Saturday, June 2, 2007

Proust: names and eros

Proust's narrator dwells upon names, of places and of people. Words, for him, are generally representative, giving "little pictures of things," "like those that are hung on the walls of schools to give children an example of what a workbench is, a bird, an anthill." But names represent individuals. Thus the thrill of hearing Gilberte Swann speak his first name:

And remembering later what I had felt then, I could distinguish within it the impression that I had been held for a moment in her mouth, I myself, naked, without any of the social terms and conditions that also belonged, either to her other friends, or, when she said my family name, to my parents, and of which her lips -- in the effort she made, rather like her father, to articulate the words she wanted to emphasize -- seemed to strip me, undress me, as one removes the skin from a fruit of which only the pulp can be eaten, while her gaze, adopting the same new degree of intimacy as her words, reached me more directly also, while at the same time showing its awareness of this, its pleasure and even its gratitude, by accompanying itself with a smile.

From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 420
We never learn the narrator’s first name, though there’s a hint much later: Marcel.
Other Mlle. Swann posts
Introducing Mlle. Swann
Love and hate in Proust

All Proust posts (Pinboard)

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