Saturday, April 1, 2017

In Your Dreams: Swan song

With a twist

By Moristotle

I had a fascinating dream this week, perfect for recounting on the first day of a new month.
I was walking on a path overhanging the Atlantic with seven other people, including Mrs. Veradin (a woman of my acquaintance who gives frequent parties), Dr. Cotta (a local doctor who often attends her parties), a young man in a fez whom Dr. Cotta failed to identify, a local painter, Odele (a former girlfriend), my Grandfather William (who died in an accident the decade before I was born), and, surprisingly, Jared Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law).
    Those of the group who had reached the downward slope were no longer visible to the rest of us, who were still climbing, and what little daylight yet remained was failing, as though a black night were about to fall on us.
    Now and then the waves dashed against the cliff, and I could feel on my cheek a shower of freezing spray. Odele told me to wipe it off, but I couldn’t, and I felt confused and helpless in her company, as well as because I was in my nightshirt! I hoped that this might pass unnoticed in the darkness, but Mrs. Veradin fixed her astonished gaze upon me for an endless moment, in which I saw her face change its shape, her nose grow longer, while beneath it there sprouted a heavy moustache!
    I turned away to peer at Odele. Her cheeks were pale, with little fiery spots, her features drawn and ringed with shadows; but she looked back at me with eyes welling with affection, ready to detach themselves like tears and fall upon my face, and I felt that I loved her so much I would have liked to carry her off with me at once.
    Suddenly she turned her wrist, glanced at a tiny watch, and said, “I must go.” She took leave of everyone in the same formal manner, without taking me aside, without telling me where we were to meet that evening, or next day. I dared not ask, I would have liked to follow her, but I was obliged, without turning back in her direction, to answer with a smile some question Mrs. Veradin had addressed to me, my heart beating frantically. I was now feeling that I hated Odele, that I would gladly have crushed those eyes that, a moment ago, I had loved so dearly.
    I continued to climb with Mrs. Veradin, each step taking me farther from Odele, who was going downhill, and in the other direction. A second passed and it was many hours since she had left me. The painter remarked to me that Jared Kushner had left us immediately after Odele. “They had obviously arranged it between them,” he added; “they must have agreed to meet at the foot of the cliff. They didn’t say good-bye together, because they wanted to hide that she is his girlfriend.”
    The strange young man wearing a fez burst into tears. I endeavored to console him. “After all, she is quite right,” I said to him, drying his eyes for him and taking off the fez to make him feel more at ease. “I’ve advised her to do that, myself, a dozen times. Why be so distressed? He was obviously the man to understand her.” So I reasoned with myself, even in the dream, for I saw lucidly that the young man whom I had failed, at first, to identify, was myself also; I had distributed my own personality between two characters, “myself,” who was the central observer in the dream, and another whom I saw before me, capped with a fez. In my sleep I drew false deductions, enjoying, at the same time, such creative power that I was able to reproduce myself by a simple act of division, like certain lower organisms.
    As for Jared Kushner, some vague resemblance between him and Faulkner, who had become Odele’s lover during the time after she was my girlfriend, had made me give Faulkner Jared’s identify. But actually, in everything that Jared in my dream represented and recalled to me, it was indeed Faulkner.
    In an instant night grew black about me, an alarm rang, and local inhabitants ran past me, escaping from their blazing houses. I could hear the thunder of the surging waves, and also of my own heart, which, with equal violence, was anxiously beating in my breast. Suddenly the speed of these palpitations redoubled, I felt a pain, a nausea that was inexplicable. A man, dreadfully burned, shouted at me as he passed: “Come and ask Charles where Odele spent the night with her friend. Charles used to go about with her, and she tells him everything. It was she and her friend who started the fire.”
    But it was my wife, come to awaken me, saying: “Morris, it’s eight o’clock, and the electrician is here. I told him you would need a few minutes.”
    Her words, as they dived down through the waves of sleep in which I was submerged, did not reach my consciousness without undergoing that refraction that turns a ray of light, at the bottom of a bowl of water, into another sun, just as, a moment earlier, the sound of the door bell, swelling in the depths of my abyss of sleep into the clangor of an alarm, had engendered the episode of the fire. Meanwhile the scenery of my dream stage scattered in dust, and I opened my eyes and heard for the last time the boom of a wave in the sea, grown very distant. I touched my cheek. It was dry. And yet I could feel the sting of the cold spray, and the taste of salt on my lips. I rose, got dressed, and went to meet the electrician.


Okay, whether that was a fascinating dream or not, I need to tell you something. April Fool! It wasn’t my dream! I “adapted” it from Marcel Proust’s “Swann in Love” section of Remembrance of Things Past [pp. 411-414 of Volume One of the Moncrieff/Kilmartin translation, 1981]. In that fictional dream1, “I” am Swann, “Mrs. Veradin” is Mme. Verdurin, “Dr. Cotta” is Dr. Cottard, “Odele” is Odette, with whom Swann was obsessively in love for a number of years and fathered a daughter, “my Grandfather William” is the narrator’s grandfather, who had been a friend of Swann’s father, “Jared Kushner” is Napoleon III, “Faulkner” is Forcheville, a lover of Odette’s, and “Charles” is Charlus, a friend of Swann and Odette. Also, “my wife” is Swann’s valet, and “the electrician” is Swann’s barber.
    That was my poor attempt at an April Fools’ joke2. Jared Kushner’s appearing in it had you going, though, didn’t it?

But, to my mind, Proust provides a much better joke on the page following Swann’s dream. For, the section concludes with Swann’s crying out:
To think that I have wasted years of my life, that I have longed for death, that the greatest love that I have ever known has been for a woman who did not please me, who was not in my style! [emphasis mine]
_______________
  1. Swann’s dream:
...He was destined to see her once again, a few weeks later. It was while he was asleep, in the twilight of a dream. He was walking with Mme. Verdurin, Dr. Cottard, a young man in a fez whom he failed to identify, the painter, Odette, Napoleon III and my grandfather, along a path which followed the line of the coast, and overhung the sea, now at a great height, now by a few feet only, so that they were continually going up and down; those of the party who had reached the downward slope were no longer visible to those who were still climbing; what little daylight yet remained was failing, and it seemed as though a black night was immediately to fall on them. Now and then the waves dashed against the cliff, and Swann could feel on his cheek a shower of freezing spray. Odette told him to wipe this off, but he could not, and felt confused and helpless in her company, as well as because he was in his nightshirt. He hoped that, in the darkness, this might pass unnoticed; Mme. Verdurin, however, fixed her astonished gaze upon him for an endless moment, in which he saw her face change its shape, her nose grow longer, while beneath it there sprouted a heavy moustache. He turned away to examine Odette; her cheeks were pale, with little fiery spots, her features drawn and ringed with shadows; but she looked back at him with eyes welling with affection, ready to detach themselves like tears and to fall upon his face, and he felt that he loved her so much that he would have liked to carry her off with him at once. Suddenly Odette turned her wrist, glanced at a tiny watch, and said: “I must go.” She took leave of everyone, in the same formal manner, without taking Swann aside, without telling him where they were to meet that evening, or next day. He dared not ask, he would have liked to follow her, he was obliged, without turning back in her direction, to answer with a smile some question by Mme. Verdurin; but his heart was frantically beating, he felt that he now hated Odette, he would gladly have crushed those eyes which, a moment ago, he had loved so dearly, have torn the blood into those lifeless cheeks. He continued to climb with Mme. Verdurin, that is to say that each step took him farther from Odette, who was going downhill, and in the other direction. A second passed and it was many hours since she had left him. The painter remarked to Swann that Napoleon III had eclipsed himself immediately after Odette. “They had obviously arranged it between them,” he added; “they must have agreed to meet at the foot of the cliff, but they wouldn’t say good-bye together; it might have looked odd. She is his mistress.” The strange young man burst into tears. Swann endeavoured to console him. “After all, she is quite right,” he said to the young man, drying his eyes for him and taking off the fez to make him feel more at ease. “I’ve advised her to do that, myself, a dozen times. Why be so distressed? He was obviously the man to understand her.” So Swann reasoned with himself, for the young man whom he had failed, at first, to identify, was himself also; like certain novelists, he had distributed his own personality between two characters, him who was the ‘first person’ in the dream, and another whom he saw before him, capped with a fez.
    As for Napoleon III, it was to Forcheville that some vague association of ideas, then a certain modification of the Baron’s usual physiognomy, and lastly the broad ribbon of the Legion of Honour across his breast, had made Swann give that name; but actually, and in everything that the person who appeared in his dream represented and recalled to him, it was indeed Forcheville. For, from an incomplete and changing set of images, Swann in his sleep drew false deductions, enjoying, at the same time, such creative power that he was able to reproduce himself by a simple act of division, like certain lower organisms; with the warmth that he felt in his own palm he modeled the hollow of a strange hand which he thought that he was clasping, and out of feelings and impressions of which he was not yet conscious, he brought about sudden vicissitudes which, by a chain of logical sequences, would produce, at definite points in his dream, the person required to receive his love or to startle him awake. In an instant night grew black about him; an alarum rang, the inhabitants ran past him, escaping from their blazing houses; he could hear the thunder of the surging waves, and also of his own heart, which, with equal violence, was anxiously beating in his breast. Suddenly the speed of these palpitations redoubled, he felt a pain, a nausea that were inexplicable; a peasant, dreadfully burned, flung at him as he passed: “Come and ask Charlus where Odette spent the night with her friend. He used to go about with her, and she tells him everything. It was they that started the fire.” It was his valet, come to awaken him, and saying–”
    “Sir, it is eight o’clock, and the barber is here. I have told him to call again in an hour.”
    But these words, as they dived down through the waves of sleep in which Swann was submerged, did not reach his consciousness without undergoing that refraction which turns a ray of light, at the bottom of a bowl of water, into another sun; just as, a moment earlier, the sound of the door-bell, swelling in the depths of his abyss of sleep into the clangour of an alarum, had engendered the episode of the fire. Meanwhile the scenery of his dream-stage scattered in dust, he opened his eyes, heard for the last time the boom of a wave in the sea, grown very distant. He touched his cheek. It was dry. And yet he could feel the sting of the cold spray, and the taste of salt on his lips. He rose, and dressed himself....
  1. To quote the Wikipedia article, “April Fools’ Day”:
...celebrated every year on April 1 by playing practical jokes and spreading hoaxes. The jokes and their victims are called April fools. People playing April Fool jokes expose their prank by shouting “April Fool!” Some newspapers, magazines, and other published media report fake stories, which are usually explained the next day or below the news section in small letters. Although popular since the 19th century, the day is not a public holiday in any country.
Copyright © 2017 by Moristotle

3 comments:

  1. As you who may have doubted my resolve to stay with my reading of Proust's "In Search of Lost Time" can now see, the reading is making good progress!

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  2. The detail which strikes me is why did Mme. Verdurin sprout a long nose and mustache?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, most curious. Proust doesn't explain it. But I suppose that a clever graduate student somewhere has concocted a theory based on extra close textual analysis.

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