Dreamt last night that I was in an old hotel on the banks of a grey lake, standing in the passage lined with coats hung from wrought-iron butcher’s hooks, trying to overhear a conversation between Marcel Proust and his mother who were in an adjoining room with the door nearly closed. It was hard to hear what was being said because someone in the hotel kitchen at the end of the passage was chopping lengths of taro and cucumber with a blunt knife, thudding down on the wooden chopping board like a crazed metronome. Proust’s mother was speaking English with a French accent and sighing heavily between sentences. Then a slim white cat with grey eyes sauntered into the passage and began to wind around my calves, purring loudly, so I gave up trying to eavesdrop.
How Proustian! How indicative of a lack of sustained focus, my inattentiveness, trying to take in three different scenes and sounds all at once. Last night I settled down by lamplight to go on with the first volume of Proust (Swann’s Way) and after a few moments I got up and went over to a bookcase, took down a Claudine novel by Colette and then Lyndall Gordon writing about the women around Henry James. Then I began thinking about the 19th-century hedonistic nomad Isabelle Eberhardt who escapes respectability in Switzerland to become a depraved cross-dressing kif-smoker and wanderer in North Africa, to be drowned in a flash flood at the age of 27. And all the time, piling up books next to my armchair, I was wondering about intense and claustrophobic family relationships, how we flee them and yet cannot forget or let go of them even from continents away. Forgiveness can be a fairly simple matter compared to forgetting.
So then I put all the books aside, lay down, turned off the light and fell asleep.
Later this week there will be a funeral, the death of someone who had come to stay in the village and found himself cheated of time. Passing from the hallucinatory twilight of morphine into coma and then death, slipping away as the dying so often do, when family had left him briefly, the anxious beloved faces turning away, the respite from their grief perhaps. Time to slip away..
From Anne Carson’s poem Wildly Constant
Each glacier is lit from underneath
as memory is.
Proust says memory is of two kinds.
There is the daily struggle to recall
where we put our reading glasses
and there is a deeper gust of longing
that comes up from the bottom
of the heart
At sudden times.
For surprise reasons.
Here is an excerpt from a letter Proust wrote
We think we no longer love our dead
but that is because we do not remember them:
we catch sight of an old glove
and burst into tears.
Before leaving the library
I turn off the lights.
The glaciers go dark.
Cotoneaster and pyracanthus berries turning a vivid orange and scarlet, signs of autumn on the horizon. My fluffy little white dog (Chloe) is moulting in feathery clumps that roll along the floor like dusty pale moths. On my desk, there is neatly stacked piles of completed work. Reference material to be stored away or returned, drafts that can be thrown out, copies of submitted final MSS. Now I am free to begin all over again, a new project, another pleasure that will become ordeal soon enough. For now, the relief of empty space.
Interesting if controversial article found here in New Republic on whether or not rehab works. Oddly conflated with 12-Step programs and the efficacy of AA, but raising a few penetrating questions.
“The idea of changing the life course for people with severe, recurrent forms of addiction through a time-limited intensive transformative rehab is a fatally flawed relic of ancient times. What other chronic disorder do we treat that way?”