10 July 2009

Happy birthday, Marcel Proust!

Were Marcel Proust alive today, he'd either be celebrating his 139th birthday, or off by himself somewhere, contemplating how creepy his relationship with his mother was. I've never actually read Swann's Way, or any of the other volumes that make up Proust's multi-volume epic In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past); but for some time now, I've wanted to. Bizarrely, however, the book's appeal doesn't have the least to do with a burning desire to read Proust--it's that opening sentence I just can't get out of my head. "For a long time, I went to bed early." Out of context, it seems meaningless, yet its meaning is about as clear as they come. It's nothing, in fact, if not very direct and very straightforward--but, absent context, all its directness and straightforwardness come to naught. Still, it sounds intriguing. For a long time, he went to bed early: we don't know how long, who he is, or just how early, and most of all we don't know why, or why it matters, or why it matters enough to start an astoundingly-long novel with. One day, perhaps, I'll be able to let you know. But until then: happy birthday, Marcel, you of the enigmatic opening line.

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