Sodom and Gomorrah (In Search of Lost Time, Volume 4) (UK Edition)

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But I am finding that an equally good case can be made for spacing them out. Memory is crucial to this novel; the remembrance of things past, the search for lost time. The length of the series itself makes the passing of time almost palpable; and likewise, all of Proust's sentences are microcosms of the novel as a whole, each one stretching across the page, forcing you to hold the beginning in mind as you slowly make your way to the end.

This time around, the experience of time took on an additional aspect for me. Over and over during this volume I had flashbacks of my time in Manhattan, where I read the first three volumes. Here in Madrid, as I walked to work in the pre-dawn darkness, with the tall office buildings towering over me, the past and present were woven together by the continued narrative of this novel. Well, I think I have this anxiety with respect to Proust.

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And I think this acknowledgement of my debt to him sometimes turns into resentment. I feel as though I have to find his weaknesses, what he left out, what he did wrong, to justify myself. In short, when I criticize him I suspect my own motives. First he has several bad habits—in English translation, at least—that rubbed off on me, and from which I am still trying to rid myself.

Even so, the endless barrage of lengthy sentences and the monotonous tone—and say what you will, he is not a versatile writer—can really wear you out.


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Proust can spill gallons of ink and take up twenty pages just to make you understand that Character X is sexually involved with Character Y, or that Character Z is a bit of a bore. Another thing that really grates on me is the subject matter. People accuse Jane Austen of being pinched and narrow in her focus; but Austen is a Tolstoy compared to Proust. Granted, this novel is certainly a fascinating historical document, being a sort of ethnography of a moribund form of European society although Proust is a much worse ethnographer than Austen.

But very often I cannot feel bad about the disappearance of this way of life. By this I mean his tendency to see human action through a hyper subjective lense; to see the mind as its own place, disconnected from the world around it, and people as inhabiting their own mental worlds. John Donne said: No man is an island, Entire of himself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.

Marcel Proust (1871-1922): Works in Translation

But Proust is enamored of the opposite idea, that people are islands. For him, all communication is in fact just miscommunication. He makes much ado about how one person misinterprets something said by another; he spends pages on the agonies that his narrator goes through as he puzzles over a chance remark or a small gesture. Often Proust can be a philosophical one-trick pony.


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Here is his trick: The narrator misinterprets something, acts accordingly, and then collides with the external reality; then he retreats back into himself to come up with another interpretation. Proust occupies this space, the space between perception and reality, and probes it so insistently that you question whether perception can ever be accurate. Two or three times it occurred to me, for a moment, that the world in which this room and these bookshelves were situated and in which Albertine counted for so little, was perhaps an intellectual world, which was the sole reality, and my grief something like what feel when we read a novel, of thing of which only a madman would make a lasting and permanent grief that prolonged itself through his life; that a tiny movement of my will would suffice, perhaps, to attain to that real world, to re-enter it, passing through my grief, as one breaks through a paper hoop, and to think no more about what Albertine had done than about the actions of the imaginary heroine of a novel after we have finished reading it.

Nevertheless, I think this Cartesianism limited him, both as a thinker and as a novelist. With connection to Proust, I often think of something a sociology professor said to me. The subject was intimate relations; he said: There are many methods, using personality tests and demographics, of determining whether two people are likely to have a good relationship. Some people have good chemistry, some people have bad chemistry. But it certainly seems true to my experience. And for me, some of the most talented novelists are so wonderful partially because they can capture this phenomenon of chemistry.

Consider two great writers I mentioned above, Tolstoy and Austen. Both of them, so different in many ways, are similar in their ability to describe how people change in the presence of other people; how one character brings out snobbishness in the protagonist, another coquettishness, and a third joviality. In both fiction and in life, I love to see how personalities interact.

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Because it is this experience that makes me most strongly feel that I am not an island; that I am part of the world of everyone around me, and they are a part of mine. Whew, that felt good. I needed to get all that off my chest. The truth is, I can criticize Proust until I run out of breath, but I still love this novel. And this volume is, I think, one of the stronger ones. The introduction of homosexuality into the novel added a badly needed touch of spice.

And believe it or not, a real story is starting to take shape; this volume even ends on a cliffhanger! I will allow more time to pass before moving on to the next volume. I definitely need a break from Proust, if only to push away his influence once again and regain my own voice. Until then, I will dwell on my memories. View all 20 comments.

Jun 11, Madeleine rated it really liked it Shelves: head-in-the-clouds-nose-in-a-book , maybe-it-s-time-to-live , our-libeary , , peer-pressure , there-s-no-i-in-group-read , blogophilia.

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As Sodom and Gomorrah began, our Narrator was struggling to understand the nature of homosexuals while I was alternating between reading his early-twentieth-century musings and poring over sweetly triumphant images of same-sex couples rushing to "legitimize" their long-running relationships with celebratory midnight marriages. As the strange continent of "inverts" draws horticultural allusions and comparisons to covert societies in Proust's time, the LGBTQ community is finally being recognized i As Sodom and Gomorrah began, our Narrator was struggling to understand the nature of homosexuals while I was alternating between reading his early-twentieth-century musings and poring over sweetly triumphant images of same-sex couples rushing to "legitimize" their long-running relationships with celebratory midnight marriages.

As the strange continent of "inverts" draws horticultural allusions and comparisons to covert societies in Proust's time, the LGBTQ community is finally being recognized in a way that signals the slow unravelling of ignorance and inequality in mine. I finally felt the full extent of the distance -- literal and figurative, in time and physical distance, of the real and fictionally polished -- between the richly depicted, intricately crafted images Proust used to construct his Narrator's winding halls of memory and the world to which I belong.

It was a jarring transition, for sure, but it was also a rather well-timed one: As the Narrator become increasingly aware of adult life's complicated emotions stirring inside and the societal politics constantly changing around him not to mention the slow encroachment of technology, which does cast a shroud of smoky modernization on a world previously draped in pristine laces and cloud-soft velvets , I, too, got a taste of that irrevocable shift from a reasonably expected understanding to desperate reconsideration of an ever-shifting world. This installment, sadly, is one I read in staccato bursts of precious free time.

It is unfortunate because Proust is best savored like good wine rather than chugged like cheap beer, and I fear I spent more time drunk on his beautiful words than intoxicated by his narrative insight. In those exhausted but relieved hours at home, in those stolen wedges of at-work bookwormery, in whatever few minutes were spent in quiet solitude, I clung to Proust with the desperation of a booklover in the throes of both work-related burnout and the dreaded reader's slump.

And while a frantic heart may not be the best way to approach words that are ideally enjoyed at a leisurely stroll, I do believe the Narrator's burgeoning sense of humor and need to slowly drink in his surroundings kept me grounded during chaotic times. Among the revolving door of social obligations and self-indulgent observations that seem to occupy the majority of Fictional Marcel's abundant free time, I found myself most invested in his delayed reaction to his grandmother's death. Having never known the magnitude of a transgenerational love like that which Narrator shared with his maternal grandmother, I felt his palpable grief just as keenly as the slow-arriving but no less heartrending clarity of permanent absence that hit him upon revisiting a place that once played such an important role in demonstrating the fondness and compassion that can exist between a grandmother and her grandson.

As the Narrator contemplates how different Balbec is without his beloved grandmother, as he muses on how much his own once-young mother has taken on the visage of her own mother now that the elder woman's death has left a role unfulfilled, as he retraces rooms that once were filled with his grandmother's presence, the concrete reality of past time being truly lost time came thundering down against a mostly familiar landscape that derives most of its changes from the players inhabiting it. It is odd that the grief is intense but short-lived, yes, but I couldn't help but write it off as the Narrator's decision to forge ahead with his life rather than mawkishly wallow in grief -- such are the intermittences of the heart, no?

I continue to find the romantic entanglements of these characters to be a high-school level of ridiculous. It seems like so few of the relationships presented thus far in ISOLT -- Swann and Odette; the Narrator and Gilberte and also Albertine ; Saint-Loup and Rachel -- are healthy, mutually affectionate ones, but it could also be that I have little patience for romances, even fictional ones, that are built on a foundation of obsession and possession rather than respect and genuine fondness.

And, really, the affair between Morel and Charlus isn't anything laudable, I know, but I can't help but find it one of the most believable examples of heady lust in terms of its execution and its players' emotionally fueled behaviors. There is little else but pure attraction drawing Charlus helplessly toward Morel, who can't help but take advantage of or be manipulated by, depending on your vantage point the older gentleman's affections and gifts.

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Still, the greed with which Charlus tries to keep Morel to himself while all but undressing him in public, the satisfaction he derives just from coaxing the younger musician into his presence is…. Sodom and Gomorrah struck me as proof that the memories of our past can't help but be intertwined with memories of others, a reminder that there are always multiple perspectives at play -- and that, as the ending scenes with Bloch reinforce, not everyone's assessment of a situation will always be reliable or anything more than actions born of misunderstanding a sticky situation that was handled badly because there are no do-over options in real life and things only make sense when hindsight lays down the rest of the puzzle.

ISOLT might be fictional, sure, but it is written as an account of life, and sometimes learning life's lessons means that truths can be as ugly as our lesser selves. View all 13 comments. Fluid becomes solid and then fluid again. Changing states, crossovers, transformations.

Words produce pictures that turn back into words, black marks on a white page; dots, accents, commas, shapes of letters, enter through the cornea, the retina, the optic nerve, are processed into Images, characters, narrative, scenes, landscapes, weather, tableaux, dialogue, spectacle, sensation. But Proust takes his t Fluid becomes solid and then fluid again. Just how physical the two women's intimacy was is a matter of some debate, but salacious rumours flew around Paris anyway.

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The poem treats of Samson's infatuation with Delilah, and how he was brought down by her seductive ways and ultimate betrayal. There is always one who loves, one who accepts love. One who appears strong, but is made weak by their obsessive love.