Although fifteen years later [Marcel Proust] would recall his year as a soldier with total delight, as “a paradise,” at the time he complained bitterly and his mother had to write him consoling, babying letters, telling him to think of the twelve months as twelve chocolate squares.
Imagine the guys in the barracks finding your letters from your mom telling you to think about your year as twelve chocolate squares.
In his short biography of Custer, Larry McMurtry mentions a few other short biographies he judges fine, including with a characteristic lack of false modesty his own biography of Crazy Horse, and this Edmund White biography of Proust.
So, I got it and read it. Wonderful act of compression. Thoughtful, succinct, at times funny, human, gentle, this book is a great guide to the man and artist, what his work meant and what he was after.
Thought this was wild:
In 1911 Proust became a subscriber to Théàtrophone, a service that held a telephone receiver up at a concert, which allowed people to stay at home and hear live music on their receivers.
The few hundred pages of Remembrance of Things Past I was supposed to read in college (“Proust, Joyce and Modernism”: a class I chose to take!) were tough going for me. Proust won’t be hurried. This guy didn’t even get a job until he was in his thirties. This was an unpaid job, as a librarian, and eventually he got fired for being out sick too much. Proust is not interested in going at anyone’s pace except the languid pace of a man lying in bed, leisurely following the meandering paths of his own memory.
Proust always claimed that he had a bad memory and that, besides, a carefully reconstructed recollection, prompted by photos or shared reminiscences, was invariably colorless, Only an involuntary memory, triggered by a taste or smell or other sensation, could erase the passage of time and restore a past experience in its first, full effulgence.
Proust’s world was pretentious and can seem ridiculous. Proust himself was a great mimic, reducing people to fits of laughter with his impressions. He loved collecting anecdotes and gossip, grilling waiters for details (Proust was an extravagant tipper.) White says that Georg D. Painter’s Marcel Proust: A Biography, the one-volume edition, is
so amusing that it could be used as a source for a stand-up comic.
I’ll be looking into this claim.
How about Proust’s maid, Céleste?
Céleste’s great anxiety was Proust’s morning (or afternoon) coffee. It had to be ready the moment he rang for it, but the preparation took at least half an hour, since he liked the water to be dripped, drop by drop, through the grounds in order to produce the thickest, strongest possible “essence” of coffee. Nor could he bear for it to be reheated…
This is after Céleste had been standing up for hours listening to Proust recount gossip he’d collected on “rare midnight sorties,” Proust waiting til midnight to go out because he was so afraid of dust. Well, White tells us we read Proust because he knows that
only the gnarled knowledge that suffering brings us is of any real use.
Maybe Céleste pondered that while she remade the coffee.
Leaving the house was a challenge for Proust, but near the end of his life he made an outing to see Vermeer’s View of Delft:
On the night before he died Proust dictated a last sentence: “There is a Chinese patience in Vermeer’s craft.”
White tells us. Man Ray took a picture of Proust right after the author died, you can see it here if you’re so inclined. I’m told by the Met that Cocteau wrote of the scene:
Those who have seen this profile of calm, of order, of plenitude, will never forget the spectacle of an unbelievable recording device come to a stop, becoming an art object: a masterpiece of repose next to a heap of notebooks where our friend’s genius continues to live on like the wristwatch of a dead soldier.
True despair hours:
Reader Tabitha in Marin County, CA writes:
Always love your writeups on the Super Bowl coaches. What do you think of Boy Wonder Sean McVay?
Thanks for writing Tabitha! Most of what little I have to say about Sean McVay I got out on this week’s Great Debates feat. Mina Kimes. To be honest, much like the Rams themselves, McVay seems to be: good but not interesting. A sense of his vibe in this NFL.com article by Michael Silver:
As he greeted McVay in a room that would soon be vacated by Demoff, Snead and the other Rams officials present, Goff didn’t know what to expect.
“They left us alone for half an hour, maybe a little longer,” Goff recalls. “Afterward, I remember texting my dad, ‘If they decide to hire him, I’m all in.’ ”
Goff also texted an NFL Network analyst who, nearly a year later, would write a very long feature story about the league’s leading Coach of the Year candidate: “Loved him. Mini Gruden haha. Everything revolves around the QB… If McVay is the guy I’d be fired up”
Full disclosure: A few minutes later, I also got a text from McVay (who, incidentally, is not a huge fan of punctuation): “I loved him bro he is awesome”
This WashPo article compares him to other young leaders (profitlessly imo).
McVay’s grandfather John coached the New York Football Giants in the ’70s.
McVay’s girlfriend is Ukrainian model Veronika Khomyn, but a quick scan of her Instagram reveals no real insights into coaching philosophy.
Gonna give the edge here to Belichick, a special, unique weirdo. We predict a decisive Patriots win.
Let’s hope both teams control their A. P. E.s
For philosophical consideration of the Super Bowl, we return once again to the remarks of Deadwood creator David Milch on the Super Bowl and Kierkegaard:
in Bloomberg today!
High in the rocks water was collecting from the recent rains
Splashing down, pooling in the natural tanks
Saw a frog (California tree frog?) in this one.
Some of the plants out there flower in ways that seem monstrous, almost obscene
Is this a natural formation in the rock, or an ancient ruin?
More archaeology will be needed at this site.
This property was listed for sale in Malibu.
I dunno it looks like it already fell into the ocean? Anyway it’s listed for one point five million dollars.
could be good if wet rocks become the new currency.
From Bloomberg, today. What are these four contradicting claims meant to mean? Whoever composed them and put them together doesn’t know which narrative thread to follow (or invent?)
The game of trying to translate “news” into predictions about stock price movement seems fun and confusing. Maybe the best investors come close to ignoring headlines. But even Warren Buffett turns CNBC on when he arrives at his office after going to McDonald’s. (Or so he says — be careful with Buffett, he didn’t become a millionaire by not being crafty.)
Sometimes I wonder whether stock market forecasting is any improvement on the ancient Mesopotamians divining the future from sheep livers.
(image from Larry Gonick’s incredible Cartoon History of the Universe series, hope you don’t mind that I used that Larry!)
To continue my amateur studies of this topic – stock market understanding, not sheep liver reading – I started a podcast, Stocks Let’s Talk:
click to listen, six episodes so far, we are very much still in beta and trying to find what it is we are, exactly, figure ten episodes at least to get there, but each of these six has a fabulously interesting guest. Try it, let us know what you think!
Jeff and I talked about immigration, about his travels in the U.S. and then about Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. He had just read it again after finding it for a dollar at a used book shop. I told him I read it as a kid and really liked it, and wondered if it held up. Surprisingly well he said. He then moved down to the other side of the table, I think to make sure that the students could more freely engage in the conversation.
Reading some of the former Texas congressman’s travel dispatches. He was just where I was, Taos pueblo:
We walked further into the village where I was struck by the magnificent beauty of the adobe homes, built next to and on top of one another. The Pueblo was established in the 15th century, had these homes been here that long? Men were shoveling snow off of the roofs against the backdrop of the breathtaking Taos mountains in the distance. As we walked, Tina shared with me history, of the Taos people and of her family. She talked about the role of the Catholic church and of the religion of the Taos pueblo. We talked about family, the village home she had just inherited from her mother, about the role of dance in her life, about her hopes for her community and her children.
In my grandparents’ time, Debbie said after a long while, we were not allowed to go into those mountains. When Teddy Roosevelt created the national forest, he took those mountains away from us. They are sacred mountains, so you can imagine what that felt like. We had to get special permission, a pass, to go beyond the fence line into what had been our home for centuries. It was only until Richard Nixon’s administration that those lands were opened up to us again. So, she said with a laugh, while most people admire Roosevelt and detest Nixon, we feel just the opposite.
The combo of hipster travel writing and political engagement. (Is travel writing always political?) The work to demonstrate you are listening, not proclaiming. Obama’s rise was partly due to his skill as a writer, the acclaim for his self-revelatory memoirs, why shouldn’t Beto’s?
A hazard of this kind of writing, of writing your life in close sync with living it, is becoming a character you’re trying to create on the page, of enacting scenes that you might imagine will become good copy. The danger then becomes manipulating what you really thought, and felt, of trying to pilot the course of your explorations a little too much. That doesn’t work, as writing or life, it’s inauthentic, you get yourself spun around and caught in whirlpools that way.
That’s always a danger when you’re a presidential candidate. Your soul’s at hazard. Somehow it feels extra tough though when your way of getting yourself there is your show of authenticity.
When you claim to report your very thoughts, almost in realtime, you need either an extreme level of mental self-control, or to have your actual self and your presentational self in some very real and genuine and hard-earned harmony. Maybe you need both. The first is terrifying to ponder. The second is rare, difficult both technically and at like a soul level. And scary to practice for any long amount of time, like walking a mountain ledge. If you fall you will suffer, somewhere from being revealed as a phony to breaking mentally and morally.
I know we can do it. I can’t prove it, but I feel it and hear it and see it in the people I meet and talk with. I saw it all over Texas these last two years, I see it every day in El Paso. It’s in Kansas and Oklahoma. Colorado and New Mexico too. It’s not going to be easy to take the decency and kindness we find in our lives and our communities and apply it to our politics, to all the very real challenges we face. And as Tina says, it’s complicated. But a big part of it has got to be just listening to one another, learning each other’s stories, thinking “whatever affects this person, affects me.”
We’re in this together, like it or not. The alternative is to be in this apart, and that would be hell.
A way to defend against inauthenticity when you’re writing/living is to make yourself the fool of your story when you really were a fool, and everyone’s a fool sometimes. But it’s tempting to exaggerate that direction, too. Writers can make themselves look foolish but maybe presidential candidates can’t.
I left the Pueblo heading south toward Chimayo, aiming to be back in El Paso by bedtime. Snow was starting to fall. I thought about all of the places I’d seen over the last week, all of the people I’d met. Communities within communities. Nations within nations.
Would it be terrible to hear, every once in awhile, like:
I could feel horrible diarrhea coming over me coming down the 291. I was so relieved when I saw a Wendy’s in Espanola. But also troubled. I thought, ‘what if they recognize me, racing into the toilet at Wendy’s? Do I have to stop and buy something? What if buying something is when they recognize me? What if they recognize me buying something at Wendy’s and that becomes a thing, like ‘Beto O’Rourke skips local New Mexico food for corporate Frostie’? Well expedience trumped discretion in this case, I made it to the blissfully clean Wendy’s toilet a second ahead of a bottomside avalanche. I left without buying anything. Or apologizing. How could I? Should I have? I’d wonder that, on the road back to El Paso.
Good news bad news kinda thing: nobody at Wendy’s recognized me.
I can hear the Peggy Noonans groaning, that’s just what we need, to hear about candidates’ bowel movements! OK, sure, and Donald J. Trump is the president. Any candidate who wants to get the votes of anyone under forty will need to project authenticity. For anyone truly authentic, that’s not hard. Among the schemers, where will the quest for that end?
Anyway as for Beto good luck to him.