The narrator has been looking at the work of the painter Elstir. If you've been reading Proust, here's something to ponder: M. Swann, we're told several times, sees reality in terms of paintings. As does, in this passage, the narrator. Exactly how does the narrator's seeing differ from Swann's? What relationship between painting and reality holds for each?
Since seeing such things in the watercolors of Elstir, I enjoyed noticing them in reality, glimpses of poetry as they seemed: knives lying askew in halted gestures; the tent of a used napkin, within which the sun has secreted its yellow velvet; the half-emptied glass showing better the noble widening of its lines, the undrunk wine darkening it, but glinting with lights, inside the translucent glaze seemingly made from condensed daylight; volumes displaced, and liquids transmuted, by angles of illumination; the deterioration of plums, green to blue, blue to gold, in the fruit dish already half plundered; the wandering of the old-fashioned chairs, which twice a day take their places again around the cloth draping the table as though it is an altar for the celebration of the sanctity of appetite, with a few drops of lustral water left in oyster shells like little stone fonts; I tried to find beauty where I had never thought it might be found, in the most ordinary things, in the profound life of "still life."
From In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, translated by James Grieve (New York: Penguin, 2002), 448-49
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