quarta-feira, 29 de maio de 2013

terça-feira, 28 de maio de 2013

Tarzan the Terrible, Edgar Rice Burroughs





Tarzan the Terrible
Edgar Rice Burroughs




The Pithecanthropus

SILENT as the shadows through which he moved, the great beast slunk through the midnight jungle, his yellow-green eyes round and staring, his sinewy tail undulating behind him, his head lowered and flattened, and every muscle vibrant to the thrill of the hunt. The jungle moon dappled an occasional clearing which the great cat was always careful to avoid. Though he moved through thick verdure across a carpet of innumerable twigs, broken branches, and leaves, his passing gave forth no sound that might have been apprehended by dull human ears.
Apparently less cautious was the hunted thing moving even as silently as the lion a hundred paces ahead of the tawny carnivore, for instead of skirting the moon-splashed natural clearings it passed directly across them, and by the tortuous record of its spoor it might indeed be guessed that it sought these avenues of least resistance, as well it might, since, unlike its grim stalker, it walked erect upon two feet–it walked upon two feet and was hairless except for a black thatch upon its head; its arms were well shaped and muscular; its hands powerful and slender with long tapering fingers and thumbs reaching almost to the first joint of the index fingers. Its legs too were shapely but its feet departed from the standards of all races of men, except possibly a few of the lowest races, in that the great toes protruded at right angles from the foot. Pausing momentarily in the full light of the gorgeous African moon the creature turned an attentive ear to the rear and then, his head lifted, his features might readily have been discerned in the moonlight. They were strong, clean cut, and regular–features that would have attracted attention for their masculine beauty in any of the great capitals of the world. But was this thing a man? It would have been hard for a watcher in the trees to have decided as the lion’s prey resumed its way across the silver tapestry that Luna had laid upon the floor of the dismal jungle, for from beneath the loin cloth of black fur that girdled its thighs there depended a long hairless, white tail. In one hand the creature carried a stout club, and suspended at its left side from a shoulder belt was a short, sheathed knife, while a cross belt supported a pouch at its right hip. Confining these straps to the body and also apparently supporting the loin cloth was a broad girdle which glittered in the moonlight as though encrusted with virgin gold, and was clasped in the center of the belly with a huge buckle of ornate design that scintillated as with precious stones. Closer and closer crept Numa, the lion, to his intended victim, and that the latter was not entirely unaware of his danger was evidenced by the increasing frequency with which he turned his ear and his sharp black eyes in the direction of the cat upon his trail. He did not greatly increase his speed, a long swinging walk where the open places permitted, but he loosened the knife in its scabbard and at all times kept his club in readiness for instant action. Forging at last through a narrow strip of dense jungle vegetation the man-thing broke through into an almost treeless area of considerable extent. For an instant he hesitated, glancing quickly behind him and then up at the security of the branches of the great trees waving overhead, but some greater urge than fear or caution influenced his decision apparently, for he moved off again across the little plain leaving the safety of the trees behind him. At greater or less intervals leafy sanctuaries dotted the grassy expanse ahead of him and the route he took, leading from one to another, indicated that he had not entirely cast discretion to the winds. But after the second tree had been left behind the distance to the next was considerable, and it was then that Numa walked from the concealing cover of the jungle and, seeing his quarry apparently helpless before him, raised his tail stiffly erect and charged. Two months–two long, weary months filled with hunger, with thirst, with hardships, with disappointment, and, greater than all, with gnawing pain–had passed since Tarzan of the Apes learned from the diary of the dead German captain that his wife still lived. A brief investigation in which he was enthusiastically aided by the Intelligence Department of the British East African Expedition revealed the fact that an attempt had been made to keep Lady Jane in hiding in the interior, for reasons of which only the German High Command might be cognizant. In charge of Lieutenant Obergatz and a detachment of native German troops she had been sent across the border into the Congo Free State. Starting out alone in search of her, Tarzan had succeeded in finding the village in which she had been incarcerated only to learn that she had escaped months before, and that the German officer had disappeared at the same time. From there on the stories of the chiefs and the warriors whom he quizzed, were vague and often contradictory. Even the direction that the fugitives had taken Tarzan could only guess at by piecing together bits of fragmentary evidence gleaned from various sources.

SOME WORDS ABOUT TRUMAN CAPOTE Organized by Francisco Vaz Brasil



SOME WORDS ABOUT TRUMAN CAPOTE
Organized by Francisco Vaz Brasil
                                                     



The money is not the slightest importance,
since we have a lot.
Truman Capote


Truman Capote was born in New Orleans in 1924. He had a lonely childhood, relieved only by the attentions of an older cousin whom he later wrote about in ''A Christmas Memory.'' Truman Capote began his literary life very early. At the age of 17, Mr. Capote wangled a job at The New Yorker. ''Not a very grand job, for all it really involved was sorting cartoons and clipping newspapers,'' he wrote years later. ''Still, I was fortunate to have it, especially since I was determined never to set a studious foot inside a college classroom. I felt that either one was or wasn't a writer, and no combination of professors could influence the outcome. I still think I was correct, at least in my own case.''
After his mother's divorce from Mr. Persons and her marriage to Joe Capote, she brought her son to live with them in New York. He was sent to several private schools, including Trinity School and St. John's Academy in New York, but he disliked schools and did poorly in his courses, including English, although he had taught himself to read and write when he was 5 years old (CLARKE, 2005).
Having been told by many teachers that the precocious child was probably mentally backward, the Capotes sent him to a psychiatrist who, Truman Capote said triumphantly some years later, ''naturally classified me as a genius.''
He later credited Catherine Woods, an English teacher at Greenwich High School in Connecticut, with being the first person to recognize his writing talent and to give him guidance. With her encouragement he wrote poems and stories for the school paper, The Green Witch. He did not complete high school and had no further formal education.
The novelist, short story writer and literary celebrity pioneered a genre he called ''the nonfiction novel,'' exemplified by his immensely popular ''In Cold Blood.'' He died apparently without having completed his long- promised ''masterwork,'' an extensive novel called ''Answered Prayers.''
     Mr. Capote's first story was published while he was still in his teens, but his work totaled only 13 volumes, most of them slim collections, and in the view of many of his critics, notably his old friend John Malcolm Brinnin, he failed to join the ranks of the truly great American writers because he squandered his time, talent and health on the pursuit of celebrity, riches and pleasure (O'CONNOR, 1987)
     ''I had to be successful, and I had to be successful early,'' Mr. Capote said in 1978.      ''The thing about people like me is that we always knew what we were going to do. Many people spend half their lives not knowing. But I was a very special person, and I had to have a very special life. I was not meant to work in an office or something, though I would have been successful at whatever I did. But I always knew that I wanted to be a writer and that I wanted to be rich and famous.''
     Success, both as a writer and as a celebrity, came early, when he was 23 years old and published his first novel, ''Other Voices, Other Rooms.'' It was a critical and financial success, and so were most of the volumes of short stories, reportage and novellas that followed, including ''Breakfast at Tiffany's,'' ''The Muses Are Heard,'' ''The Grass Harp,'' ''Local Color,'' ''The Dogs Bark'' and ''Music for Chameleons.''
     Many of their stories, notably ''A Christmas Memory,'' which paid loving tribute to his old cousin, Miss Sook Faulk, who succored him in his childhood loneliness, were based on his recollections of life in and around Monroeville. So were his first published novel, ''Other Voices, Other Rooms,'' his second, ''The Grass Harp,'' and the collection of stories, ''A Tree of Night.''
          Having been told by many teachers that the precocious child was probably mentally backward, the Capotes sent him to a psychiatrist who, Truman Capote said triumphantly some years later, ''naturally classified me as a genius.''
He later credited Catherine Woods, an English teacher at Greenwich High School in Connecticut, with being the first person to recognize his writing talent and to give him guidance. With her encouragement he wrote poems and stories for the school paper, The Green Witch. He did not complete high school and had no further formal education.
      O'CONNOR, (1987) reports that at the age of 17, Mr. Capote wangled a job at The New Yorker. ''Not a very grand job, for all it really involved was sorting cartoons and clipping newspapers,'' he wrote years later. ''Still, I was fortunate to have it, especially since I was determined never to set a studious foot inside a college classroom. I felt that either one was or wasn't a writer, and no combination of professors could influence the outcome. I still think I was correct, at least in my own case.''
     In a two-year stay at The New Yorker, Mr. Capote had several short stories published in minor magazines. ''Several of them were submitted to my employers, and none accepted,'' he wrote later. In the same period, he wrote his first, never-published in life, the novel ''Summer Crossing.''
     Capote made his first major magazine sale, of the haunting short story ''Miriam,'' to Mademoiselle in 1945, and in 1946 he won an O. Henry Memorial Award (VALDIVIA 2009)    
     The award led to a contract and a $1,500 advance from Random House to write a novel. Mr. Capote returned to Monroeville and began ''Other Voices, Other Rooms,'' and he worked on the slim volume in New Orleans, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and in North Carolina, finally completing it on Nantucket. It was published in 1948 (O'CONNOR, 1987)
     The novel, a sensitively written account of a teenage boy's coming to grips with maturity and accepting his world as it is, achieved wide popularity and critical acclaim and was hailed as a remarkable achievement for a writer only 23 years old.  From this work, Capote become himself a literary celebrity. In 1969, when ''Other Voices, Other Rooms'' was reprinted, Mr. Capote said the novel was ''an attempt to exorcise demons: an unconscious, altogether intuitive attempt, for I was not aware, except for a few incidents and descriptions, of its being in any serious degree autobiographical. Rereading it now, I find such self-deception unpardonable.''
     Critics noted his deft handling of children as characters in his work, his ability to move from the real to the surreal, and his use of lush words and images. In 1963, the critic Mark Schorer wrote of Capote: ''Perhaps the single constant in his prose is style, and the emphasis he himself places upon the importance of style.''
Capote, who was always a crafty manipulator of the media, He began to enjoy commercial success after Other Voices, Other Rooms and with the best-seller Breakfast at Tiffany's.
     He was a fine writer. His tenderness and accurate words can be noted in each text, each phrase. In the back cover of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Norman Mailer wrote:

Truman Capote is tart as a grand aunt, but in this way he is a ballsy little guy, and he is the most perfect writer of my generation, he writes the best sentences word by word, rythm upon rythm. I would have not changed two words in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which will become a small classic.”

     Mr. Capote was co-author of the movie ''Beat the Devil'' with John Huston and wrote the screenplay for a film of Henry James's ''The Innocents.'' Mr. Capote turned his second novel, ''The Grass Harp,'' into an unsuccessful Broadway play and, with Harold Arlen, wrote the 1954 musical, also unsuccessful, ''House of Flowers.'' Mr. Capote also adapted a number of his stories, including ''A Christmas Memory'' and ''The Thanksgiving Visitor,'' for television.
Here are some thoughts by influent people about Truman Capote after his death (KAKUTANI, 1984):

"He was a brilliant, sometimes astounding reporter. He had, too, the lyrical gift. He met more than his share of physical and psychological problems with bravery and with humor. What seemed to mean most to him of anything in the world was words and sentences." (William Shawn, editor of The New Yorker)

"I would say Truman had an odd and personal perspective on experience that only real writers have. A lot of writers sweat and labor to acquire that, but Truman Capote had it naturally. And this is what makes his work so distinct and inevitable. It was a strange, offhand, natural kind of originality (James Dickey, poet and novelist)
"He was maybe a little heavy on the Southern gothic side of things, a little bit willfully perverse. He seemed like on of those curious searchers after forbidden sensations, like Oscar Wilde. The worst thing you can say of Truman's work is it's a little precious and hothousey. But at his best, he had a very great sensitivity and linguistic originality. He understood a certain type of human personality, and a certain kind of human situation of isolation and the desperation of lonely people.
"I think the fact he was such an international-café-society, celebrity-type person stood in the way, to some degree. Of his making a true evaluation of himself as an artist. He let a little bit of that go on too much, but I like the idea of a sort of offbeat writer, who can command that sort of attention from the public and the press. But who, all in all, is very good too - who is a diligent craftsman and true to his gift when he chooses to exercise it." (James Dickey, poet and novelist)

"Truman was a celebrity, a literary star, a television character. But I think all that will fall quickly away now. That's ephemeral, and what you will have left is a very fine body of enduring work. It's like F. Scott Fitzgerald - he may have been a drunken playboy, but it's the work that counts.
"Truman had a unique voice. It was like no one else's - precise, clear, sometimes fey, lyrical, witty, graceful. His work, like that of all serious, talented artists, didn't develop. He had material handed to him at a certain, early stage in his life, and he spent his life exploring that material. His early theme was the challenge special individuals, the apart people, endure in an indifferent or hostile world. And that runs right through his work. It even applies to "In Cold Blood" - that these two incredibly mixed-up convicts should get themselves so entangled when they commit these murders.
"The future, of course, is the arbiter of all this, but I think that what we'll continue reading is his short fiction. He was a master of that very American form, and I'm sorry he didn't write more of that in his later years.
"Certainly he also contributed something in the form of the non-fiction novel. He, himself, would say he didn't do it single-handedly, but he did make the important contribution of using fictional techniques in nonfiction. He was a marvelous reporter. He'd get people to talk about themselves. I think he did it by spilling the beans about himself, true or invented, and that sort of released things in you." (John Knowles, novelist)

"He was just such a magician with words. Like so many people from the South, he was a master storyteller, one of the best we have. When you saw his name at the end of a story in The New Yorker, you knew you were in for a tremendous treat.
"I suppose the nonfiction will be remembered perhaps more than his fiction. 'In Cold Blood' is such an extraordinary masterpiece - it was done with such extraordinary care. It's funny, Truman used to talk about how he never used a tape recorder or notes or anything doing that book. But sometimes he said he had 96 percent total recall. He could recall everything, but he could never remember what percentage recall he had.
"He had such an amazing gift for telling stories, and he did it when you spent an evening with him, too. He'd sit there, and in that funny little voice of his, with those sighs, he'd make these plots and subplots and characters come wonderfully alive. He was once of the most entertaining men I've met. Perhaps he spent too much time entertaining people and not enough time getting it down on paper, but he seemed to know everyone, and out of knowing them, he'd construct stories." (George Plimpton, author and editor of the Paris Review)
 A Small Biography

     This Capote’s biography is a information’s mix orginated by CLARKE (2005),   Grobel, (1985). Encyclopedia of World Biography. (2004), Brinnin, (1986), Hallowell, (1977):
     Truman Capote (1924-1984) was one the most famous and controversial figures in contemporary American literature. The ornate style and dark psychological themes of his early fiction caused reviewers to categorize him as a Southern Gothic writer. However, other works display a humorous and sentimental tone. As Capote matured, he became a leading practitioner of "New Journalism," popularizing a genre that he called the nonfiction novel. Great novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, playwright, spellbinding raconteur, wit, superstar, genius and jet-setter, all-around delight, Truman Capote was one of the most astonishing and singular personalities of his time.
     Because of his celebrity, virtually every aspect of Capote's life became public knowledge, including the details of his troubled childhood. Born in New Orleans in September 30th, he seldom saw his father, Archulus Persons, and his memories of his mother, Lillie Mae Faulk, mainly involved emotional neglect. When he was four years old his parents divorced, and afterward Lillie Mae boarded her son with various relatives in the South while she began a new life in New York with her second husband, Cuban businessman Joseph Capote. The young Capote lived with elderly relatives in Monroeville, Alabama, and he later recalled the loneliness and boredom he experienced during this time. His unhappiness was assuaged somewhat by his friendships with his great-aunt Sook Faulk, who appears as Cousin Sook in his novellas A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Visitor (1967), and Harper Lee, a childhood friend who served as the model for Idabel Thompkins in Other Voices, Other Rooms. Lee, in turn, paid tribute to Capote by depicting him as the character Dill Harris in her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). When Capote was nine years old, his mother, having failed to conceive a child with her second husband, brought her son to live with them in Manhattan, although she still sent him to the South in the summer. Capote did poorly in school, causing his parents and teachers to suspect that he was of subnormal intelligence; a series of psychological tests, however, proved that he possessed an I.Q. well above the genius level. To combat his loneliness and sense of displacement, he developed a flamboyant personality that played a significant role in establishing his celebrity status as an adult.
     Capote had begun secretly to write at an early age, and rather than attend college after completing high school, he pursued a literary apprenticeship that included various positions at The New Yorker and led to important social contacts in New York City. Renowned for his cunning wit and penchant for gossip, Capote later became a popular guest on television talk shows as well as the frequent focus of feature articles. He befriended many members of high society and was as well known for his eccentric, sometimes scandalous behavior as he was for his writings.
     Capote's first short stories, published in national magazines when he was seventeen, eventually led to a contract to write his first book, Other Voices, Other Rooms. Set in the South, the novel centers on a young man's search for his father and his loss of innocence as he passes into manhood. The work displays many elements of the grotesque: the boy is introduced to the violence of murder and rape, he witnesses a homosexual encounter, and at the novel's end, his failure to initiate a heterosexual relationship with Idabel Thompkins, his tomboy companion, leads him to accept a homosexual arrangement with his elder cousin Randolph, a lecherous transvestite. Each of these sinister scenes is distorted beyond reality, resulting in a surreal, nightmarish quality. Despite occasional critical complaints that the novel lacks reference to the real world, Other Voices, Other Rooms achieved immediate notoriety. This success was partly due to its strange, lyrical evocation of life in a small Southern town as well as to the author's frank treatment of his thirteen-year-old protagonist's awakening homosexuality. The book's dust jacket featured a photograph of Capote, who was then twenty-three, reclining on a couch. Many critics and readers found the picture erotically suggestive and inferred that the novel was autobiographical.
     Many of Capote's early stories, written when he was in his teens and early twenties, are collected in A Tree of Night and Other Stories. These pieces show the influence of such writers as Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty, all of whom are associated to some degree with a Gothic tradition in American literature. Like these authors, as well as the Southern Gothic writers Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor, with whom critics most often compare him, Capote filled his stories with grotesque incidents and characters who suffer from mental and physical abnormalities. Yet Capote did not always use the South as a setting, and the Gothic elements in some of the tales are offset by Capote's humorous tone in others. Critics often place his early fiction into two categories: light and sinister stories. In the former category are "My Side of the Matter," "Jug of Silver," and "Children on Their Birthdays." Written in an engaging conversational style, these narratives report the amusing activities of eccentric characters. More common among Capote's early fiction, however, are the sinister stories, such as "Miriam," "A Tree of Night," "The Headless Hawk," and "Shut a Final Door." These are heavily symbolic fables that portray characters in nightmarish situations, threatened by evil forces. Frequently in these tales evil is personified as a sinister man, such as the Wizard Man feared by the heroine in "A Tree of Night" or the dream-buyer in "Master Misery." In other instances evil appears as a weird personage who represents the darker, hidden side of the protagonist. The ghostly little girl who haunts an older woman in "Miriam" is the best-known example of this doubling device in Capote's fiction. In later years Capote commented that the Gothic eeriness of these stories reflected the anxiety and feelings of insecurity he experienced as a child.
     In The Grass Harp (1951), Capote drew on his childhood to create a lyrical, often humorous novel focusing on Collin Fenwick, an eleven-year-old boy who is sent to live in a small Southern town with his father's elderly cousins, Verena and Dolly Talbo. At sixteen years of age, Collin allies himself with the sensitive Dolly and other outcasts from the area by means of an idyllic withdrawal into a tree fort. There, the group achieves solidarity and affirms the value of individuality by comically repelling the onslaughts of the ruthless Verena and other figures of authority. The novel, which achieved moderate success, is generally considered to offer a broader, less subjective view of society and the outer world than Capote's earlier fiction, and was adapted as a Broadway drama in 1952. A light and humorous tone is also evident in such works as the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's and the three stories published in the same volume, "House of Flowers," "A Diamond Guitar," and A Christmas Memory. Breakfast at Tiffany's features Capote's most famous character, Holly Golightly, a beautiful, waif-like young woman living on the fringes of New York society. Golightly, like the prostitute heroine in "House of Flowers," is a childlike person who desires love and a permanent home. This sentimental yearning for security is also evident in the nostalgic novella A Christmas Memory, which, like the later The Thanksgiving Visitor, dramatizes the loving companionship the young Capote found with his great-aunt Sook.
     In some of his works of the 1950s, Capote abandoned the lush style of his early writings for a more austere approach, turning his attention away from traditional fiction. Local Color (1950) is a collection of pieces recounting his impressions and experiences while in Europe, and The Muses Are Heard: An Account (1956) contains essays written while traveling in Russia with a touring company of Porgy and Bess. From these projects Capote developed the idea of creating a work that would combine fact and fiction. The result was In Cold Blood, which, according to Capote, signaled "a serious new art form: the 'nonfiction novel,' as I thought of it." Upon publication, In Cold Blood elicited among the most extensive critical interest in publishing history. Although several commentators accused Capote of opportunism and of concealing his inability to produce imaginative fiction by working with ready-made material, most responded with overwhelmingly positive reviews. Originally serialized in The New Yorker and published in book form in 1965 following nearly six years of research and advance publicity, this book chronicles the murder of Kansas farmer Herbert W. Clutter and his family, who were bound, gagged, robbed, and shot by two ex-convicts in November, 1959. In addition to garnering Capote an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, In Cold Blood became a bestseller and generated several million dollars in royalties and profits related to serialization, paperback, and film rights. Written in an objective and highly innovative prose style that combines the factual accuracy of journalism with the emotive impact of fiction, In Cold Blood is particularly noted for Capote's subtle insights into the ambiguities of the American legal system and of capital punishment.
     In the late 1960s, Capote began to suffer from writer's block, a frustrating condition that severely curtailed his creative output. Throughout this period he claimed to be working on Answered Prayers, a gossip-filled chronicle of the Jet Set that he promised would be his masterpiece. He reported that part of his trouble in completing the project was dissatisfaction with his technique and that he spent most of his time revising or discarding work in progress. During the mid-1970s he attempted to stimulate his creative energies and to belie critics' accusations that he had lost his talent by publishing several chapters of Answered Prayers in the magazine Esquire. Most critics found the chapters disappointing. More devastating to Capote, however, were the reactions of his society friends, most of whom felt betrayed by his revelations of the intimate details of their lives and refused to have any more contact with him. In addition, Capote's final collection of short prose pieces, Music for Chameleons (1983), was less than warmly received by critics. Afterward, Capote succumbed to alcoholism, drug addiction, and poor health, and he died in 1984, shortly before his sixtieth birthday. According to his friends and editors, the only portions of Answered Prayers he had managed to complete were those that had appeared in Esquire several years previously.
     Critical assessment of Capote's career is highly divided, both in terms of individual works and his overall contribution to literature. In an early review Paul Levine described Capote as a "definitely minor figure in contemporary literature whose reputation has been built less on a facility of style than on an excellent advertising campaign." Ihab Hassan, however, claimed that "whatever the faults of Capote may be, it is certain that his work possesses more range and energy than his detractors allow." Although sometimes faulted for precocious, fanciful plots and for overwriting, Capote is widely praised for his storytelling abilities and the quality of his prose.
     Truman Capote died in Los Angeles on August 25th, 1984 a month before of his sixtieth birthday

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Reading Proust: The Recherche in an Extra-Moral Sense By CAROLINE WEBER



Reading Proust: The Recherche in an Extra-Moral Sense

By CAROLINE WEBER


Over the next week, Sam Tanenhaus, Caroline Weber and John Williams are holding a conversation about “In Search of Lost Time,” and welcome readers to join their discussion by leaving comments on the right-hand side of the blog. Ms. Weber is reading Proust in the original French. All translations — of Laclos, Flaubert, Proust, Gide and Benjamin — are Ms. Weber's own.


Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
French editions of “In Search of Lost Time,” recently on display at the Morgan Library, including one, front left, from 1913 for “Swann’s Way.”

Beckett is absolutely right to stress the “shamelessness” of the Recherche (1913-1927), though it was by no means the first French novel to evince this quality. Already in “Dangerous Liaisons” (1782), Pierre Choderlos de Laclos had subverted the genre’s morally edifying function by prefacing his cool-as-a-cucumber tale of unabashed libertine depravity with a mock-conciliatory note: “At very least, it seems to me a service to public morality to unmask the means by which the wicked corrupt the good.” This proviso did not deter the vice squad from forbidding Parisians to read Laclos's novel in public places. Similarly, Gustave Flaubert stood trial for “offending public morality” with “Madame Bovary” (1857), a meticulously observed portrait of a vacuous, petite-bourgeoise adulteress.
Like these antecedents, the Recherche offers an unvarnished, markedly non-judgmental portrayal of sexual activities traditionally deplored as vices or even — in the context of French Catholicism — as sins. As the title of his novel’s fourth volume, “Sodom and Gommorah” (1921-1922), makes clear, male and female homosexuality are essential to Proust’s worldview, generally surfacing alongside other so-called perversions. While seducing her girlfriend, Mlle Vinteuil desecrates her late father’s portrait; the Prince de Guermantes and the Marquis de Saint-Loup both cheat on their wives with the gigolo-cum-violinist Morel; another Morel paramour, the Baron de Charlus, also indulges in whips-and-chains sex play at a tawdry gay brothel.
Yet no matter how shocking the content of these vignettes (André Gide, Proust’s contemporary and fellow “invert,” feared they would “set back the issue [of homosexuality] by 20 years”), their real import relates less to sex as such, as to the much farther-reaching moral subversion that Proust effects by rigorously investigating humanity’s most essential but elusive “enigmatic truths” — erotic and otherwise. (In the Proustian cosmos, these truths provide the “scattered lightning-flashes” to which Sam so eloquently alludes in his post.) As outlined in “Time Regained” (1927), the seventh and final volume of the Recherche, the novelist’s foremost task lies in “teasing out and illuminating our feelings, our passions; which is to say, the passions and feelings of humanity as a whole.” According to Proust, those passions and feelings operate according to “general laws” that remain constant even when surface particularities are different; for instance, even the seemingly unconscionable penchants of a Charlus illustrate a truth with which we all, sooner or later, are forced to reckon: that love can come to us in the most extravagantly improbable, inexplicable and inconvenient forms. (Witness the eponymous hero of “Swann’s Way,” declaring at what he mistakenly believes to be the end of his disastrous affair with the faithless Odette: “To think that I wasted years of my life,…[and] felt the greatest love I’ve ever known, for a woman whom I didn’t even find attractive, who wasn’t my type!”)
In this light, the writer’s work is important because it alone enables us to penetrate the thick fog of perceptual laziness and distraction and delusion that otherwise blinds us to the truth about ourselves and those around us. And it can only perform that function if its vision is undistorted by the author’s own moral judgments, whether favorable or condemnatory; what Beckett calls a “complete indifference to moral values and human justices” is thus a, even the, necessary precondition of the Proustian enterprise. In fact, Beckett’s observation echoes that of one of Proust’s earliest German translators, Walter Benjamin, who notes in a 1929 essay that
[t]here is no individual suffering, however revolting, and no social injustice, however glaring, against which Proust would have protested with a candid “No” or an intrepid “But wait!” Quite the opposite: we find in him a profound acceptance of the world just as it is, even in its saddest and most bestial manifestations.
More often than not, the world of the Recherche proves sad and bestial indeed. And yet the writer himself cannot be faulted if its hard-won insights make it appear — to borrow Proust’s own ironic epithet for Laclos’s “Dangerous Liaisons” — “the most frighteningly perverse of books.” That perversity is simply the chaff from which the novelist endeavors, fearlessly and tirelessly, to separate the wheat of elemental human nature. Put another way, Proust explains:
It was not the goodness of his virtuous heart, which happened to be considerable, that made Choderlos de Laclos write “Les Liaisons dangereuses,” nor his fondness for the bourgeoisie, petite or grande, that prompted Flaubert to choose Mme Bovary as his subject...
These authors selected their material not because they were immoral, but because they sought the truth; and so it is with Proust as well. For this reason, he concludes:
The vulgar reader is wrong to think the author wicked, for in any given, ridiculous aspect [of human behavior], the artist sees a beautiful generality; and he no more faults his subject for being ridiculous than a surgeon looks down on a patient for being afflicted with persistent circulation problems.
The son and the brother of noted surgeons, Marcel Proust knew whereof he spoke: in literature, as in medicine, there is no place for shame. Or as Flaubert — who was also a doctor’s son, and whose exacting prose style, likened by at least one critic to a scalpel, Proust brilliantly parodied in his 1919 volume of literary pastiches — remarked just before his obscenity trial: “Writing well is its own kind of immorality.”
Ms. Weber is currently at work on a book titled “Proust’s Duchess: In Search of the Exquisite in Belle Époque Paris,” to be published by Knopf in 2014.