August 13, 2008

Art's transformation of life (and reality)

As is my wont, I have a new set of books from the library by my bedside...

[I gave up on Nuala's memoir after lasting through 40-50 pages as it was not holding my interest any more, managed to read just a few of Kafka's shorter pieces (The Judgement and a few other really short pieces) before having to return the book, still hope to get back to two of my favorite authors - McEwan (Saturday) and Auster (New York Trilogy) - which I have partly read in the last 2 weeks, and am enjoying but not doing justice to Moravia's Conjugal Love. ]

... and its a veritable who's who of literary cannons that I have picked up this time: Death in Venice and other stories by Thomas Mann, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo, Strange Pilgrims - short stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Swann's Way by Marcel Proust; plus a couple other books by not-so-famous authors.

As usual, I have undoubtedly picked up way beyond what I can possibly read but lets see which ones I can do justice to in the next few weeks, in addition to finishing up McEwan, Auster, and Moravia! I have a feeling DeLillo, Chopin, Marquez and maybe even Mann may fall by the wayside... because Rulfo, who I had not even heard of before yesterday, has already gripped me with his story in the little I already read of this short book at the library itself and I stared last night with Lydia Davis's translation of Swann's Way, the first volume in Proust's multi-volume epic In Search of Lost Time, which I have long wanted to read. (A literary masterpiece about memories and time... what's not to want to read and love!)

More about the book (maybe!) as I read it but here is an excerpt from Lydia Davis's introduction that echoed within me and made a connection, likely because of the recent loss of my father.
... the theme of the receding, in time, and the disappearance, of beloved places and people, and their resurrection in our imagination, our memory, and finally our art. For only in recollection does an experience become fully significant, as we arrange it in a meaningful pattern, and thus the crucial role of our intellect, our imagination, in our perception of the world and our re-creation of it to suit our desires; thus the importance of the role of the artist in transforming reality according to a particular inner vision: the artist escapes the tyranny of time through art.
Or as Lydia writes earlier:
For although Proust's own life experience is the material from which he forms his novel, this material has been altered, recombined, shaped to create a coherent and meaningful fictional artifact, a crucial alchemy - art's transformation of life - which is itself one of Proust's preoccupations and a principal subject and theme of the book.
I'm going to have to drop all other books and just read Proust. His work deserves nothing less!

Update: Three points about Swann's Way. Firstly, it seems, Lydia Davis's translation sticks closer to Proust's original work than the traditionally read
C.K. Scott Moncrieff translation. Secondly, in a literary coincidence of sorts, I just realized that Lydia Davis was married in the 1970s to Paul Auster, whose New Yorks Trilogy I am currently reading. And last but not least, here is a good website for those attempting to read Proust. For the record, I am neither ill nor have a broken leg. :)
The sad thing is that people have to be very ill or have a broken leg in order to have the opportunity to read In Search of Lost Time - Robert Proust, Marcel's brother (source)

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