Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Proust and the finger-snapping bit

At a social gathering, the Princesse des Laumes listens to a pianist play Liszt. She also watches Mme. de Cambremer, who is both listening and keeping time, "her head transformed into the arm of a metronome." Mme. de Cambremer sways with such force that her jewels become caught in the straps of her bodice, and she must again and again adjust the "black grapes" in her hair. Watching "the pantomime of her music-loving neighbor," the Princesse has much to consider:

She began to wonder if this gesticulation was not perhaps a necessary response to the piece being played, which did not come quite within the scope of the music she had heard up to now, if to refrain was not to give proof of incomprehension with respect to the work and impropriety toward the lady of the house: so that, in order to express both of her contradictory inclinations by a compromise, she first merely straightened up her shoulder straps or put a hand to her blond hair to secure the little balls of diamond-flecked coral or pink enamel which formed her simple and charming coiffure, while at the same time examining her ardent neighbor with cold curiosity, then with her fan she beat time for a moment, but, so as not to forfeit her independence, on the offbeat.

From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 343-44
The Princesse's effort to feign appreciation reminds me of the instructions in Duke Ellington's "finger-snapping bit," a wonderfully parodic discourse with which Ellington often ended performances. Here's one version of it, from Manchester, England, in 1969:
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. You're very beautiful, very sweet, very gracious, very generous. And this is "Satin Doll." We use it now for the purpose of giving background to this finger-snapping bit. And you are all invited to join the finger-snapping. Crazy. I see I don't have to tell you that one never snaps one's fingers on the beat. It's considered aggressive. Don't push it; just let it fall. And if you would like to be conservatively hip, then at the same time tilt the left earlobe. Establish a state of nonchalance. And if you would like to be respectably cool, then tilt the left earlobe on the beat and snap the finger on the afterbeat. And so by routining one's finger-snapping and choreographing one's earlobe-tilting, one discovers that one can become as cool as one wishes to be.

From Duke Ellington's 70th Birthday Concert (Solid State Records)
Of course, only a poseur (Mme. de Cambremer) or a square (Mme. des Laumes) would think to adopt such a mechanical set of gestures.

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

might just want to run the Ellington thing through the ol' spell checker.

Michael Leddy said...

I'm not sure what you're seeing, but all's well in this post. Princesse is the way the title's spelled in Proust. Is there something else that's off?