A little time to kill in Barnes & Noble, so I sit down with Swann’s Way…


This is the new translation by Lydia Davis. Says on the back cover she got a MacArthur Genius Grant. I had a French professor in college who told me French people don’t read Proust. It’s in what’s called a literary tense, he said. Probably the equivalent of my trying to converse casually but couching everything in “at this point last year I would have been such and such…” I can imagine such an attempt to sustain verbally those kinds of constructions might lead me to stutter. I’m going to skip the introduction and go right to Combray I. Otherwise it’s like holding back in some way. My reluctance to verbalize in social gatherings has often been characterized as “withholding.” I like this chair. My daughter once described these chairs as squishy. But I think this one’s pretty nice. Metempsychosis. Good word. A touch arcane. I wonder if Proust is using it wryly. I wonder if it was a literal translation. Probably have to be with a word like that. Can’t imagine Lydia Davis thinking a genius grant is license enough to plug in a word like that on a whim. I wonder if this is the official Christian Reading Pit since it sits in the middle of the Christian shelves. If it is, I’m not sure I should be here with Swann’s Way. I feel almost aggressively humanist. Pinter was profoundly affected by reading Proust; it changed his artistic agenda, some say. Many long and moment to moment descriptions about what it’s like to wake up from a dream. The “artist as psychologist” is how the summaries like to summarize it. Heh, heh, summarize Proust. Wait a minute, the woman who just sat down on my right has a book with SEX on the cover. Either she, too, is being aggressively humanist, or it’s a book about Christian SEX. I can’t tell. The man and woman pictured on the cover are wearing sweaters and look healthy and happy. There are no italics in Proust. I must confess I’m intrigued by the fact that the woman with the SEX book did not choose a SEX book with an African-American couple on the cover. She appears to be African American, and I want to know if her book choice indicates her lack of strident allegiance to some cultural camp, because you know there must be a number of SEX books available targeting African Americans explicitly. Or if she has chosen the book because it is a Christian SEX book–and perhaps that is in fact why she feels safe and enclosed and un-self-conscious about sitting down with such a book in this pit–if it is a Christian SEX book, would she have chosen it due to not seeing any Christian SEX books with African Americans pictured in sweaters on the cover? Never thought of myself as aggressively humanist, per se. I bet my particular curiosity about the African American woman places me among the great unwashed. If that is true, surely dipping into Swann’s Way counts for something. Fewer commas, too, than I would have thought; Proust looks nice on the page. I’ve started re-reading this paragraph at least three times. Do you think anyone will see me sitting here with Swann’s Way and find it funny? If I’ve started re-reading a paragraph three times, how many times have I read it?  How do I count the attempts?  That was not a riddle with an amusing solution.  Or a math problem.  I will confess the decision to sit down with Swann’s Way was formulated in my mind in advance as a kind of “living joke.” I went to the P’s on the shelf with the plan already well-baked. Somewhere in my mind a notion takes shape about documenting my attempts to undertake a series of “living jokes.” And writing a book. And, heart swelling with secret pride, I see it on a bargain table at Barnes & Noble. Just like I want someone to see me sitting here and get the joke. And the person who did see me and did laugh quietly, possibly silently, perchance inwardly, would walk away transformed, briefly relieved from suffering. Or, to confess to my true craven selfishness, the person, a metaphysical being in disguise, would walk away having registered me in some transcendent Book of Days. When I finish my coffee I will stop reading and tell my daughter and her friends I’m ready to go.

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