Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Proust, Barthes, involuntary memory

Henriette Barthes died on October 25, 1979. One day later, her son Roland began a “mourning diary,” making notes on quarter-sized pieces of typing paper. Here is a note recording a moment of what Marcel Proust called involuntary memory:

                                                     May 17, 1978

Last night, a stupid, gross film, One Two Two. It was set in the period of the Stavisky scandal, which I lived through. On the whole, it brought nothing back. But all of a sudden, one detail of the décor overwhelmed me: nothing but a lamp with a pleated shade and a dangling switch. Maman made such things — around the time she was making batik. All of her leaped before my eyes.

Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary: October 26, 1977–September 15, 1979. Trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 2010).
The New Yorker has four of Barthes’s notes online, no subscription required.

[A footnote by Nathalie Léger identifies the film as 122, rue de Provence (dir. Christian Gion, 1978). Wikipedia explains the Stavisky scandal. Proust, as you might imagine, makes a number of appearances in Barthes’s notes.]

comments: 2

William V. Madison said...

Thanks for steering me to these pieces. The one in The New Yorker that got me was "'Never again' is the expression of an immortal." Whoa. No wonder my French-lit professor wanted me to write like Barthes.

(Poor woman! I disappointed her so.)

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Bill. I wish the book were in facsimile form (as with The Original of Laura). I’m looking forward to the expanded Mythologies next year.