Skip to comments.Another side of Paradise (or, All Over The Road)
Posted on 09/02/2007 12:52:21 PM PDT by dangerfield
Not long ago, I tried to have a suit made of gray flannel, but was told that, being a thick and heavy cloth, flannel was no longer in demand. Buildings are so well-heated these days, said the tailor, that flannel is uncomfortable to wear in them. Here was an indisputable consequence of global warming.
My attitude to gray flannel has changed over the years. Since my first school uniform was of that material, I associated it for a long time with immaturity and a position of subordination to others. Then, as a young doctor, I came under the spell of a most distinguished man, one of the Queens physicians, who was learned, suave, and wore the most beautifully tailored gray flannel suit. If I couldnt be learned or suave, I could at least have a suit like his.
I am not alone in ascribing symbolic significance to gray flannel. Sloan Wilson made it the central trope of his novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, published in 1955, that is to say two years before Jack Kerouacs countercultural On the Road. In Wilsons book, the suited cloth represents conformity to a soulless and crass materialist way of life, devoid of deeper meaning.
John Leland, in Why Kerouac Mattersan intelligent and determined, though ultimately unsuccessful, effort to persuade us that Kerouac was a tolerably good writer, and which is published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the first appearance of On the Roadmakes slighting reference to Sloan Wilsons book and the decidedly unheroic battles of its protagonist, Tom Rath.
(Excerpt) Read more at newcriterion.com:81 ...
Interesting! Thanks for posting.
I missed Kerouac as well.
I had the misfortune to read Kerouac and William Burroughs in the early ‘60’s they sucked, I also read Bozwell, he didn’t. I read Proust in French and in translation he sucked in both languages.
I read some Proust and felt the same way you did. Then I read this, went back to read some more. I’m glad I did.
Getting the Proust habit
August 6, 2007 9:30 AM
The arrival of summer caused me to desert In Search of Lost Time for a few weeks. After finishing Within A Budding Grove I filled my days with the traditional British pastimes of building flood defences, taking up tennis for about 48 hours and contracting trench foot at festivals. I also made time to read some new, undemanding single-volume novels with sentences shorter than my lower intestine. So it was with more of a sense of duty than anticipation that I opened volume three, The Guermantes Way.
Spend any length of time reading about Proust and you’ll hear that his writing is addictive. In fact, the ubiquity of this claim was something I found off-putting. Novels aren’t heroin or peanut M&Ms, after all. To me it sounded like so much hyperbole, and as a book reviewer I’ve sprayed around too much of that myself to fall for anyone else’s. But after reading The Guermantes Way I’m beginning to see some sense in the claim; I got so lost in it that a new Harry Potter book could have been published and I wouldn’t even have noticed. And now the fact that various commitments are going to keep me from Sodom and Gomorrah for a week is as frustrating as having to break off from a good thriller at a cliffhanger moment.
That The Guermantes Way should prove so compelling isn’t obvious from a summary. An account of Marcel’s entry into the Belle Époque salons of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, Paris’s most fashionable district, the book largely consists of two visits to the theatre, followed by two extended accounts - comprising half of the 2002 Penguin edition’s 600 pages - of society parties.
In the space of those 600 pages, however, Proust brilliantly subverts Marcel’s snobbishness - which pervaded the previous volume - by artfully switching the novel’s perspective from that of Marcel as narrator (older, wiser, alive to the swarming absurdities of the Faubourg Saint-Germain scene) and Marcel as protagonist (a young man suspicious at the difference between his preconceptions and his actual experiences of the social elite, but unwilling to recognise its banalities). Proust wrote about this in a 1914 letter to Jacques Rivière: “I did not want to abstractly analyse this evolution of a thought, but rather recreate it, make the reader live it. I am therefore forced to paint errors, without feeling obliged to indicate that I think they are errors. Too bad if the reader believes that I think they are true.”
This method gives Proust scope to flex his stylistic muscles fully. He leaps between satire, political debate (the Dreyfus affair looms large, with its polarising alliances and poisonous anti-semitism), sexuality, and the brutally frank description of a family member’s death, while larding the whole thing with enough one-liners that you could trim it all down into a more than decent comic novella. And through all of this the viewpoint changes unannounced, leaving the reader - as if they themselves were a guest at one of these parties - to determine from conversation to conversation how best to interpret it.
It’s exhilarating to be immersed in such a fully realised world, and even more so to be left to navigate it under your own steam. The humour is the final ingredient that cements the book’s greatness, making it as easy to love as it is to admire. As for being addicted, I’d like to claim I’m not, but I will own up to a serious dose of literary dipsomania. But so much for my own incipient habit. Are there any fully paid-up Proust junkies out there?
Hemingway at least had the grace to use short declarative sentences. My problem with Hemingway is that he was a fan not a participant. He wrote about what he saw or heard unlike Dos Pasos, for example, not what he participated in.
A series is running on AMC or such called Mad Men. It’s a drama set during the heydays of Madison Avenue. I’d forgotten how much cigarette smoking we did back then.
“Hemingway, whom I detest”
I’ve never understood the fascination with Hemingway. To me, his work is reminiscent of a child’s alphabet blocks, simplistic to the point of primitivism.
The twenty’s best writer, IMO, is Sinclar Lewis followed by F. Scott Fitzgerald and, on the left, John dos Passos.
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