Monday, September 26, 2011

Dante, quotation, rhyme (more on time and the other)

A quick note on Dante and his rhyming: I've been interested for a long time in poems that quote other poems, importing lines into a prosodical context different from the context of their origin.

Importing lines this way, quoting them, concentrates the effect of all quotation: it puts the quoted words into a context provided by the quoter; it frames the quotation as the quoter wishes to frame it, against a sometimes contrasting background different from the ground the words originally belonged to (whether as figure or ground or both: reading is the progressive shifting of the figure of the phrase being read against the semi-opaque anticipation of words to come and the less vague but still simplified and abstracted memories of phrases already read: we are always cresting into the present in a standing wave of arrival, as Ashbery puts it).

In Canto XXX of Purgatorio, Beatrice arrives and Virgil disappears. Her arrival is heralded by the singing of a hundred ministers and messengers of eternal life, who quote the Vulgate, as it has been quoted throughout Purgatorio, beginning with the beatitudes that the repentant sinners chant on every terrace.  On each terrace two allegorical narratives present themselves, one from Scripture, a parallel one from classical mythology, in conformity with Dante's reconciliation of his classical and his Christian forebears (whom Virgil, misspelled in the tendentious medieval way with an i, as in Virgin, embodies in the Pisgah sight given to him in his Fourth Eclogue, read by his Christian interpreters as prophesying the virgin birth of Christ.) Those earlier Biblical quotations have always seemed uncontroversially apposite, but here things are somewhat different:

Quali i beati al novissimo bando
surgeran presti ognun di sua caverna,
la revestita voce alleluiando,

cotali in su la divina basterna
si levar cento, ad vocem tanti senis,
ministri e messaggier di vita etterna.

Tutti dicean: "Benedictus qui venis!"
e fior gittando e di sopra e dintorno,
"Manibus, oh, date lilia plenis!"  (XXX, 13-21)


As all the blessed, when the trumpet sounds,
will rise up singing, ready, near or far,
to "Hallelujah!" their return to bodies' bounds,

reclad in flesh: so in that sacred car
a hundred angles, ad vocem tanti senis,
rose: ministers of things that ever are.

All said together: "Benedictus qui venis!"
and, strewing flowers high up and all around,
"Manibus, oh, date lilia plenis!"
The Latin phrases may be respectively translated: "At the voice of so venerable a man" (someone has just been singing from "Song of Songs"); "Blessed are you who come"; and "Give lilies with full hands."

The first phrase is not a quotation at all; it's Dante setting up rhyme and context for the two quotations to follow.  As Singleton suggests, no Italian words rhyme with "venis" and "plenis," so Dante prepares the Latin rhymes by giving them a Latin context: the voice of the old man  makes rhyme possible: to refer to him (as senis) is to structure the rhymes.

The next Latin line is a near-quotation of Matthew: "Benedictus qui venit," blessed is he who comes.  Although it transpires that the singers are praising the arrival of Beatrice, they use the masculine form appropriate to Christ, not to Beatrice.  That's to be expected: the line is too much associated with Christ to bear a change in grammatical gender.  But Dante does change its person, from third- to second-person singular: "Blessed are you who come."  Why does he make the change?

He does this, it must be, for the rhyme, so that he can rhyme it with another line which he wishes to quote with verbatim accuracy.  That's what I want to note here: the hierarchy of rhyming in these lines.  The last line -- "Manibus, oh, date lilia plenis!" -- is the line that controls the other two and dictates what they will be: the unprecedented Latin description of the old man's voice in the first of the three rhyming lines, and the alteration in the second of the three of the Biblical verse to make it second person.  The unaltered last line is from Vergil: it is nearly the very last line that Anchises speaks to Aeneas among the dead, and here (as Singleton points out) its true meaning, beyond its manifest content, is a similar farewell to Virgil whom Dante the pilgrim is about to lose forever.

Anchises's last lines in the Aeneid were added after the early death of Octavia's son (Augustus's nephew) Marcellus, and it is this that Anchises laments to Aeneas in lines that Vergil read aloud to her brother Augustus and Octavia, lines which made her collapse with intolerable grief. Anchises calls for lilies to mourn the death he foresees: it is under the sign of the death of the child that the father and son separate in the Aeneid, and the perfect accuracy of the quotation of that lament confirms Singleton's characterization of "This most remarkable farewell verse....  It bears the haunting sadness of its context in the Aeneid and functions as a climax to the whole strain of pathos that has attached to the figure of the 'sweet father,' as he will now be called when suddenly he is no longer by Dante's side."

It is remarkable.  Literary quotation is what happens when what's left are the words which once made the other present (the writer as a psyche, as someone alive in our life, someone we can interact with, even bargain with), words now elevated (in a Hegelian -- better, in a Longinian sense), decontextualized and purified into the intensity of their own self-reference, hermetic but all the more generous for being so.  They don't do anything but quote themselves, exist like a motto or epigraph or quotation out of context, abbreviating, not their original context, but its loss, the loss of the psyche behind them, the psyche now absorbed and condensed into only the words themselves, the written words of one who has become at last a writer only.

The remembered voice of the parent, remembered as quotation: this is what you get in Proust too, in the great passage in which he remembers as a talisman or token of his long-dead father how he had relented from his usual strict refusal to cater to his son's neediness:
«Mais va donc avec lui, puisque tu disais justement que tu n’as pas envie de dormir, reste un peu dans sa chambre, moi je n’ai besoin de rien.» «Mais, mon ami, répondit timidement ma mère, que j’aie envie ou non de dormir, ne change rien à la chose, on ne peut pas habituer cet enfant...» «Mais il ne s’agit pas d’habituer, dit mon père en haussant les épaules, tu vois bien que ce petit a du chagrin, il a l’air désolé, cet enfant; voyons, nous ne sommes pas des bourreaux! Quand tu l’auras rendu malade, tu seras bien avancée! Puisqu’il y a deux lits dans sa chambre, dis donc à Françoise de te préparer le grand lit et couche pour cette nuit auprès de lui. Allons, bonsoir, moi qui ne suis pas si nerveux que vous, je vais me coucher.»

On ne pouvait pas remercier mon père; on l’eût agacé par ce qu’il appelait des sensibleries. Je restai sans oser faire un mouvement; il était encore devant nous, grand, dans sa robe de nuit blanche sous le cachemire de l’Inde violet et rose qu’il nouait autour de sa tête depuis qu’il avait des névralgies, avec le geste d’Abraham dans la gravure d’après Benozzo Gozzoli que m’avait donnée M. Swann, disant à Sarah qu’elle a à se départir du côté d’Ïsaac. Il y a bien des années de cela. La muraille de l’escalier, où je vis monter le reflet de sa bougie n’existe plus depuis longtemps. En moi aussi bien des choses ont été détruites que je croyais devoir durer toujours et de nouvelles se sont édifiées donnant naissance à des peines et à des joies nouvelles que je n’aurais pu prévoir alors, de même que les anciennes me sont devenues difficiles à comprendre. Il y a bien longtemps aussi que mon père a cessé de pouvoir dire à maman: «Va avec le petit.» La possibilité de telles heures ne renaîtra jamais pour moi. Mais depuis peu de temps, je recommence à très bien percevoir si je prête l’oreille, les sanglots que j’eus la force de contenir devant mon père et qui n’éclatèrent que quand je me retrouvai seul avec maman. En réalité ils n’ont jamais cessé; et c’est seulement parce que la vie se tait maintenant davantage autour de moi que je les entends de nouveau, comme ces cloches de couvents que couvrent si bien les bruits de la ville pendant le jour qu’on les croirait arrêtées mais qui se remettent à sonner dans le silence du soir.


“Go along with him, then; you said just now that you didn’t feel like sleep, so stay in his room for a little. I don’t need anything.”

“But dear,” my mother answered timidly, “whether or not I feel like sleep is not the point; we must not make the child accustomed...”

“There’s no question of making him accustomed,” said my father, with a shrug of the shoulders; “you can see quite well that the child is unhappy. After all, we aren’t gaolers. You’ll end by making him ill, and a lot of good that will do. There are two beds in his room; tell Françoise to make up the big one for you, and stay beside him for the rest of the night. I’m off to bed, anyhow; I’m not nervous like you. Good night.”

It was impossible for me to thank my father; what he called my sentimentality would have exasperated him. I stood there, not daring to move; he was still confronting us, an immense figure in his white nightshirt, crowned with the pink and violet scarf of Indian cashmere in which, since he had begun to suffer from neuralgia, he used to tie up his head, standing like Abraham in the engraving after Benozzo Gozzoli which M. Swann had given me, telling Sarah that she must tear herself away from Isaac. Many years have passed since that night. The wall of the staircase, up which I had watched the light of his candle gradually climb, was long ago demolished. And in myself, too, many things have perished which, I imagined, would last for ever, and new structures have arisen, giving birth to new sorrows and new joys which in those days I could not have foreseen, just as now the old are difficult of comprehension. It is a long time, too, since my father has been able to tell Mamma to “Go with the child.” Never again will such hours be possible for me. But of late I have been increasingly able to catch, if I listen attentively, the sound of the sobs which I had the strength to control in my father’s presence, and which broke out only when I found myself alone with Mamma. Actually, their echo has never ceased: it is only because life is now growing more and more quiet round about me that I hear them afresh, like those convent bells which are so effectively drowned during the day by the noises of the streets that one would suppose them to have been stopped for ever, until they sound out again through the silent evening air.  (This is Moncrieff's translation, which I have come to prefer, if you need to read Proust in English, even to Lydia Davis's.)
He quotes his father at some length, and then quotes him again saying words he never said: "Va avec le petit."  This isn't verbatim, but his father wasn't a poet.  This is rather the poeticizing quotation or quotational poeticizing of what his father had said (closest in fictional fact was "Va donc avec lui").  These words are the words of the father becoming lost, giving up patriarchal omnipotence (as Virgil has, as Abraham has in a scene, a painting that Proust has invented for his purposes), the father's first step towards mortality in the eyes of the child.  The child sobs and that's one reason why he sobs, and why he can hear those sobs even now ("near or far, cry is cry" is Beckett's version of this).  Longtemps since he went to bed late that night, and longtemps since his father could say those words that he remembers still as a line nearly of verse, as Dante remembers Virgil, remembers the dead Anchises's words to Aeneas.

And that "oh," is amazing: it fills out the meter, sure, but it's the breath of the speaking voice, the lamenting and quoting voice, that we hear in it, the breath that breaths the life it desperately needs into the words it quote.  That desperation is itself the life it seeks.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Time and the Other in Proust and Shakespeare, part II

“Father!” “Son!” “Father I thought we’d lost you
In the blue and buff planes of the Aegean:
Now it seems you’re really back.”
"Only for a while, son, only for a while.”

What does awkwardness really mean (to continue my previous post)?

Say that what drives a scene in fiction, in any fiction, is some encounter which counts, an encounter that starts something going, introduces a tension. Or it resolves a tension, brings something to a close.  So the awkwardness I ended my last by invoking is an encounter that does... nothing.  It doesn't count for anything beyond its own discomfort. The dreaded or dreamt of moment doesn't change things, except to erode our sense that anything can change this unresolved relationship anymore, that anything will change it.  We've had, like another, our story ("Elle avait eu, comme une autre, son histoire d'amour." --"Un Coeur Simple").  And then what?  Not much. Because all of that's now in the pluperfect, and what's left, one way or another, is intermittent awkwardness.

I think psychoanalysis is supposed to teach you to accept awkwardness, to stop expecting that transferential relations will allow you to make up for the past.  Think of the awkwardness of meeting your shrink later in life (or teacher or coach or whomever).  For psychoanalysis that's the goal: "the ordinary unhappiness of everyday life."  You come to accept awkwardness, intermittence and all, not as a local accident, but an ontological condition, the only form of ontological possibility left.  It's a kind of genuinely resigned hopelessness, hopelessness which doesn't retain the hopefulness, the desperately energetic willing, the exigent need to be wrong, that is part of the grammar of the word hopelessness, part of what that self-description conceals and cherishes.  Awkwardness is hopelessness without hope.

So I don't mean the awkwardness we feel early in life during the so-called awkward age: a form of intense transference onto the person one's awkward before: "I am shy, bring this right, make it happy." I mean posterior awkwardness: if and when this awkward moment is over, that will be a middling improvement, a reversion to the mediocre.  That's what we fear in the awkward age, but what comes true later in life, and isn't even worth fearing. And, writers like Henry James (think of Caspar Goodwood's ridiculous, pointless return to Isabel Archer) or Cormac McCarthy keep showing, this kind of awkwardness occurs at the level of a life or even of history.

Thus, at the end of Blood Meridian, the Kid (a kid no longer) meets the Judge again, having escaped the fate the Judge threatened him with when the Kid was still a kid.  He escaped that fate for a while, anyhow.  But now the Judge is back, and to the Kid's penultimate outburst -- "You aint nothing" -- he responds, "You speak truer than you know."  The Judge is the embodiment of Nothing; he is Marías's "Sir Death" (Marías' English phrase in Tu Rostra Mañana; he claims to get it from medieval English drama but I certainly can't find it).  Like Sir Death, the Judge is the narrative opposition to all narrative possibility, to the bargaining that makes narrative. He doesn't bargain. Nothing is remembered, nothing escapes obliteration. The Judge and Sir Death stand for narrative impossibility, the complete and utter end of the story.

It was inevitable that the Kid should meet the Judge again (the Judge dances and he is everywhere and he will never die), and that no escape can shape the story's end.  That's the Judge's final lesson for the Kid:
A man seeks his own destiny and no other, said the judge. Will or nill. Any man who could discover his own fate and elect therefore some opposite course could only come at last to that selfsame reckoning at the same appointed time, for each man's destiny is as large as the world he inhabits and contains within it all opposites as well. The desert upon which so many have been broken is vast and calls for largeness of heart but it is also ultimately empty. It is hard, it is barren. Its very nature is stone.

He poured the tumbler full. Drink up, he said. The world goes on. We have dancing nightly and this night is no exception. The straight and the winding way are one and now that you are here what do the years count since last we two met together? Men’s memories are uncertain and the past that was differs little from the past that was not.

He took up the tumbler the judge had poured and he drank and set it down again. He looked at the judge. I been everywhere, he said. This is just one more place.

The Judge arched his brow. Did you post witnesses? he said. To report to you on the continuing existence of those places once you'd quit them?

That's crazy.

Is it?  Where is yesterday? Where is Glanton and Brown and where is the priest? He leaned closer. Where is Shelby, whom you left to the mercies of Elias in the desert, and where is Tate whom you abandoned in the mountains? Where are the ladies, ah the fair and tender ladies with whom you danced at the governor's ball when you were a hero anointed with the blood of the enemies of the republic you'd elected to defend? And where is the fiddler and where is the dance?
No witnesses but the Judge who witnesses in order to obliterate (as we learn in an early scene).  There is nothing and no one left to show that Shelby or Glanton or Brown or Tobin (to quote Marías again) "trod the earth or traversed the world" before ending up in "one-eyed oblivion."

So let's say, then, that this is Cormac McCarthy's view of tenses : "The past that was differs little from the past that was not" (his view of punctuation is for a later post).  Then the end of Blood Meridian, despite all of McCarthy's contempt for Proust, and presumably for Flaubert, is not essentially different from the end of that other helpless, hopeless coming-of-age novel L'Education sentimentale (the Kid too knows the melancholy of waking up in tents).  The Judge's words gloss that ending: "The straight and the winding way are one and now that you are here what do the years count since last we two met together?"  This is Holden's version of Flaubert's tremendous blank.

The straight and winding way end at the same place.  Dickinson knew this, knew that Shakespeare knew it.  "Since Cleopatra died," says Antony, "I have lived in such dishonor, that the gods / Detest my baseness."  She died, he thinks, moments ago, and so he too has invented a new tense: the passé composé of perfect difference from the past.  "That engulfing since" Dickinson calls it.

But Cleopatra hasn't died.  Unlike Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra are to see each other again, to speak to each other again.  The forlorn hope of reunion comes true.  Their way to death is more winding than they think.  And yet, like Ashbery's skaters, they are only elaborating their distances to a common and inescapable end.

I remember reading a study which graphed anxiety about medical tests against the likelihood of their coming out positive (likelihood of bad news, that is).  Essentially as you get older, your anxiety about any specific test decreases, even as the likelihood that what you're worrying about actually will be true increases.  You get less anxious (you get used to the routine, you become less of a hypochondriac), but the negative results become more and more uncertain.  You're pretty confident, maybe too confident, that this test will come out negative.  But what about the next one? How much good does it do you to get this negative result? Considering the alternative, a lot.  But life becomes more and more filled with the sense of a temporary reprieve, not a happy ending.

"Every catching of the breath / Is the sickness unto death" writes John Bricuth in his great poem "Hypochondria as the Basis of Conversion," each stanza of which ends with a Kierkegaard title.  In fact hypochondria of the soul increases as you grow older.  Every crisis of anxiety passed only brings you deeper into the world of crisis.

In Shakespeare the worry is not hypochondria but anxiety about other people, about love and loss.  A Midsummer Night's Dream ends in blissful ignorance about the coming disaster: that "the issue there create," in Theseus and Hippolyta's bed, will lead to Senecan tragedy.  So too Henry V ends the second Henriad with hopeful marriage, Hal and Kate's happiness undimmed by what we know is coming, the scene that takes place only a year or so later, and which Shakespeare wrote ten plays or so earlier at the beginning of The First Part of Henry VI.  Marriage is about everything's working out.  The fact that nothing works out for good is beside the point.  For the young.

But the parental generation (the later Shakespeare's generation) is always aware things work out only for a while, son, only for a while.

For "the worried well" (to go back to hypochondria for a moment), the equivalent of things' working out is the negative test result.  That's what we want: let it be negative this time.  As we get older, we know the positive result will come.  But we bargain: let it come later, but not now.

Heidegger (as John Limon points out) -- the early Heidegger, anyhow -- had contempt for this kind of bargaining, which he thought characteristic of "They-being," the mode of being of the fearful evaders of truth who cannot attain an authentic being-towards-death.  Kierkegaard thought of this sort of bargaining as one of the kinds of despair

But what I'm interested in here is narrative, not the anti-narrative stance of being-towards-death.  Narrative is about bargaining, and the question is what you get out of the bargain.  In life, and in narrative that seems adequate to our experience of life, we start out bargaining for some quit-claim, but later on what we want, what we know as the only possibility, is deferral.  Let the moment be awkward, not final.

Sure, all bargaining, in even the most naive stories, can involve characters' deaths; it often does, but death there means a bad narrative outcome, which we'll accept, if we have to, along some of the byways narrative takes as long as we get what we want at the end of other pathways.  Babar's mother, Bambi's: they die.  Little Paul Dombey may die, if he must, but then their father had better give Florence the love she needs and deserves.  And we do have to accept the bargain.  We have to accept the fact that we're bargaining if we're to participate (as we do) in any narrative experience beyond pure wish-fulfilling daydream: the interest, the emotional involvement in narrative comes from the bargaining and negotiating we put our souls into.  (It's characteristic of Shakespeare's generosity in the comedies, by the way, that at the end he tends to throw in some added gift we hadn't bargained for.)  If we could get everything we wanted, we wouldn't be bargaining; narrative experience is the experience of bargaining, ergo we can't get everything we want.  One of the manifestations of what we don't get may be death.  But death here just stands for an element of the bargaining outcome, where what's important is the bargaining.  At least in most narratives.

The bargains we make with narrative are often more gratifyingly framed versions of the bargains we make in real life.  We worry, and we are willing to give up some of our happiness in order not to lose it all.  We think in terms of negotiated satisfaction; we signal our willingness to accept lesser but still saving and even gratifying states of affairs.

(My mother was once very anxious about where my father was - he was terribly, unaccountably, uncharacteristically late.  The phone rang and it was the police!  They identified themselves and made sure who she was.  Then: "Your husband's in jail."  Her response: "Oh, thank God!"  Because he wasn't dead.  [He'd cussed out a cop who had pulled him over for speeding.]  The phone's ringing, and I'll accept a compromise: bad but not terrible news.  I'm a reasonable person, a serious man.)

Tragedy and comedy represent two different bargaining equilibria: we give up a little in comedy to get a solution we're satisfied with (maybe even a better solution than we ever expected: we get a surplus reward).  We give up a lot in tragedy to get to a solution that at least leaves us calm of mind, all passion spent.

I think Aristotlean unity is about the straightest way to whatever equilibrium is achieved.  (There's a reversal, yes, but the reversal is the start of that straight path.)  Shakespeare is interested in the winding ways.

And this is where things change, this is where he thought his way through to a new narrative representation of real experience -- the representation later to be found in Flaubert and Proust, e.g.  In his later plays, the winding ways become more and more his subject, and not only the itinerary of its exposition. Romeo and Juliet part, never to converse again.  But in the later plays, look what happens: Lear is reunited with Cordelia! Antony with Cleopatra! The Macbeths reign for a long time, longer than they ever dared to hope: everything they sought they get, except the immortality they never believed in anyway.  And then, there's the original for Dombey and Son, The Winter's Tale.

Mammilius, a senex puer like Paul Dombey (and Miles), has to die, but for that loss we get the recompense of Perdita's happiness, and the reunion of Hermione and Leontes in overplus.  And yet, they're old. The play begins with a lamentation over lost youth: how much more lost is it at the end!  The happy ending of the play isn't the real, true end, final end of everything, but that final ending isn't far away from the parental generation there.

I think what Shakespeare was thinking about more and more was the way all our real-life bargains with fate (or life or God) become modes of temporizing, seeking extensions on the loan, a raise of the credit limit, not the impossible forgiveness of the debt.  As we become aware of time in the Proustian, Flaubertian sense - as we become aware that the future is continuous with the present and not something whose existence is absolutely deferred (which is how we thought of is as children) - we become aware that all that our bargaining achieves is, at most, renewals on harsher and harsher terms and for shorter and shorter periods of the crushing debts we owe.  There is no happy ending for Antony and Cleopatra, or Paulina and Camillo (far from it) or Lear and Cordelia or the Macbeths, despite their unexpected reunions. The Kid can escape Judge Holden for years, for as long as he could possibly hope for, and yet he cannot escape.

We bargain and bargain and usually get the extensions we want; we usually get more than we'd allowed ourselves to hope for. Usually. Until we don't. It's all okay! Until it isn't.

That's what's awkward about getting the terms of the extension.  It's the awkward gratitude you express to the debt collector for giving you another month.  The awkward fact that we can more or less clumsily affect not to notice, in order to save the moment, is that the debt is still due, and harder to pay than ever. Maybe we can save the day. But only the day. How awkward for the poor servant to meet Death in the marketplace in Baghdad.  But the man manages to get out of the situation, and lives to keep his appointment in Samarra.

And it seems that for Proust, maybe for McCarthy, the only cure for that is remembering, which is to say writing - being lost in another world.  But is that a cure that lasts? How long?  A lifetime? Why did Shakespeare stop writing?

[A bit more on Proust, in my next which will be, I promise, shorter.]

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Time and the other in Proust and Shakespeare, I: transcending the parasitism of anecdotes and the dross of the story

Proust rests his arch defense of Flaubert's style almost entirely on the novelty of his use of grammar, and especially of tense; Flaubert is:
un homme qui par l'usage entièrement nouveau et personnel qu'il a fait du passé défini, du passé indéfini, du participe présent, de certains pronoms et de certaines prépositions, a renouvelé presque autant notre vision des choses que Kant, avec ses Catégories, les théories de la Connaissance et de la Réalité du monde extérieur.
a man who by the entirely new and personal usage that he has made of the past definite, of the past indefinite, of the present participle, of certain pronouns and of certain prepositions, has renewed our vision of things almost as much as Kant, with his Categories, the theories of Knowledge and of the Reality of the exterior world.
Still more archly (this is 1920, after all, and he's already famous for the first two volumes of A La Recherche), Proust alludes to his own modest researches into the representation of Time, which helps underscore the great ending of L'Education sentimentale (he writes at some length about the odd definite article in the title), with its sudden juddering jumps to the end of life, or, at least for Proust, to a region close enough to the end to require only an etc. or a series of them:

Je ne me lasserais pas de faire remarquer les mérites, aujourd'hui si contestés de Flaubert. L'un de ceux qui me touchent le plus parce que j'y retrouve l'aboutissement des modestes recherches que j'ai faites, est qu'il sait donner avec maîtrise l'impression du Temps. A mon avis la chose la plus belle de l'Education Sentimentale, ce n'est pas une phrase, mais un blanc. Flaubert vient de décrire, de rapporter pendant de longues pages, les actions les plus menues de Frédéric Moreau. Frédéric voit un agent marcher avec son épée sur un insurgé qui tombe mort. « Et Frédéric, béant, reconnut Sénécal! » Ici un « blanc », un énorme « blanc » et, sans l'ombre d'une transition, soudain la mesure du temps devenant au lieu de quarts d'heure, des années, des décades (je reprends les derniers mots que j'ai cités pour montrer cet extraordinaire changement de vitesse, sans préparation) :

     « Et Frédéric, béant, reconnut Sénécal.

     « Il voyagea. Il connut la mélancolie des paquebots, les froids réveils sous la tente, etc. Il revint.
     « Il fréquenta le monde, etc.
     « Vers la fin de l'année 1867, etc. »

Sans doute, dans Balzac, nous avons bien souvent : « En 1817 les Séchard étaient, etc. » Mais chez lui ces changements de temps ont un caractère actif ou documentaire. Flaubert le premier, les débarrasse du parasitisme des anecdotes et des scories de l'histoire.


I could never tire of bringing to notice Flaubert's merits, so contested today.  One of those which touch me the most because there I find the culmination of the modest researches I myself have undertaken, is that he knows how to give the impression of Time masterfully.  In my opinion the most beautiful thing in The Sentimental Education is, not a sentence, but a blank.  Flaubert has just been describing, just been reporting for many long pages, the slightest acts of Frédéric Moreau.  Frédéric sees an officer march with his sword upon one of the insurgents, who falls dead.  "And Frédéric, gaping, recognized Sénécal!"  [Sénécal is the officer.]  Then a "blank," an enormous "blank," and, without the shadow of a transition, the measure of time suddenly becoming instead of quarter-hours years, decades (I pick up the last words that I have quoted to show this extraordinary change of speed, coming without warning):

      "And Frédéric, gaping, recognized Sénécal.

      "He traveled.  He knew the melancholy of packet-boats, cold awakenings in tents, etc.  He returned.
      "He went out in society, etc.
      "Towards the end of the year 1867, etc."

     No doubt in Balzac we often get: "In 1817 the Séchards were, etc."  But in him these changes of tense have an active or documentary character.  Flaubert is the first to liberate them from the parasitism of anecdotes or the dross of the story.

Proust says he's quoting from memory, which allows him to reframe Flaubert a bit: the enormous blank is actually the end of a chapter; but that's just another way of saying that Proust wants us to be stunned by the ending of a chapter where Flaubert ends it, without any continuation of the anecdote in the next chapter, or ever.  James probably learned this from Flaubert: the moment of recognition feeling like a kind of social awkwardness, but in a far larger context.  There's nothing more to know than this awkwardness, even when it occurs on the scale of a human life (as in James or Rimbaud: "Par délicatesse / J'ai perdu ma vie"), even when it occurs on a world-historical scale (as in Flaubert and Proust).  After that awkwardness there's really nothing left to do or to hope for.

And that changes your relation to time.