Friday, September 10, 2010

The Trick to Reading Proust

It took me a while to figure it out, which is crazy considering that I've told people for years that my brain only works while I'm standing up. In fact, I blame my constant failure in school (which means my failure to get the grades I could have gotten "if I only applied myself," which was the mantra sung by every one of my teachers at every parent-teacher conference for as long as my parents chose to attend them. Having a mother who dual-majored in Philosophy and Russian Studies and a father who taught physics at West Point, the consequences of actually failing a class, by that I mean having an absolute failing grade of F rather that the relative failing grade of C when, in their minds at least, I could have gotten a better grade if I had just applied myself, would have been too severe to even contemplate.) entirely on the stubborn insistence on the part of my teachers that I sit down during class. If I had been allowed to stand up, or even better to pace, my whole school experience, and the resulting trajectory into my working life, could have all gone much better, but I digress.... What I figured out was that you need to stand up if you're ever going to read Proust to the end. Never mind the fact that you got up at 5:30 in the morning, stood on concrete for ten hours at work, came home, chased your son on his bicycle for four miles (on foot of course so you could help push him up the hills), and then came home to chaos lasting until midnight when everyone else finally got to sleep. You grab a quick sandwich, do some stretches, and open your book to the last folded page, knowing you have to work the next day. But that's what it takes, reading Proust! You have to commit to it fully, or the task will haunt you till you die. You can't read Proust by sitting on the couch with your head slumped to one side, slobber running from your open mouth, and the book lying on the floor right where you dropped it. That is folly! So drink some tea, take some Aleve if you have to, and stand your ass up! Stand up so you can finish this terrible task once and for all! Finish it and get your life back!


carl duewall said...

"All our final decisions are made in a state of mind that is not going to last".

Martijn said...

It sounds like a "project", reading Proust. I have had a few of those cases. The hardest for me was reading Moby Dick. Most people love that book (don't they?) but to me the few sparkling bits were sandwitched between so long and boring chapters... to make a long story short: I loved crazy Ahab but the story just went nowhere. It took me five attempts to finish M.D.

Why the hell am I talking about Moby Dick all of a sudden? Proust! Standing up? I don't think I ever read anything standing up, but you look textbook material over there. I'd love to see you produce an entire 'How to Read Proust Manual'! What to drink while reading Proust... What to wear... Sun visor yes/no? Safetly levels (recommended pages/day). Reading on a new moon?

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, Martijn! I had the exact same experience. That Moby Dock is a fraud! Dave, you remain my hero for throwing yourself so suicidally into a dumbassed stunt like tackling "the interminable Marcel" in his lethally long-winded entirety. Reading Proust is the literary equivalent of riding a motorcycle real fast around crazy curves on a road patchy with black ice. You have to have a death wish to do it.

UF Mike