Returning to The Captive

December 23rd, 2009

After just about a three-month-long break, I’ve picked up The Captive & The Fugitive again. I’m in Georgia on vacation right now, which means that my reading time is quiet time in the mornings or the evenings, not commuting time, which I think bodes well for getting farther along in this book than I did back in September. Right now there’s nowhere I have to be and very little I have to do, so I can sit on a comfortable couch with a book and a sweet dog curled by my feet. I hadn’t gotten very far into The Captive previously, so I’ve just started again from the beginning, and I’m enjoying it so far. There’s that wonderful first sentence I wrote about in post linked to above, and then, a little further along, there’s this great passage about memory and sensation, how the latter triggers the former:

On certain fine days, the weather was so cold, one was in such full communication with the street, that it seemed as though the outer walls of the house had been dismantled, and, whenever a tramcar passed, the sound of its bell reverberated like that of a silver knife striking a house of glass. But it was above all in myself that I heard, with rapture, a new sound emitted by the violin within. Its strings are tautened or relaxed by mere differences in the temperature or the light outside. Within our being, an instrument which the uniformity of habit has rendered mute, song is born of these divergences, these variations, the source of all music: the change of weather on certain days makes us pass at once from one note to another. We recapture the forgotten tune the mathematical necessity of which we might have deduced, and which for the first few moments we sing without recognising it. These modifications alone, internal though they had come from without, gave me a fresh vision of the external world. Communicating doors, long barred, reopened in my brain. The life of certain towns, the gaiety of certain excursions, resumed their place in my consciousness. (p 23)

I love it so much: the idea of a house (and a self) stripped bare and open to the world, the way the phrase “the violin within” feels when you say it, a crisp winter day, crystalline sounds, the passageways of the mind, doors opening on other views entirely.

(All page numbers are from the Modern Library paperback edition of The Captive & The Fugitive by Marcel Proust, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D.J. Enright)

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