Within A Budding Grove
Place Names: The Place
So, you're beginning this interview with this quotation, why? Do you believe in it? Do you agree with it?
It struck me as odd mostly. I don't believe anyone learns much of anything during adolescence, for one thing. In fact, I'd like to believe that a quotation like this is mostly rubbish. To be clear, I'm suggesting that a quotation like this represents a kind of tired wheeze, that many would like to believe, just so that they can bow out of life gracefully without regret.
You think that's what Proust meant?
Who knows what Proust meant.
You decided to start reading Proust-
A while back, maybe as early as the fall of 2008.
Why? What were your reasons?
Mostly curiosity. I really wanted to find out if I could get more out of it than I had during college, when I hadn't read all the way through it either.
You still intend to?
Yes, but it is a little trying at times.
Some say you can't read it in anything but French.
Yes, and you brought that up to remind me that our friend the late Kenneth Simpson Seggerman, who passed in 2007, thought so too. He'd read it in the original French of course. What those of us with barely enough passable French can readily observe in the best English translation are the sounds of certain French names that are retained in the text having associations and meanings that directly color the characters. Other period writers from Thackeray through Anthony Trollope do this, so it is not a unique literary device. It makes for good satire most of the time.
You're a little past this spot then?
Yes, he's in Balbec with his grandmother and he's just about to comment on the opinions of his friend Bloch.
Well, you didn't intend this to become a discussion of Proust, did you?
No, but I wouldn't mind doing a dissection of this quote.
First the world to me is not thronged with monsters and with gods. I can't remember a time without certain personages held up to receive universal admiration for their accomplishments, as if they were gods, and it seems to me an equal number were selected to be universally regarded as monsters. The fact is that we can have all the peace of mind we desire, just so long as we content ourselves with the reality that every one else on this planet is a person like ourselves. The proffered gods aren't worth being worshipped and the monsters not worth being feared. We could all under the right circumstances do just as well or just as vilely as they. These kinds of appeals to our emotions should probably be avoided as counter-productive.
As for performing things we later regret, that is pointless, a waste of time and energy. Spontaneity is probably overrated as well, since most of it that accomplishes little of practical value (including its applications in the fine arts), is the result of fearlessness (which can be reckless) and lack of experience. I'm increasingly bored by the excessively nihilistic rubbish we are expected to revere as even popular art.
But, I suppose I'm most bothered by the last phrase including that bit about being in full conformity with the rest of society. Such was and probably still is more important to the average Frenchman than it is to the average American. We'd understand it differently and it would probably vary from one ethnicity to another.
So you think Proust was talking mainly about the French bourgeois society of his times?
Mainly, yes. It's a very good mirror of a past time, one that for good or ill, will likely never come again, though certain features of it are, I am sure, still in play in contemporary French society. That's one thing that gives Proust universal appeal. I'm not sure, but there might be as good examples from writers in different times and different cultures. That's one reason to read great literature, that it expands one's awareness of different ways of living and seeing things.
OK, well you gave me a few points of departure for today's interview. It has been a while since we did this. Much has changed, much remains the same. I guess we can dismiss the areas that are not going to figure much in this blog first. You said that your blog was not going to be about politics or religion.
Can you perhaps tell us why?
Well, let's start with politics. My specific reason for bowing out of any political discussion, and that includes to some extent economics as well, is that I see no reason to add more to the confusion than already exists: since I have good reason to believe that everyone is having to deal with the fog of disinformation, there is no point in wading into areas where my sources of information are though I would consider them better than most anyone else's, if they bothered to look and reason carefully they would find them too, not just about today's events, but about a whole history of events going back at least 250 years. Others do a far better job than I can, and no I don't feel like putting up any recommendations either.
So no links? You will be posting links on your blog site?
Yes, but none will have a religious or political purpose.
OK, and religion?
Well, the question invariably arises, people ask me whether I believe in God? Often I'm almost of the impression that the person asking wonders if I regard belief in God in the same sense as belief in Santa Claus. I'm always surprised that people say they believe in things for which there is far less tangible evidence. How about the rejoinder, which God?
(chuckles) You mean ...
I mean, I can make a simple statement about my belief in God and it still boils down to an act of faith at least as big as for belief in half a dozen pivotal scientific theories.
And you don't ever intend to go there either?
Of course not.
So now we come to the second quote, one of your own, that was actually quoted in a popular book...
Yes, it was an amazing book, really. I was completely impressed by it. I'd purposely waited to read it after I had cleared the decks. It's a usual practice of mine to get into something when the initial popularity has worn off. I did that with The Lord of The Rings too, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience when I got to it. Read right through them too.
You recommend Tolkien then, do you?
C. S. Lewis too, especially his space trilogy.
OK, back to this quote of yours. It appears in Perri Knize's book, Grand Obsession, page 57:
"When one sits down at one's piano and begins to play as only you or I can, there is no idealism to be reached for, the experience is THERE, right now, instantaneous and totally REAL. When one is able to realize with clarity the breathtaking achievement of some great master, to the point that one is almost not conscious of playing as being played by transcendent forces, or even transcendent beings, one is not trying for some ideal, one has achieved a state of being that exists in few other human experiences.
"That to me seems the point behind all this fuss about pianos; the MUSIC they make, and we with our own two hands, can become at least for a few moments, immortal. For you see, all the shouting over political and religious issues will never accomplish what a single simple piece of exquisite piano music will accomplish. Music can melt the coldest heart, can cause grown men to cry openly, can move women to fainting, can stop wars! It can it still can."
So this blog is about religion. (laughs)
It will inevitably be about music. In so far as it involves the piano and me and the music I am committing to performance level, it will be about a kind of religion.
You do it every day.
Practice the piano? Yes.
And you will be commenting on the music you are learning, as in the old Pianist's Diary days?
Even better than it was back then, I hope.
Lots else. I'll begin shortly posting recipes with pictures. You can call these "survivalist" or "back to the earth" kinds of food.
Sounds yummy, what else?
There will be occasional articles and probably more interviews like this one as well.
Right. Will you accept questions from the audience?
Of course, just send them to me at my e-mail address. I wont be revealing the source of the question unless specifically told to do so.
Good, and it should be known too that David can't respond right away because he has other things going on that will take up his time, like playing Chopin and reading Proust, which he is currently doing. He reports that he has made some kind of discovery that he can now play Chopin pieces he formerly would have regarded as difficult. We await his results.