Thursday, October 19, 2006

Beckett on Proust


It is difficult to imagine why Beckett would be interested in Proust. I can't think of two writers whose personalities are more different. (Of course I am talking only of their public personalities and people's perception here.) Beckett looks like a living embodiment of a hardened masculine stoicism, what with all those lines on his face and Proust, that ultra-sensitive, effete, Mommy's boy living in his famous cork-lined room! (In a way, Proust's novel is a great education in the virtues of stoicism too, that is after a lot of masochism :)) Also their writing style couldn't be more different. Proust, whose sentences go on and on and Beckett who completes even a short sentence reluctantly.

By the way, Beckett wrote this monograph on Proust when he was just 24. (A very precocious kid he was. He had already assisted Joyce in his composition of Finnegans Wake by then!) In his later life he dismissed this work as "youthful" and written in "fancy philosophical jargon." As for me I really couldn't make heads or tails of anything I read in the first three pages after which I left. I have to first find out what these philosophers really mean by the word "Being" before reading any more philosophy.

Here are some quotes from the first three pages of the book.


The Proustian equation is never simple. The unknown, choosing its weapons from a hoard of values is also the unknowable. [...]For the purposes of this synthesis it is convenient to adopt the inner chronology of the Proustian demonstration, and to examine in the first place the double headed monster of damnation and salvation - Time.

****

We are not merely more weary because of yesterday, we are other, no longer what we were before the calamity of yesterday. A calamitous day, but calamitous not necessarily in content. The good or evil disposition of the object has neither reality nor significance. The immediate joys and sorrows of the body and the intelligence are so many superfoetations.

****

But the poisonous ingenuity of Time in the science of affliction is not limited to its action on the subject, that action, as has been shown, resulting in an unceasing modification of his personality, whose permanent reality, if any, can only be apprehended as a retrospective hypothesis.

****

The creation of the world did not take place once and for all time, but takes place every day. Habit then is the generic term for the countless treaties concluded between the countless subjects that constitute the individual and their countless correlative objects. The periods of transition that separate consecutive adaptations represent the perilous zones in the life of the individual, dangerous, precarious, painful, mysterious and fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being.


Stumbled on "superfoetation"? :)

A short summary of the book here. I couldn't get where Beckett says these about Proust's novel:
"Surely in the whole of literature, there is no study of that desert of loneliness and recrimination that men call love posed and developed with such diabolical unscrupulousness."

"Art is the apotheosis of solitude. There is no communication because there are no vehicles for communication."

15 comments:

bhupinder said...

The word Being takes me on a Proustian excursion ...

Being...reminds me of the time when we struggled with Sartre's Being and Nothingness (and I am sure you will not embarass me by asking much many pages.. err.. words I managed to read )

Nowadays, you have wikipedia.

Alok said...

I haven't yet tried to go near that book. :)

It is not just being, there is also "becoming" and how these two are related to "Time" and "nothingness."

Wiki is good for facts, to understand these things wiki is not good enough...

Cheshire Cat said...

Heidegger's "Being and Time" is a great starting point. It's very readable, more compelling than any novel. I've heard it's somewhat compromised by translation, though, but am in no position to judge.

Alok said...

Wow! that's a surprise. I had a very different image of Heidegger and his philosophy in my mind. Humourless, obscure and a Nazi-sympathiser!! The problem is that I don't even have a good basic understanding of Continental philosophy and its background. I feel lost in these philosophy books.

In fact Beckett mentions Being and Time many times together in the Proust book too. I think he wrote this book before Heidegger wrote Being and Time.

Cheshire Cat said...

That's a common misapprehension, Heidegger is not difficult to read. And he does everything from scratch, so knowing the history of Continental philosophy is certainly not a prerequisite...

jyothsnay said...

umm..struggling with Sartre's Being and Nothingness..I could relate self to that situation and embrace it wholeheartedly...
Nothing is the cause of consciousness, and that consciousness is the cause of its own way of being. so that means, being is empty a shell, and gains a fuller body or pure format when consciousness is being derived from it? Consciousness emerges supported by a being which is not itself...
Heidegger's view always takes a support of "Being-in-the-world"..there's always a concrete format from which the process of questioning and redefining the being starts
*I could be wrong in my interpretation,but I swallowed the intrusive criticism much before I could put forth my point of view by leaving my ignorance bare to the readers*--

Madhur said...

oh i just love continental philie, the critics of the german idealism being my favourites, schopenhauer, nietzsche, kierkegaard, also sarte and yes henri bergson, from whom proust borrows the philosophy of time ,memory and identity, and alok, wiki is good enough, most original texts of contie philie are written in an obscure language, jacques lacan himself admitted that obscurity gives the 'text' certain ammount of credibility and makes it esoteric, a theorist has no other form of capital to gain but to make his theory obscure and intelligible to a certain minority, i prefer reading essays on thinkers, or multiple reflections/interpretation of original texts, they are more edifying, also wiki, because the concepts explained are to be understood in abstract, its like reading poetry, not prose, wiki is not facts, wiki is abstraction.

Madhur said...

ens causa sui.

Alok said...

cat: I have already pushed Being and Time on the to-read stack!

jyothsna: wow, so you have read Sartre? surprised and impressed. Now I have to read your poems again :)

madhur: I love those three philosophers too. After the ancient Greeks, they are my favourite thinkers! I have so far managed to read only essays, short introductions and biographical books about them. The primary texts still remain inaccessible.

"ens causa sui." ? What's that?

jyothsnay said...

Alok
I said I struggled enough to finish two chapters of Sartre's Philosophy...trust me,since the beginning, it was a trail on those slippery rocks..I slip, fall down, look at those bruises with teary eyes, get up, fix my grip over those slots n start walking again....The Encounter with Nothingness was relatively an effortless read, thanks to that Peter at Cafe example...
I read thinkers, n that does not mean that my learnings to be reflected in my poems or reflections...no, then I fall short of those xpectations...J

Alok said...

hehe, I was joking... :)

interesting how you describe your Sartre experience. It's very, umm... "poetic" :)

Aishwarya said...

The Duthuis dialogues! I love those.:)

Aishwarya said...

Also, how does one read continental literature without reading continental philosophy? I think my understanding of the literature of the period grew enormously when I understood the philosophical context it came out of. you really should try it:)

Alok said...

I have read some introductions, essays and I am vaguely familiar with the basics... "idealism", "thing-in-itself", ontology, phenomenology etc but yes if you don't understand these things you can only skim the surface of giants like Proust, Mann, Kafka or others.

I am trying and I hope one day I will be wiser!

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