Reading Proust – volume 5 update

It wasn’t what I was expecting but volume 5 of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time ends on a cliff-hanger. It is incredible how such separeate threads from five previous volumes are starting to brought together: a narrative arc that I could never see converging has in fact been much closer to convergence than I expected.

I’ve been reading In Search of Lost Time – Proust’s epic explorationg of memory, art, adolescence and decisre – on and off since 2007. It is one of those books that lots of people have heard of, some know two things about it (the long sentances and the flood of memories provoked by dipping a madeliene cake in his tea) but I’ve hardly found anyone who has actually read it. So in 2007 I decided to give it a go (in English!).

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Transformative infrastructure goes both ways

Marseille

In my previous post I was talking about the experience of distance, and how, when understood as an experience, distance is no longer a fixed entity.

That post was triggered by some lines from Proust in which the narrator is talking about how his perception of local distances alters when he switches from rail transport to motorcar. Some further thoughts on this topic.

I recall how the distances between various destinations, and therefore the shape of the city itself, appeared to change when the London Overground, an orbital railway in the inner suburbs, opened. All of a sudden areas of the city that seemed far away felt much closer: South-East London, previously impossibly far, was now a nearby neighbourhood to where I lived in the North-East.

Such a step-change in the experience of city living demonstrates the transformative power of civil engineering infrastructure. Linking, drawing together, connecting – this is what engineers have been doing for centuries.

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The experience of distance

Marseille
A morning walk up the steep hill to the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Gard granted me panoramic views of the city of Marseille and the sea. I love the peaceful hum that can be extracted from high up of a limbering up for a day of activity.

I underlined these words yesterday in ‘In Search of Lost Time’. The narrator is talking about how his perception of distance was changed when, instead of travelling by rail, he starts to go by car.

‘We express the difficulty we have in getting to a place in a system of leagues and kilometres, which becomes false the moment that difficulty decreases. The art of distance, too, is modified, since a village that had seemed to be in a different world from some other village, becomes its neighbour in a landscape whose dimensions have altered.’

Proust, M. (1921). In Search of Lost Time, Vol 4. Sodom and Gomorrah. (C. Prendergast, Ed.) (Penguin Cl). Penguin Books.
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