Monday, July 2, 2007

Proust: items in series

Proust has a fondness for listing items in series. These collocations are always surprising and exciting in their inventiveness, their heterogeneity, and their precision.

A gesture of Françoise's: "modest, furtive, and delighted."

A group of noblemen: "obscure, clerical, and narrow-minded."

A marquis in a metaphorical aquarium: "venerable, wheezy, and moss-covered."

The elements holding together the "ephemeral panorama" of aristocrats at the theater: "attentiveness, heat, dizziness, dust, elegance, and boredom."

Quotations from Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way, translated by Mark Treharne (New York: Penguin, 2002), 13, 26, 37, 48

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comments: 3

Lee said...

Yes, and I always wonder what an average editor - or creative writing tutor? - would make of just these lists. Proust is an author who not only teaches and inspires, but gives permission to a writer. You wrote once, I recall, that reading Proust changes you - how true.

Michael Leddy said...

That's a good question. Whatever goes against conventional wisdom — "adjectives bleed nouns" (Strunk and White?) — is not likely to get much encouragment. I love the way Proust's work refutes that conventional wisdom. With his lists, each word invites us to see the thing in another light, from another angle.

I think Proust's example inspired a phrase in an essay I wrote last year: "a quirky, lightly comic, extra piece of detail."

PH said...

I can't keep myself from making lists in my writing. It gives things such a nice rhythm.

The problem is you don't ever want to stop the story--I had a great writing teacher who would always tell us to "kill all our darlings."

Neat post.