Thursday, September 29, 2005

À la recherche du Proust perdu.

Well, the Proust Pour Tous debate is really "heating up" on the Proust yahoo group. Or, at least as far as things can heat up on a yahoo book club. Let's say about 67 degrees. I know it's a bit pedantic... okay, a lot pedantic... but, I want to give the other side here. So, here is the argument for abridging Proust (in French. Sorry. I can't bitch about bastardizing the language and then bastardize the language) from a fellow who worked on it.

1/ je pense que Proust aurait aimé que ceux qui le suivent dans le temps fassent tout ce qui est en leur pouvoir pour que le public sache que la Recheche est un seul roman, et non pas comme on me dit parfois : «j’ai lu plusieurs des romans de Proust » !

It's not a matter of it being one novel though. It's a matter of it being a novel in six volumes. And I can't imagine Proust would be happy correcting that misconception (that he wrote several individual novels instead of one novel in six volumes.) in this way.

les éditeurs n’ont pas osé faire un abrégé comme le mien, mais ils publient "Jean Santeuil", un roman inachevé,ou, bien pire, les lettres de Proust, qu’il avait eul’envie de brûler. Quand on pense à la position de Proust sur le moi littéraire/ moi privé, toutes cesétudes, causeries, livres… sur sa vie le choqueraient,à mon avis, bien plus que mon bouquin (Proust « light» comme l’appelle Susan, du salon).

Well, I suppose they have published other things he would have disliked, but I'm not sure what difference that makes. The question is whether this will hurt or hinder the effect of reading the book. But, this is a book whose tone is specifically languid and reflexive- deeply reflexive. But, not what I would call "plot driven". Won't that be lost in the edit?

2/ Proust adorait les pastiches

An abridgement and a pastiche are not the same thing.

3/ Proust est mort, et dans le domaine public. Nous sommes vivants

Are you sure?

et nous avons plus à dire que lui surle sujet, c’est nous qui portons maintenant son œuvre en nous : vous souciez-vous de ce que dirait Racine, ou Shakespeare devant certaines adaptations ? non, car ils sont dans le domaine public depuis plus longtemps.

I'm sure Racine and Shakespeare would both have problems with certain adaptations though. I'd like to believe Shakespeare would have loved "West Side Story", but who can tell.

En ce qui concerne l’apathie des lecteurs, pensez-vous que les éditeurs scolaires publient tous ces abrégés juste pour gagner de l’argent ? je ne pense pas.

Well, I think there is still a profit motive amongst scholarly publishers; even though they'd have to be deluded to think they're going to get rich.

De mon temps, on lisait les extraits du Lagarde et Michard, était-ce mieux ?

All of these arguments seem to amount to "But, everyone's doing it!" I can accept that some people will come to Proust this way, even though I suspect the abridged Proust will be as bastardized as the abridged Golden Bough. What makes me uncomfortable is that Frazer was the one who abridged his work, and Proust can't. Also, I wonder what it says about us that this is what we need.


W. S. Cross said...

This is one of the most-disturbing questions you can ask a writer. But here goes:

Editing often means a merging or even the death of the individual personality. It's my understanding that Thomas Wolfe's editor extracted "Look Homeward Angel" from a huge, run-on mss. that Wolfe wrote continuously. Mozart's "Requiem" isn't even completely his work, but was patched together from sketches and outlines and completed portions. And even Shakespeare varies a good deal from edition to edition, and it's also known he would cut his plays for performances when called upon to do so.

An extracted version of Proust might bring in more readers. The question is always whether it does harm to the original. Frankly speaking, the Pleiade edition of thousands of onionskin pages IS somewhat off-putting, which helps to explain why I have never finished even volume one (that and my French isn't up to the task).

Given the publishing market, maybe getting Proust more readers isn't a bad idea? And then, maybe it is.

Rufus said...

Well, I haven't gotten through the French edition either, although the Modern Library translation is just gorgeous and I've finished that. The thing is, a large part of the experience of reading Proust is adjusting to his languid style. The adjustment is rewarded because his long, cotton-candy like sentences contain great wisdom and insight. It's entirely possible to open the book at random and find some idea or observation that alters your perception of the world. The work rewards close and patient reading. Cutting it down is a bit like saying, "Jeez, can't Hamlet just revenge his father's death in the first act?!"

I think the real problem is that publishers are entirely tuned to the market and haven't the slightest sliver of literate sensibility. Editing Proust to a sixth of the original length rewards the same sort of mental laziness that is already so deeply cherished in the publishing world. I'm sure you've experienced more Philistinism in your dealings with agents than most of us could ever stand, so no doubt, you know what I mean.

Glad to hear from you!

Anonymous said...

ce que je cherchais, merci