Aug 30, 2010

Seems to be Proust month for me. Check this book out if you're a fan:

Proust at the Majestic by Richard Davenport-Hines (Bloomsbury 2006)

In May 1922, just weeks after putting “Fin” to the pages of his great seven-volume work, In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust attended a gala event at Paris’s Majestic Hotel, a fête arranged by an American couple, Sydney and Violet Schiff, two of his greatest fans. (Sydney was later to become the first official English translator of Proust’s final volume, Time Regained, following the death of CK Scott Moncrieff in 1930.) The party brought Proust together with James Joyce, Serge Diaghilev, Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinsky, all among the most renowned and highly regarded members of the Modernist avante garde. While the event may have been just one more example of the Schiffs’ parading Proust’s friendship to the world, the desire to create an epoch-making event was no doubt genuine, if just as self-serving. Sydney Schiff had writerly ambitions and saw Proust as the living embodiment of his artistic dreams. And while both hoped for a longer acquaintanceship, Proust was to die six months to the day following one of the grandest soirées Paris had seen in decades.

Still, this book is more than a fond reminiscence of a party, however grand. It’s also a perceptive critical examination of Proust’s work and life, and how each affected the other. Was Proust a homosexual? Rightly or wrongly, that question lies at the heart of his writing. Today, many would say yes. While he clearly had same-sex relationships, however, the answer may not be so simple, as Davenport-Hines explains it, and therein lies the key to at least part of his very complex work. While the theory that In Search Of Lost Time is a homosexual book with the sex and sexuality of many of the characters transposed to suit the mores of the times is an intriguing one, and anyone with a modicum of gaydar can attest to feelings of sexual-psychological falseness with at least some of the characters, nevertheless, Davenport-Hines contends quite convincingly that Proust revelled in sexual ambiguity and the emotional frisson generated by his unresolved and frequently unrequited relationships, beginning with the narrator’s youthful obsession with his mother. If the brain may be said to be the most important sexual organ then Proust’s outright denials of his homosexuality and his protestations of a more ambiguous amitié amoreuse may have validity after all. (And, coincidentally, making this book one of the longest instances of artistic foreplay on record.)

This is a refreshing work after many similar works that don’t quite so convincingly plumb the psychological depths of Proust’s intense and difficult makeup, as well as his complex artistry. Not surprisingly, it stands in marked contrast to the critical reception received at the time of the books’ initial publications (including the ones Proust did not live to see), as most of Proust’s contemporaries were inclined either to ignore or dismiss outright the books’ sexual themes—which are decidedly pronounced no matter how you read them—while a handful of critics complained in the name of public decency. The final chapter, dealing with the last months of Proust’s life and the aftermath of his death (the news was greeted with the sort of reaction a rock star might hope to receive today), is surprisingly moving and convincing in its verismo. Proust at the Majestic is one of the most impressive books of Proustiana to come along, whether read in its own right or as a counterpart to the work itself.

Aug 20

It’s always a pleasure to have a colleague over for dinner, and Gail Bowen is one of the most entertaining and fun writers I know. She and her very convivial hubby Ted came by of an evening at the end of Gail’s tour for her twelfth Joanne Kilbourne mystery, The Nesting Dolls (M&S.) We got to gossip and talk shop and send off a few of those invisible poison arrows that even the nicest writers long to let loose once in a while. Publishing industry dirt, oh my!

Aug 11

I've just heard that The Honey Locust has been long-listed for a ReLit Award. It's ALWAYS nice to be recognized by fellow writers, in whatever capacity, and the ReLit Awards are just that: founded in 2000 by Newfoundland author Kenneth J Harvey, ReLit stands for "Regarding Literature, Reinventing Literature, Relighting Literature." A noble aim, and one I am proud to be associated with in this or any year.

August 7

On the whole, it's been an unusual summer (and I don't mean the weather.) I've bounced back and forth from finishing a short film (a documentary on the life of comedian Rusty Ryan) through finishing up a song cycle for my friend, soprano Lilac Cana, to trying to get back to work on a novel I've started but can't quite get excited about. It's one thing to have choices, but another to make one. Maybe fall will bring me back to my senses and I'll start to wonder where summer went.


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