30 January 2010

the moon, la lune

It must be a full moon, or near to it - the outdoors is so, so bright with it. My house is tucked away from the world, and unless I have all my lights switched on, the area around my house is pitchy-dark; there's no man-made light nearby. But tonight - and the last few nights - when I look out my windows from a darkened room, it is bright with a bluish light. There is still snow on the ground, and the whiteness of the snow reflects and doubles the whiteness of the moonlight. It looks like the lightening of the world you get right before sunrise, when everything is still in the greys and violets and blues of night, but lightened, illuminated - it's a shadowy world, not a world of deep darkness.

The moon is so white and blindingly bright. Nights like this make me feel like something is going to happen (though it rarely does), something good and wonderful and profound.

It's unfortunate that it's so bitterly cold here right now - my desktop weather widget tells me it is 15 degrees, and feels like 6.  I would like - I would like very much - to sit outside in the moonlight. On the porch maybe, which should be in the path of the moon's light. If it was just a bit warmer, I'd do it - bundle up with hat and hood and mittens, a blanket for my legs maybe - just sit quietly in the moonlight. If I could get entirely away from the man-made world it would be even better - I can hear the rush of the interstate from my house, a rush which most of the time is a fairly pleasant white noise, almost as good as the rush of a swiftly moving creek.

I've been thinking about French a lot lately - reading Proust is obviously exacerbating this - and though I feel a bit odd about the gendering of all nouns in that language, I have to admit there is something wholly appropriate, even pleasing, about the feminine moon, la lune.

speak, memory!

I've been a little children's lit-avoidant lately. This is not a terribly good thing, but it's also (probably) not a permanent thing. I've read the 2009 Newbery and Printz winners in the last week and a half, so I'm not giving up entirely - not to mention the small fact that I am teaching a children's lit class this semester and thus must keep up with the reading.

Intsead, I've been reading "adult" books, a phrase which always makes me cringe a little. I caught myself, earlier this month, thinking of them as "real" books, and then wanted to crawl away and hide under a rock (making THAT false distinction essentially undoes the last 12 years of my academic life).

I've read some Nabokov - The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and Despair. I've read some Kazuo Ishiguro - Nocturnes, which made me want to write my own book of fiction, and Never Let Me Go, which made me cry. I read, oddly enough for the first time, The Aspern Papers. I say oddly enough because I have been a devotee of Henry James since I first met him, way, way back in my second year of college. But his shorter fiction has somehow evaded me, so I dug in.
And now - though I feel a little embarrassed to even be writing this, it feels so pompous - now I'm reading Proust. Even more pompously, I refuse to call the book by its English translations, because they do not sound lovely or melodious at all. But A la recherche du temps perdu - THAT sounds beautiful. "Rechercher" is one of my favorite French words (ack! pomposity overload!) - I love saying it, I love the look of it on a page.

I have never read Proust, somehow - again, probably because he's French, and essentially a modernist, he's escaped the sad limits of my specializations. There is also simply something daunting about the prospect of a multi-volume work, even to somehow who consumes books at the rate I do.

I consulted a colleague (oooh, pomposity again!) about which edition is best, and recommendation in hand, went off to the library. I found the edition I wanted - Moncrieff, with Enright's updates/revisions - tucked away in the wrong place in a shelf adjacent to the Proust fiction shelves. Materially speaking, it's a lovely edition - this wonderful fat little hardback with a pale cover. I am deriving enormous tactile satisfaction out of simply holding the book, carrying it from room to room.

At any rate, I dove right in and I'm dazzled thus far. I've been reading, for the dissertation, Bachelard's The Poetics of Space, and it's of a piece with the beginning of Swann's Way.  All that small, careful attention to rooms, to hallways, to spaces, to nooks and niches within the house. Even the description of the narrator's bed as a nest - it's all Bachelard (or rather, Bachelard is all Proust). 

And then, the madeleine and the tea. And memory - memory, speaking and dreaming.

It's not terribly original or interesting to be interested, literarily, in memory, but I find that I am. I also find that I'm reading a lot of memory-centric (mnemocentric?) books lately - look. Nabokov. Ishiguro. David Small's Stitches, which is a memoir. Despair, the narrator tells us, is written BY his memory, it's his memory telling the tale (but then being conveyed again by the Russian author to whom the narrator alludes). I am constantly, continually haunted by a book I don't own and can rarely find, Georges Perec's absolutely staggering W, or the Memory of Childhood.
It's all about memory.

It's made of memory.
Memory, drawn up and out of a cup of tea, and the crumbs of a cake.

Proust writes, briefly, of the voluntary memory, and - essentially - the boringness, the invalidity of it. The voluntary memory is not interesting or valuable. It is the involuntary memory that has meaning, that reveals meaning.

This distinction between voluntary and involuntary memory intrigues me. I find myself, some days, awash in involuntary memories. Yet when I try, consciously, to recall a face or place or time, I cannot always retrieve it from the deep files of my brain. And the voluntary memories may make one smile, or wince, slightly - but the involuntary memories make your heart stop, make your breath catch.

it can be a song, a smell, a word, a place, a color, a taste.
a cup of tea.
a crumb.