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Tell Me About Proust

I am ever so eager to join the Liberal Elite, but yesterday afternoon I received my latest returned application letter with a big, subtly mauve, REJECT stamped across it. Although I had familiarized myself with the works of Chomsky, Jung and Sontag (and learned to drop the first names), I am informed that I have insufficient affinity for the works of Proust.

Proust? Oh, bother. I don’t even know how to pronounce Proust.

Can you help me join the Liberal Elite and move with elan in their brandy-snifting milieux?

Quick, someone tell me: who is Proust, what did Proust write, and why should I care?

I await edification and hopefully, with my newfound perspicaciousness, anointment with the therapeutic salve of clubbiness.

9 thoughts on “Tell Me About Proust”

  1. Tom says:

    The short version is presented by the suicide attempter in Little Miss Sunshine towards the end.
    Proust, a not very successful gay writer in his lifetime, basically dealt with memory and guilt in his writing, and may have set the stage for Sartre (in some small measure).
    His first work was short stories and essays which wasn’t received well. He spent the rest of his life on his novel, which grew to 3 volumes (the last only completed by his brother with the help of a few writers). Some consider him unreadable and others think he’s a genius. Whatever . . .

  2. Alan says:

    I just picked up a copy of Swann’s Way I had sitting on the shelf and read the first 20 pages. My recommendation is to forget Proust and go straight for the brandy.

    The first 10 pages of this aforementioned book are a description of a sleeping room. Here is one sentence:

    But for me it was enough if, in my own bed, my sleep was so heavy as completely to relax my consciousness; for then I lost all sense of the place in which I had gone to sleep, and when I awoke at midnight, not knowing where I was, I could not be sure at first who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may lurk and flicker in the depths of an animal’s consciousness; I was more destitiute of human qualities than the cave-dweller; but then the memory, not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I had lived, and might now very possibly be, would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being, from which I could never have escaped by myself: in a flash I would traverse and surmount centuries of civilisation, and out of a half-visualised succession of oil-lamps, followed by shirts with turned-down collars, would put together by degrees the component parts of my ego.

    Do you really want to hang out with other people who read stuff like this? On the other hand, if you liked Sense and Sensibility, maybe you deserve to read Proust. Look at the Amazon page with all the reader-written reviews and pick out a reviewer you think you would like to have a drink with. I sense a special affinity with the reviewer who writes:
    “I read this to impress myself. I felt really smart after I read it.
    Do I remember any of it? No.”

    Then, you ought to quit drinking those obnoxious berry coolers, and try a grown-up drink like Courvoisier or even a no-name French cognac. The French are snobbish enough about their grapes that even the most mundane French brandy or table wine is well worth drinking. Even if you decide not to give up berry coolers I would not be embarrassed to have a drink with someone of your milieu, unless of course, you start reading Proust, in which case I would prefer not to.

  3. says:

    Coïncidently, i just started “Du coté de chez Swann” in dutch translation. For the non-Elite; that’s the first part of his magnum opus: “À la recherce du temps perdu”.
    I can’t say much yet, but i’ve decided it’s worth reading in earnest as soon as the days shorten and i’ve finished Paul Auster’s ‘the Brooklyn Follies’.

    Please tell us, Jim, about Sontag.
    Who is she, what did she write, and why should we care?

  4. Jim says:,

    You shouldn’t care about Susan Sontag unless you want to. Sontag, who died in 2004, was an essayist, a novelist and an activist who was part of an insular, self-feeding New York literary circle and social circuit. Mention of Sontag (and Proust, and Chomsky, among others) is a signal of membership in that social world, or at least clubby awareness of it.

    I’m not saying that Sontag, Proust, Chomsky and others didn’t (or did) write anything important. I’m mocking the use of their names to snooty, exclusive effect.

  5. John says:

    Whoa. Liberal Elite here. Red flags come up when I see a succession of big words that aren’t even that big: edification, perspicaciousness, anointment and salve.

    Now milieux and mauve are pretty good. Had you just included those, I might have put in a good word for you. But you blew it big time.

    Anyway back to reading Proust (Prooooo st).

  6. Jim says:

    Oh, damn! Should I have thrown in a “vis-a-vis”? Don’t I even get a tweed jacket?

  7. Iroquois says:

    With elbow patches?

  8. J. Clifford says:

    What you really have to do to be a liberal elite is to pronounce the word “process” pr-OWE-sess
    and the word “processes” pr-OWE-sess-EEEZE.

  9. Iroquois says:

    No, no, no, it’s the noisy nose breathe. You have to inhale through your nose, but pinch the nose muscles like you’re going to blow your nose. Then breathe in, making as much noise as you can, for as long as you can. You do it mid-sentence, to buy time to think about your answer before finishing the sentence. Charlie Rose, my idol, does this on occasion, but only with snooty liberal academics. You won’t see him do the audible sniff thing with actors or politicians.

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