Warning: I get a bit philosophical here.
Within a Budding Grove, pp. 488-504
Marcel has gone off to Balbec-Plage, in Normandy. After, of course, much anguish about leaving his mother. I suppose it’s all meant to be very touching, but I couldn’t help thinking, “Get on with it, already!” as he moped and worried about how he’d survive in a strange town, with only his grandmother to tend him. (And, of course, the ever-loyal Françoise, who accidentally heads off on the wrong train and arrives much later in Balbec.)
He does write something worth thinking about at the beginning of this section (“Place-Names: The Place”):
… the better part of our memory exists outside ourselves…. Outside ourselves, did I say; rather within ourselves, but hidden from our eyes in an oblivion more or less prolonged. It is thanks to this oblivion alone that we can from time to time recover the creature that we were, range ourselves face to face with past events as that creature had to face them, suffer afresh because we are no longer ourselves but he, and because he loved what leaves us now indifferent. (pp. 488-489)
So, there are at least two Marcels, the “Marcel” who loved Gilberte, and the “Marcel” who doesn’t. How many different selves can there be? According to Marcel, we aren’t one self that gathers layers around it, like the grit in an oyster that becomes a pearl — instead we’re each a cast of thousands, each cast member taking its turn as star, created by a new emotion, only to be pushed off-stage by the next star.
Maybe. The backstage area must get crowded, as a person gets older. Imagine the noise and confusion! “Five minutes, 1981 broken-hearted-over-Joe self! Five minutes.” And the 1981 self pushes forward, to cameo in a brief moment of regret about that idiot Joe. Oops! Did my 1981 self try to upstage me there? “Back!” I say, “Back!”
Final great quote: “a casino, over which a flag would be snapping in the freshening breeze, like a hollow cough” (p. 503) — doesn’t bode well for the casino, does it?
I have to wonder now whether Proust’s multi-selves are one version of the multiverse — all those infinities are within us rather than in a set of parallel worlds. Walt Whitman: “I contain multitudes.”
Tomorrow: a break from WTWP for some of my own fiction.