"The one thing more difficult than following a regimen is not imposing it on others." - Marcel Proust.
October 29, 2009 11:39 PM   Subscribe

People have studied many things relating to, and regarding Marcel Proust; what they may never have told you is... Proust is funny!! (just not "Lucky Jim" funny.)

Professor of French, Catherine LeGouis at Mount Holyoke also reads Proust, and sees the humour: Then last year, while on sabbatical in Moscow, having already decided to teach this course, I reread the whole Recherche again, this time using the annotated four-volume Pléiade edition; this worked out really well. I never left my apartment without one of these smaller volumes in my bag, reading on the subway, or standing in lines, or waiting for people. This time I made it through the whole thing in six months, and I got far more out of it, not only because of all the scholarly notes, but also because I discovered Proust's amazing sense of humor, which shows up in almost every sentence.

For Proust there may be no need for the concept of zero... from the infinitesimal instant; he defines his sense of œcology & œcomomia along the scale of the infinite. This stretching, compressing, and ultimate return of times, people and senses long gone is not his copyright... just his trademark. Or is it?

Time and sense: proust and the experience of literature
despite this and other critical attention paid to the role of memory in the author’s preoccupations with the influence of the past and its dead on the present, few to none have commented on how either writer attends to the connection between smell and memory, and, in particular, of how olfactory memories, impervious to time, might haunt the present, setting the stage for the appearance of ghosts and eidolons who inhabit vivid reinstatements of the past. A careful examination of olfactory language and situations in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and in García Márquez’s Leaf Storm, will establish how for both authors, smells, like disembodied souls themselves, call forth ghosts and eidolons. Both authors use Proustian moments of recollection to depict memory not as a controlled, conscious return to what one might review or reconsider, but as a chance visitation of the past, an olfactory haunting of the past through and in the body. Like Proust, Faulkner and García Márquez align history and memory with the body on a strictly personal (read: physical) level; consequently, memory is not limited to the bounds of nostalgia.
(full text is free, at bottom of page, but is pdf.)

When the beloved Gabo is mentioned alongside Proust however... then things heat up! United States President Clinton is an example of a great thinker who knows to listen when Mr. Marques shares his thoughts.
Carlos Fuentes and I have good reason for considering that evening as a whole chapter in our memoirs. From the beginning, we were disarmed by the interest, respect and humor with which he listened to us, treating our words as if they were gold dust.
-Gabriel Garcia Marques on President Clinton.

(previously; Proust is a Neuroscientist, Mr. Marques and Enron
posted by infinite intimation (22 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Proust has always been funny as far as I'm concerned.
posted by philip-random at 12:15 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

A man with a duck on his head walks into a bar, a bar which, as I remembered it, always had a certain sense of sadness about it on those long weekday afternoons, before the happy hour regulars would come in to crowd around the counter, their clothes still smelling of sterile office air. Only after a few drinks would their eyes light up and blood return to their cheeks; only then did they begin to seem human again. I remember one regular in particular: Georges, a tall, imposing man with a large beard, who would carry around a different book every day, inevitably some scholarly tome, despite the fact that he was a middle manager. I looked to him, in those days, as a fount of wisdom, a kind of Delphic oracle who could expound on any subject under the sun. Many were the hours I found myself perched on a stool, gazing into the bright pools of his eyes as they glittered beneath his brows, his breath sharp with whiskey, as he told me of the Hindu religion, or the principles of aerodynamics, or the habits of African gorillas. It was only later, after the death of his wife, a sickly woman who rarely left the house in the last years of her life, that I realized how much those conversations meant to him.
The duck says to the bartender, "Hey, buddy, can you get this off my ass?"
posted by Bromius at 12:42 AM on October 30, 2009 [28 favorites]

agreed, the humour was one of the first things that struck me when I read Proust. Not what i;d been led to expect reading about the books beforehand. But I guess that significant parts of the literary establishment tend to be fairly suspicious of humour.
posted by johnny novak at 1:22 AM on October 30, 2009

Yes, it's often said that English readers fail to see the humour in Proust because they read him in Scott Moncrieff's famously solemn and humourless translation. Nancy Mitford to Evelyn Waugh, 13 March 1948: 'I am sad to think of you reading Proust in English -- there is not one joke in all the 16 of Scott Moncrieff's volumes. In French one laughs from the stomach, as when reading you .. Oh do arrange yourself as the frogs say to read French.'
posted by verstegan at 2:49 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Proust's work is funny, in a profound way. That's what is deeply satisfying about reading la Recherche.
posted by nicolin at 3:36 AM on October 30, 2009

The mere mention of Proust's name sends me into fits of laugZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

[actually, I have never read Proust, so I'll shut up now.]

posted by not_on_display at 3:59 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the whole post could have been cut except for the Clinton-Gabo link. That has the virtue of being news (at least to me).
posted by Faze at 4:11 AM on October 30, 2009

Lucky Jim is basically Peep Show with less talking about cocks.
posted by Edwahd at 4:25 AM on October 30, 2009

That has the virtue of being news

Blue is news?

Before you say say' remember that you said Clinton-Gabo .

A decade of news or commentary.
posted by Mblue at 5:14 AM on October 30, 2009

Mais ou sont les lulz d'antan?
posted by Phanx at 5:24 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the nod to Lucky Jim.
posted by theora55 at 5:39 AM on October 30, 2009

Proust's humor is the humor of a great humanist. It's the humor of The Human Comedy. I don't think this is not talked about, I just think that anyone who needs the lure of comedy in order to read the novel is not likely to experience the book as humorous at all. I also think that any slightly sophisticated reader understands that there are likely to be elements of humor in anything of such vast scope.
posted by OmieWise at 5:52 AM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

People have studied many things relating to, and regarding Marcel Proust; what they may never have told you is... Proust is funny!! (just not "Lucky Jim" funny.)

I can just imagine the hero of Lucky Jim making one of his terrible faces (behind someone's back, and usually behind a closed door) hearing someone boast that Proust is awfully amusing in the original French!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:13 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ehem, yours truly is in the photo in the Catherine LeGouis link. I'm the only guy, the one with the flannel shirt on.

I was enrolled in the course, and read pretty much the entirety of la recherche. Catherine is a really terrific teacher.
posted by Dia Nomou Nomo Apethanon at 6:41 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if you don't see the humor, then you are stuck in the head of a pretty creepy guy for 3300 pages; that makes it a different sort of novel. Marcel is kind of a jerk, but he's not a Bret Easton Ellis character....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:58 AM on October 30, 2009

I've only read Swann's Way and Swann in Love, but to my mind those books were hysterical. Every time he wrote something along the lines of "but gradually, Swann began to realize that his affections for her were not what he had thought they were at all," which was about 7 million times in the book, I'd think "oh you've gotta be fucking kidding me."

it was like reading an o henry story in every sentence, except to the extreme where the whole idea was exaggerated beyond belief. he loves her, but she doesn't love him, but then he changes his mind about her, but now she loves him, except he comes back to loving her just in time for her to have fallen in love with someone else, etc... like that moment in the simpson's cape fear episode where sideshow bob keeps stepping on rakes and it's funny, then tedious, then funny again as it comes back around from sheer persistence.
posted by shmegegge at 8:31 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

The magic of Proust is ... like that moment in the simpson's cape fear episode where sideshow bob keeps stepping on rakes

Hmmm? Might just have finally figured out the heart of my thesis statement.
posted by philip-random at 9:22 AM on October 30, 2009

Is your thesis about Proust or The Simpsons?
posted by ardgedee at 9:58 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm reading Guermantes II right now. Hilarious. A whole book about a single dinner party in which the hero gradually realizes his life has been a total waste.
posted by No Robots at 1:55 PM on October 30, 2009

I read Moncrieff's translation, and I thought it was incredibly witty. Not laugh out loud funny, but a full course meal of all emotions. I suppose I'll have to read another translation to compare.
posted by acrasis at 4:50 PM on October 30, 2009

it's often said that English readers fail to see the humour in Proust because they read him in Scott Moncrieff's famously solemn and humourless translation

So what translation should we read?

Yes, yes, we should learn french... I tried once, honestly... but I want to read some Proust in the next year, not in 5 years.
posted by Jahaza at 6:02 PM on October 30, 2009

Good Hensher article here on the vicissitudes of the most recent translation.
posted by Wolof at 7:08 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

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