THE LAST WORD
In order for the novelist Marcel Proust to seriously begin writing his famous novel In Search of Lost Time he had to create an imaginary deadline.1 Proust did this by coming to see and understand his writing as a race against and a defiance of time. In this way he confronted the temporality of his writing, his publishing, and whatever he and others read by producing a novel which resists simplification and analysis. In this confrontation with time Proust created a sense of urgency, an intensity and a build-up of meaning in relation to what he was writing at any particular time.
Proust gave a sense of fixity and facticity to his life’s precariousness and the inevitability of its endless process and duration by using writing. Writing helped him to see his life as an existence which was soon to run out. By slowly coming to perceive his life in terms of its transformation into a work of art and by trying to recapture his past moment by moment, he aimed to bring the myriad of moments in his life under a microscope, to halt time and wrestle it from the flux of duration. By fixing the events of his life forever in a semblance of eternity, sub specie aeternitatis, much like the work of a photographer, he created what for some was a romantic reminiscence in a plotless labyrinth, in a vast ediface of a life and autobiography; and what for others felt like “a conspiracy against readers” with its “clumsy centipedalian crawling of interminable sentences.”2
I, too, had had a sense of urgency and was always in a rush as my father pointed out to me especially at dinner-time when I gobbled-up yet another evening meal. By my mid-thirties this sense of urgency was supplemented by a death-wish, due mainly to the affects of a bipolar disorder, a wish which was especially strong just before going to bed. The effect of this combination, this death-wish and this sense of urgency, was to create in my mind these same imaginary deadlines, this race against time, this sense of the precariousness of my present state and so propel me into thinking that these words, the ones I had written that day, might just be my last.
Proust warmed-up to write his great opus of some 3200 pages with nineteen years(1890-1909 circa) of writing reviews, fiction and doing translations. From 1909 to his death in 1922 he worked on his seven volume work of nostalgia, a work acknowledged by some as the greatest piece of fiction by the greatest novelist of the 20th century. I, too, warmed-up to the writing of my autobiography with at least nineteen years of literary plodding(1983-2002 circa). By the literary recreation of my life, by the transformation of the transformation that had been my life, by the immersing of myself in memories of what was lost and what was gained in the process of living my life over more than six decades, I slowly came to see my lifetime as the only adequate unit in which to express my succession of selves. It was an irresistible autobiographical impulse; it took possession of me from 2002 and showed no sign of diminishing seven years later at the age of 65. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 4 January 2009 with thanks to 1Christine Cano, Proust’s Deadline, University of Illinios Press, 2006 and 2Roger Shattuck, Marcel Proust: Chapter 1, Penguin.
I can hear them say: life is too short
and Price is too long. And who can
blame them? Millions of words and
more pages than I would even want
to try and count any more. There are
two kinds of writer-poets which I try,
quite unconsciously, to combine, or so
it seems to me, thanks to Mr.Aciman’s
review of Proust in that fine journal---
The New York Review of Books.1
The swallow’s quick, agile, speedy
travel across long, tireless stretches
of the world, taking it in the ways
whales take in water and plankton,
with mistakes easily corrected, bad
times put to good use, judgements
which are unwise just tweaked here
and there in some implacable line
of words where the only pieces that
are thrown away are those which had
problems with the printer or were lost
in cyberspace because I pressed those
wrong keys---and then---the snail’s
slow, deliberate, fussy, cramped and
burrowing into itself, ingesting choice
bits down some multichambered spiral
and with an appetite for a whorled vision.
1 Andre Aciman, “Proust’s Way?” The New York Review of Books, Vol.52, No. 19, 1 December, 2005.
4 January 2009
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