Enthusiasms

Containing whatever I enthuse over

Dead Memories

Posted by clissold345 on August 15, 2007

When Marcel recalls his childhood in Combray he pictures a minimum setting necessary for the action that takes place – as a setting might be indicated in an old play. For example, when he recalls undressing he pictures part of a passageway, a glazed door, etc., at a particular hour (seven o’clock in the evening). Combray of course had a full physical existence: a collection of houses and people that existed continuously for days or weeks or years. Marcel can recall this existence intellectually but it preserves nothing of the past, it is a dead memory. In contrast, his memory of undressing does preserve something of the past and therefore lives.

The passage I’m discussing above is from Swann’s Way:

C’est ainsi que, pendant longtemps, quand, réveillé la nuit, je me ressouvenais de Combray, je n’en revis jamais que cette sorte de pan lumineux, découpé au milieu d’indistinctes ténèbres, pareil à ceux que l’embrasement d’un feu de bengale ou quelque projection électrique éclairent et sectionnent dans un édifice dont les autres parties restent plongées dans la nuit: à la base assez large, le petit salon, la salle à manger, l’amorce de l’allée obscure par où arriverait M. Swann, l’auteur inconscient de mes tristesses, le vestibule où je m’acheminais vers la première marche de l’escalier, si cruel à monter, qui constituait à lui seul le tronc fort étroit de cette pyramide irrégulière; et, au faîte, ma chambre à coucher avec le petit couloir à porte vitrée pour l’entrée de maman; en un mot, toujours vu à la même heure, isolé de tout ce qu’il pouvait y avoir autour, se détachant seul sur l’obscurité, le décor strictement nécessaire (comme celui qu’on voit indiqué en tête des vieilles pièces pour les représentations en province), au drame de mon déshabillage; comme si Combray n’avait consisté qu’en deux étages reliés par un mince escalier, et comme s’il n’y avait jamais été que sept heures du soir. A vrai dire, j’aurais pu répondre à qui m’eût interrogé que Combray comprenait encore autre chose et existait à d’autres heures. Mais comme ce que je m’en serais rappelé m’eût été fourni seulement par la mémoire volontaire, la mémoire de l’intelligence, et comme les renseignements qu’elle donne sur le passé ne conservent rien de lui, je n’aurais jamais eu envie de songer à ce reste de Combray. Tout cela était en réalité mort pour moi. (Page 74 of volume 1 of the Gallimard edition, Paris, 1946-47.)

Moncrieff translates as follows:

And so it was that, for a long time afterwards, when I lay awake at night and revived old memories of Combray, I saw no more of it than this sort of luminous panel, sharply defined against a vague and shadowy background, like the panels which a Bengal fire or some electric sign will illuminate and dissect from the front of a building the other parts of which remain plunged in darkness: broad enough at its base, the little parlour, the dining-room, the alluring shadows of the path along which would come M. Swann, the unconscious author of my sufferings, the hall through which I would journey to the first step of that staircase, so hard to climb, which constituted, all by itself, the tapering ‘elevation’ of an irregular pyramid; and, at the summit, my bedroom, with the little passage through whose glazed door Mamma would enter; in a word, seen always at the same evening hour, isolated from all its possible surroundings, detached and solitary against its shadowy background, the bare minimum of scenery necessary (like the setting one sees printed at the head of an old play, for its performance in the provinces) to the drama of my undressing, as though all Combray had consisted of but two floors joined by a slender staircase, and as though there had been no time there but seven o’clock at night. I must own that I could have assured any questioner that Combray did include other scenes and did exist at other hours than these. But since the facts which I should then have recalled would have been prompted only by an exercise of the will, by my intellectual memory, and since the pictures which that kind of memory shews us of the past preserve nothing of the past itself, I should never have had any wish to ponder over this residue of Combray. To me it was in reality all dead.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: