior memories. Thus while the stream of consciousness solves certain narrative difficulties, it does not absolve the narrator of another problem, which is the pressure of consciousnesses. In my opinion, Proust's narration is not a stream of consciousness but it seems like that, for in reality, it is far more complex, more scenic, more internal, and the internal and the external scenes have merged and what lies in front of us is a semi-reality, which is more enduring than the real.

Proust is a writer of rhythm, in rhythm, of music. The long sentences, once let loose, must not end, for a break, a temporary break seems like a cessation of breathing, of the import of those several thoughts, of the fragrant intensity of those memories. The comma's and turns of phrases thus obey a law of undeclared music, of an inner night within an outer day, for this would break apart, this would fade, we would lose these memories, we would regret. The persistence of these thoughts, for persistence it is, is not that of a irritating hounding manner but of a melancholic haunting, a sad train of memories, limpid and not so lucid, known and partly unknown, the figments of our imagination, the immediate correctiveness of an outer consciousness. Lydia Davis writes, quoting Proust that 'the shape of a sentence is the shape of a thought and a long complex sentence contains a long, complex thought'. The most important aspect of his style, I feel is this : that while reading, we are also thinking and while the narrator narrates, he too keeps thinking, but this is done in consonance with the pressure of the present thought, which presents on paper after a comma, in his mind after a whiff of air, suddenly which has just then, reminded him of something else, but which is part of the present and must contain itself in the present sentence.

Time does not flow when we read Proust. Time is not regained, a semblance, a prior activity, a metaphor of life presents to ourselves, as we, in the outwardly appearing peacefulness of the narrator's thoughts, are carried forward, borne on experiences that are synaesthetic, for each word that suggests colour suggests time, each name that reminds of a face reminds of that phantasmal illusion that we think we possess, namely life but which we, actually, have left behind, and some like the narrator at combray. Proust dictates the flow of language, language and words do an earthly dance in front of him, and the narrator, so cruelly and sometimes so wisely, lets us in, into this fictive world, which is the world of fugitives, of illegal thoughts and crimes of memory.

No comments: