Gloss on a Passage From Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way
Text1 Commentary Image
When a man is asleep, he has in a circle round him the chain of the hours, the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly bodies. Instinctively he consults them when he awakes, and in an instant reads off his own position on the earth’s surface and the time that has elapsed during his slumbers; but this ordered procession is apt to grow confused, and to break its ranks. Wrapped more tightly than
a tourniquet
wound round heaven, instinct
conducts us, bloody
placenta of
dream dripping
memories.
Arise–
Unconsciousness.
The cat
is purring
until
the two year
old pulls
its tail. Then
it is
transformé.
Suppose that, towards morning, after a night of insomnia, sleep descends upon him while he is reading, in quite a different position from that in which he normally goes to sleep, he has only to lift his arm to arrest the sun and turn it back in its course, and, at the moment of waking, he will have no idea of the time, but will conclude that he has just gone to bed. Book slips through fingers
the foggy mind
remembers, dreamless, until
the smell of morning
lures consciousness
to mistakes;
memories
arise,
ready to sleep.
I watch
the dog play
in snow,
a frosted
streak of
umber. Or
is it
a small child?
Or suppose that he dozes off in some even more abnormal and divergent position, sitting in an armchair, for instance, after dinner: then the world will go hurtling out of orbit, the magic chair will carry him at full speed through time and space, and when he opens his eyes again he will imagine that he went to sleep months earlier in another place. Off our rocker we
slip, merge, emerge,
engaging the globe in sense,
sensing the smell of
sorcery or
physics or
memories.
Arise.
History lives.
The smell
of roasted
turkey
and the feel–
the rough
armchair gives
me back
my childhood.
But for me it was enough if, in my own bed, my sleep was so heavy as completely to relax my consciousness; for then I lost all sense of the place in which I had gone to sleep, and when I awoke in the middle of the night, not knowing where I was, I could not even be sure at first who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may lurk and flicker in the depths of an animal’s consciousness; Make it personal.
Tie it to me
with duct tape and still lose it:
identity. Eyes
darting this way
and that way–
Who am I?
Arise
and be defined.
In dark,
the candles,
wax gone,
still flicker,
float on
fumes. The smell:
nightmare
of cavemen.
I was more destitute than the cave-dweller; but then the memory–not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I had lived and might now very possibly be–would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being, from which I could never have escaped by myself: in a flash I would traverse centuries of civilization, and out of a blurred glimpse of oil-lamps, then of shirts with turned down collars, would gradually piece together the original components of my ego. The chasm surrounds me
echos of past
times, lives, loves, places, faces
cross my mind. I climb
from life to place,
place to face,
face to love.
Arise,
reconstructed.
Hole–cracked
earth, and roots
cut off
roughly. Hear,
above,
the finch. Feel
water drip
down your back.

1 Text is taken from Proust, Marcel. Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time. Trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff et. al. New York: Modern Library, 1998. 4-5. The original text is a single paragraph. I broke it up into the divisions above.

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