Sunday, January 30, 2011

Music: itsnotyouitsme at The Stone on December 2, 2010

itsnotyouitsme comprises Caleb Burhans and Grey McMurray on violin and guitar with lots of wires and electronic doo-dads. This night, they played an hour of ambient chamber music, accompanied by singer Theo Bleckmann and bassist Skuli Sverrisson at a strange and wonderful little venue called The Stone, a stripped-down, music-only (that is, no bar, no t-shirts, no ticket processing fees) venue spearheaded by experimentalist John Zorn.

When I describe the experience as ambient chamber music, I mean less that their sound is a combination of "ambient" and "chamber" genres, and more that the music they made generated an enclosed, vibrating space, a warm womb of sound that cradled themselves with their small audience, as if twins in a shared amniotic sac (though we were perhaps 20 persons all together, we were as if two bodies, curling together). And as a mother's womb protects her developing seed from the exterior world, while feeding it transmuted information from that dark, cold place, so the musicians caught the sounds penetrating The Stone (an ambulance's siren, the honking of horns), and seamlessly (clairvoyant mages of sound that they are) made those sounds an essential aspect of the music, weaving them into the melting pulses of Theo's mouthings, Caleb's pluckings, Grey and Skuli's detailed working of strings.

For an hour, we drifted deeply into our shared self, emerging with blinking eyes as if from a salty, red bath, in which we swam with gills, sliding into and out of each other.

Books: Molly, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, by Samuel Beckett

Wary of another series, but hungering for something direct and raw after eight months of Proust’s ornate, insubstantial machinations, I sought my savior in Beckett. Only the desperate go to Beckett for hope. Along with How It Is, which I had already read years ago, I picked up his “acclaimed” trilogy (as acclaimed as such a text, as you will see, can be) of Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable. The three progressively have less and less narrative, and become more and more despondent, and more and more difficult to read. One feels Beckett approaching (on his belly, through the mud) toward the stripped-down How It Is.

Molloy, the most accessible of the three, is a kind of noir detective tale, taken from the hardboiled American writers of the 1940s and unraveling instead in the twisting, repeating, snake-eat-tail mind of Robbe-Grillet, infused with the bare Irish desperation of the actual author. A socially awkward, duty-bound detective called Moran, resting in his garden on his day off, gets an assignment that he does not understand, but must take on. Rather than planning his next actions methodically as he is accustomed, almost as if he were bewitched or enchanted, he sets off that very night without a plan. Before leaving, he is cruel to his maid, as well as his son, whom he takes with him on the journey, departing after midnight in an absurd suit of clothes without any appropriate supplies for a long journey. They are looking for Molloy, a man with stiffened legs who carries a stick, and who has already narrated his own substantial portion of the novella. Molloy rides a bicycle, though as his legs have stiffened, it is becoming increasingly impossible to use it. On the road, camping at night, and covering great mileage by day, the detective continues his cruelty to his son. All the while, he is feeling increasingly strange, weak, and stiff. One day, he sends his son to a village ten miles away to procure a bicycle, which leaves himself alone at camp for three days. His legs are so stiff he can barely walk. His camp is attacked; he thinks, by Malloy. He becomes increasingly mad. Though his son returns, he does not stay long. Molloy wakes up one morning alone, legs stiffened, with a half-busted bicycle, a stick on which to lean, and all of his money gone. Did I say Malloy? I meant the detective Moran. But now, hasn’t Moran become the very Malloy he was seeking? Wandering aimlessly in the woods, alone, schizophrenic?

Who is the man we encounter in Malone Dies? Presumably some other man, called Malone, and yet, he too has a stick. His body has further deteriorated, to the point that he does not move from his bed. He doesn’t know how he has gotten there, only that he is there, and will be there until he dies. He has been there as long as he can remember. He has a notebook and the nub of a pencil, and he makes up bits of stories to pass the time. Is he telling his own story? Perhaps. He doesn’t think so. In the past, there was a kind old lady who brought him a bowl of soup each day, and emptied his full chamber-pot. As the years went by, she stopped entering the room, but still thrust her thin, yellowed hand through the doorway to put a bowl of soup and the empty chamber pot on the rolling table by the door, taking away the prior day’s full pot and empty dish. Mallone used his stick to reach across the room from bed and hook the table, rolling it to his side, then flinging it away when he was done. But now, no new soup comes, and no one empties the chamber pot. Luckily, as he isn’t eating, he has no need for it. He only has need for his exercise book and his pencil stub, writing every waking thought, recounting every dream, writing every breath until his very last breath and then

And who is the man, if we can call him a man, who narrates The Unnamable? Who remembers the Malloys, the Malones, the Murphys (a previous novel of Beckett’s, which I’ve not yet read), but now “lives” (if you choose to call it that) in a mutating but indiscriminate space, a box, a jar, nowhere, a place where everything is gray, but it is not dark, though it is not light, where there is just enough light to keep one conscious, just enough noise to prevent silence? He hasn’t really a body, though he has eyes, which he cannot close. He hasn’t a voice that speaks aloud, but he narrates, presumably inside his head, to us unendingly; in fact, for nearly 110 pages without line or paragraph break, for the last 30 or so pages, without so much as a period. He calls himself Mahood for a time, then Worm, but in the end admits that even those are sham identities (for he is, of course, unnameable, in an unnameable place, and an unnameable state). Dead? Is this the afterlife, lacking in all the succor we are promised? Perhaps. His last words? "you must say words, as long as there are any, until they find me, until they say me, strange pain, strange sin, you must go on, perhaps it's done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on." And with that, he stops.

Connecting The Unnamable back up with Molloy and through to Malone Dies, witness the early pages of Molloy, in which a narrator who doesn't seem to be either Molloy or Moran describes his state, living in his mother's room, not knowing how he got to be there, writing words on pages, which are taken away by a man who comes every week and gives him money for those pages ("So many pages, so much money.") Molloy, later, before he has gone completely mad, crawling through the woods on his belly, has been pedaling his stiff leg against his bicycle in hopes of making it back to visit his mother. Is the thin, yellow hand that penetrates Malone's room daily the hand of his mother, he being one and the same as Molloy? Moran, too, at the start and end of his section of Molloy sits at a desk, writing a report, that report being the contents of his portion of the novella, at the end of which his madness and/or transition into Molloy is somewhat uncertain; presaging the uncertain state of The Unnamable, he tells us, "Then I went back into the house and wrote, [']It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows.['] It was not midnight. It was not raining." I insert these bracketed quotation marks to notify you that these are the opening sentences of Moran's chapter of Molloy; here our Robbe-Grillet ouroboros, a small one coiled in a larger one.

Movies: The Social Network

Not being particularly interested in Facebook (though I have a profile on it), or any form of living life online (despite the blogging—really, I see no discrepancy there), I had no drive to see The Social Network, but I found myself watching it on an airplane nevertheless. For an airplane movie, it was brilliant; completely absorbing, with a requisite cast of teenage antics (for some reason, I prefer to watch young people in my airplane movies; you will not catch me watching any of those stuffy English period dramas, like The King’s Speech, on an airplane).

The film is structured with flashback, and might be the very first film I’ve seen structured that way that did not completely gall me. How is it that Fincher does this more successfully than, say, Van Sant in Milk or Boyle in Slumdog Millionaire? Perhaps it’s that the flashing back is only to a year or two prior. Perhaps it’s that the flashback sequences are of substantial enough length and content to avoid that awful sense of watching a series of Gap commercials rather than a coherent film. Perhaps it’s just a story worth telling, with a finely-structured screenplay. In any case, this is a very serviceable film. Artistically groundbreaking? No. Emotionally intense? Not really. But quite direct, competent, and appreciably limpid in a moment when other films are either filled with explosions or violence or fantasy or period costumes or mysterious malevolent forces or all of the above. I appreciate clean storytelling at a time like this. It’s surprisingly brave.

A point to be made that has only tangentially to do with the film: Facebook was the creation of shallow teenagers with poor social skills, by shallow teenagers with poor social skills, for shallow teenagers with poor social skills. As we use it more and more to "live" our lives, we become more and more shallow, and our social skills become poorer and poorer. Online living is unhealthy and I am vehemently opposed to it.

Movies: Black Swan

I worry about Darren Aronofsky. It seems that each of his movies culminates with the protagonist cutting him or herself apart to relieve whatever endemic psychosickness lurks inside. I worry that some endemic psychosickness lurks inside of Darren.

Black Swan, like The Wrestler, is of manageable proportion for the director (as things were spinning a bit out of control when his greater ambitions led him from Requiem For a Dream to the baggy and confusing The Fountain). In fact, Black Swan is almost a remake of The Wrestler, the same character arc set on a well-cultured young woman rather than a low-class older man. The Wrestler’s violence is externalized, where the ballerina’s violence is internalized, but both give the director the opportunity to sink into that dark space of self-abuse and destruction.

While watching the film, I wasn’t particularly taken by any aspect; being as catty as some of the ballerinas, I found myself not liking Natalie Portman’s make-up in the final scene, not liking Natalie Portman in general (I never really have). But the movie has had an unexpected staying power, and weeks later, memories of scenes keep bubbling up. The real attraction of the film is Mila Kunis, who has the scratchy sex appeal of young Angelina Jolie, in, say, Gone in 60 Seconds or Girl, Interrupted. Cast to seduce Natalie Portman, she seduces us all, mostly in the rehearsal scene where she dances, her hair down, her technique subsumed in free emotion.

My most common gripe with dance movies is poor dancing, but Aronofsky, surprisingly, gets it right. I quit ballet fairly early, weighing too much to go up on pointe (to clarify, I was thin, but not slight, which is the physical requirement). But, I stayed a dancer, and a critical observer of dancers, and felt throughout The Black Swan, in spite of our protagonist’s mental illness, a tearing nostalgia, a longing to dance—but like Mila, not Natalie.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Books: How It Is, by Samuel Beckett

As an additional antidote to eight months of Proust, I chose Samuel Beckett. There is enough that I want to read that I don't usually reread anything, but I was describing How It Is, which I read for a college course on the contemporary novel, to a friend, and thought that it was a small enough book that it wouldn't hurt to revisit it.

I remembered it fondly; at least, I thought fondly of what I remembered, to be more precise. I remembered the book being about a worm called Bom, who crawls, for the novel's duration, through the mud, on his belly, carrying a sack. I remember the book being divided into three parts: before Pim, with Pim, and after Pim, Pim being a companion upon whom Bom one day comes, and who abuses Bom for a time by beating and biting and poking him, prior to disappearing.

Rereading clarified one key thing, which is that Bom, the narrator, is in fact the aggressor, who clobbers Pim on the head ("thump on skull"), digs his nails into Pim's armpits ("less pads than nails second cry of fright"), beats his organs ("with a pestle bang on the right kidney"), and sodomizes him with a can opener ("opener in the arse," later abbreviated to "opener arse") normally kept in the sack for the tinned food they eat. I also realized that Bom was less a worm than a worm-ish man, for he describes having arms and legs ("right arm right leg push pull"), a head and neck around which the sack is tied, and teeth between which he sometimes clutches the sack. He cannot speak, but Pim can. They are men, if men who crawl in mud, which mud may be their own shit. Bom considers this possibility, but isn't sure.

I've not yet mentioned that the book has no punctuation, and no capital letters at the beginnings of phrases (proper names, like Bom and Pim, are capitalized, as are certain phrases spoken with emphasis ("DO YOU LOVE ME CUNT no")). This does add to the sensation of crawling on one's belly through mud, obviously. But it also allows for a strangely wonderful, ghostly rhythm, should you read it aloud and intelligently.

This is not my favorite work of Beckett's; I haven't a problem with its being difficult—I am willing to suffer that—but I don't think that its repetition is always successful; it's boggy and lags in places, where Waiting for Godot, for example, is taut. Still, the concept, the essence, is cruelly incisive and brilliant, and quite beautiful, for all of its horror. It's better when read aloud.

Books: Airships, by Barry Hannah

After finishing Proust, I thought that this book of short stories by Southern "writer's writer" Hannah would be a good antidote. And it did its duty in that it was blunt, masculine, and violent. The first few stories, especially Love Too Long, really did me. Hannah's stuttering staccato skips the superficial surface of a deep pain: "All I can do is move from chair to chair with a cigarette. I wear shades. I can't read a magazine." Then, "I want to rip her arm off. I want to sleep in her uterus with my foot hanging out. Some nights she lets me lick her ears and knees. I can't talk about it." Damn, he is good.

But then, he goes on. There are these weird Civil War stories, about rebel soldiers on horses killing people. There are racial epithets. There's a guy who kills a girl in a graveyard. It's dark. He pushes me too far. And he is also sort of dull. When he's on, he's on, but he is not always on. He is not the writer's writer he has been described to be. He is just a regular writer, who one time out of ten really hits the mark. Read his best ones anthologized with other middling writers' bests; he's not a Flannery O'Connor, warranting your sustained and concentrated dedication.

Movies: The Mission

My Jesuit high school must have done a far better job of indoctrinating me than I thought at the time, because I found this film incredibly upsetting. Set in 18th Century South America, the story poses a set of moral challenges for its characters and thus its audience, for which Christian theology has clear answers, the Catholic church its own considerations, and human politics some additional complications.

Jeremy Irons is Father Gabriel, the film's Christ-like figure, a Jesuit missionary who has established rapport with a geographically isolated native tribe. He has taught them about God without shaming them; they remain naked and painted, but live in loving community. They have build a modest church, and he has taught them to sing and play musical instruments. The money generated by their labor goes back into the community.

Robert De Niro is Rodrigo Mendoza, an enemy at first to these natives, whom he captures and sells to the Portuguese as slaves. But after killing his brother in a duel over a woman, he is racked by guilt. He imprisons himself, and languishes for six months before Father Gabriel comes, and challenges him to seek forgiveness. Mendoza challenges the Father to accept his likely failure. The deal is done, and Gabriel brings Mendoza to the village atop the waterfall; a journey the haunted man makes carrying all of his metal armor and weaponry in a sack tied from ropes, wrapped around his chest. He carries his burden for days, climbing wet mountains, until one of Gabriel's fellow priests decides it is enough, and severs the cord. Relentless, Mendoza goes back down to where his penance has fallen, reties it to himself, and sets out again to climb the mountain. He is not free until they reach the village, and a native, recognizing the slave-trader turned penitent, cuts the cord. Mendoza becomes a priest, working alongside Gabriel to bring the village closer to God's kingdom on earth.

Political machinations, however, threaten their work. Spain (a Catholic country that does not allow slavery) proposes to cede this land to Portugal (a country that does allow slavery, whose colonies are in fact built upon it). A Cardinal is sent by the Catholic church to inspect the missions of the area, and though he is moved by the Jesuit's achievements, he nevertheless allows the Spanish government to pass the lands to the Portuguese (a political choice, the threat being that, if he doesn't, Portugal will expel the Jesuit order). From a moral point of view, this is the wrong choice: the preservation of an institution, even a religious institution, is of less consequence than the preservation of a population, particularly this sort of a population (cf. the Beatitudes: blessed are the poor, the meek, the pure of heart; those that hunger and thirst after righteousness).

The next moral decision is that of the missionaries and natives: when the Portugese soldiers come, will they peacefully stand their ground, or will they fight? The Catholic Church offers a Doctrine of Just War, with four requirements: 1) the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; 2) all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; 3) there must be serious prospects of success; 4) the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

Mendoza takes up his arms. Father Gabriel chooses not to fight. Mendoza asks Gabriel for his blessing, but the Father will not give it. He says, "If might is right, than love has no place in the world." While he acknowledges that this might be the world in which they live, he sticks strongly to Christ's instruction to turn the other cheek, and refuses to take up arms. Mendoza, at least so far as the Just War Doctrine is concerned, would be justified in taking up arms, except that he has not point three on his side. The Portuguese soldiers slaughter the natives, who die with blood on their hands, having killed soldiers themselves to protect their home. And in the end, Gabriel, standing in front of the church with one hundred women and children, leads them singing to their slaughter.

What fills me with anger and confusion is the willingness of each Portuguese soldier to follow through with his "duty" and slaughter these innocents. Christ's way to reach these men would be to approach each individual, arms open in loving acceptance, offering forgiveness for the action he is about to take, and perhaps thus preventing it. That is to say, each soldier needed what Mendoza was given, not what Mendoza chooses to give. He has, thus, not completely learned Gabriel's lesson, and dies still ignorant, defiant as we by nature are.

Dance: Alvin Ailey at City Center

Alvin Ailey has long been my favorite dance company. I like to say that when God created man, he created Ailey dancers; certainly, this is humanity achieving its full genetic potential, at least so far as the physical body is concerned. I still feel this way about the quintessential Ailey dancer, but dare I say that the company is not what it was ten years ago, when I saw Revelations for the first time? The program for December 15, 2010 was perhaps just poorly chosen, or even poorly rehearsed. Perhaps the inclusion of live musicians from Jazz at Lincoln Center was a distraction for the dancers, or the producers. Perhaps Judith Jameson is quite tired now, ready to pass her baton to successor Robert Battle. I am looking forward to his tenure, for his featured choreography this evening reminded me of the essence of Ailey: humanity, a thing raw and divine.

The evening began with Three Black Kings, a 1976 work of Ailey's, unfortunately showcasing the worst aspects of the era and the choreographer. The three sections, inspired by King Balthazar, King Solomon, and Martin Luther King, clearly evoked none of these characters, but were instead a confusing parade of slow and plodding extensions and hero-worshipping gestures. It wasn't until after I read the program during intermission that I understood the structure (one given not by Ailey, but by composer Duke Ellington). In this case, I think a less illustrative presentation would have been more successful.

The program improved with Episodes, a piece choreographed by Ulysses Dove in 1987. Unlike the previous piece, this one highlighted the best qualities of its era. Think of a very elevated Flashdance, and you will have some indication of the tone of Episodes. A dark stage with strong bands of light and a spare, booming score by Robert Ruggieri create a plot-less space for conditioned bodies to appear either singly or in pairs, raging alone or against each other. There are undercurrents of hardened sexuality—not sensuality—that I imagined pushed the 1980s envelope, and remain powerful now, if not shocking as then.

Onto In/Side, the Robert Battle-choreographed solo performed exquisitely by Jamar Roberts, the creature I told you God fashioned when he molded Adam from the mud. This was the shortest piece of the evening—Roberts danced for the duration of Nina Simone's Wild is the Wind—but one in which every moment was sacred and to be savored. Here, the body is something organic and foreign, animal and alien, earthen and electric. Tissues are networked with synapses, and a human emerges from the womb of the earth enormous, ungainly, tipping at the precipice, grasping for his inherent nobility. For three entire minutes, my breath stopped still in my throat. This is what humanity is, is meant to be, when you strip away television and cars and jobs and suits and houses and cell phones and all of that crap, even books, and criticism, and philosophy, and nobler intellectual pursuits. This is ur-choreography. This is what we are, raw: deeply emoting bodies, grasping in the dark.

The show would have done to finish on this strong point, but instead, Billy Wilson's 1992 The Winter in Lisbon was tacked onto the end. This is a not particularly interesting or meaningful piece, a Latin-flavored bit of fluff, the kind of thing I've seen done before—and with far better result—by Ballet Hispanico and others. Most offensively, the piece featured "Moe," the one eyesore in the company, who desperately needs a haircut, along with some intensive training to drop his shoulders and raise his extension. I do not know why he is a part of the company. He stood out, even in Three Black Kings, as being out of rhythm with the rest of the group. His chest hunkers in, rather than radiating proudly, as an Ailey dancer's must. Even in his press photo, his head juts forward of his shoulders, like a turtle's, rather than sitting proudly on his neck, like that of every other dancer's. He was so distractingly bad as to appear to be an emergency understudy, but it seems he has danced with the company since 1994. Perhaps it is time for him to retire.

Books: In Search of Lost Time Volume Seven: Time Regained, by Marcel Proust

It took me eight months, but I have read all of it.

Time Regained is a volume very different from Proust's others. First, the narrators steps, for a moment, outside of his interior world of intimate desire and suffering to acknowledge France's participation in World War I. This is an abrupt change of scale for Proust. True, he had described politics earlier, dedicating much space to the Dreyfus Affair, for example, but politics in previous volumes was only a social plaything, a ball to bat back and forth across the table at dinner parties, a means by which to include or exclude a person from your list of invitations. Now, bombs drop on the city. Soldiers occupy Gilberte's country estate. Saint-Loup dies at war.

Another surprising intensification is Proust's description of homosexual activities. Previously, Marcel had satisfied himself with peering through the proverbial keyhole. While he still does not come forth and admit any personal homosexual desires, he does enter, uninvited, a kind of brothel-cum-dungeon hidden in an apartment house. More the thing you would expect to find in Berlin than Paris, this is a boarding house run by Jupien where Charlus pays to be chained to an iron bed frame in an upstairs room, and beaten by soldiers (who seem generally disinterested in the work, except that it pays well enough). Marcel sees Saint-Loup going into this same place (before his death, of course), and is, somewhat surprisingly, quite hurt by it.

The third, and perhaps most abrupt shift in this volume is that of time. Rather than being "regained" as the title implies, it at last passes, is acknowledged as lost. From volumes one through six, Marcel remains a child. Certainly, he is old enough to keep a woman at home, but he lives always with his parents, he indulges constantly in his own puerile frustrations, and he belabors every passing day with hundreds of sentences, sometimes spending one hundred pages to describe a three-hour dinner party. But in Time Regained, which seems to start with a Marcel of twenty-something (which he has been for the past four volumes, I think), one page turn brings our narrator to a party which he thinks at first is a costume ball, for everyone is dressed as if they were a geriatric. They are, at first, unrecognizable. True, Marcel had given up society throughout The Captive, for he spent his time locked in his bedroom, worrying over Albertine's fidelity, and he didn't pay any visits in Paris throughout The Fugitive, spending the greater part of the volume in Venice with his mother. And he admits, in the early page of Time Regained,that he had to spend some time in the sanitarium, and not just once. If we do the math, subtracting the Dreyfus Affair (1894) from World War I (1914), we see in fact that twenty years have elapsed between The Guermantes Way and Time Regained, but we don't sense that passage until now, when Marcel realizes rather suddenly that he is no longer young.

With that realization comes the bookend to the famous madeleine incident in Swann's Way (the initial volume), which I'm not ashamed to admit I found somewhat dull. Perhaps I am still too young to appreciate these sentimental musings on time and memory, but I would rather say that Proust's strength is as an imagist. Take, for example, the one sentence that I noted from this final volume: "For in this world of ours where everything withers, everything perishes, there is a thing that decays, that crumbles into dust even more completely, leaving behind still fewer traces of itself, than beauty: namely grief." I don't believe the man for a moment, for I've never encountered an author who grieves with such excessive labor as this one. But what is most appealing about the sentence is not the distilled essence of his argument (which is completely flawed), but the vision he presents: dusk on a day in early winter, scraps of brown leaves, ashes swept into a corner by the wind.

After investing eight months in reading this man's oeuvre, my time too is lost rather than regained. I take away ten or fifteen fine specimens of sentences, and some surprise that in over 4,000 pages of very personal writing, the author keeps from us his homosexuality, instead painting a cruel caricature of the homosexuals he encounters in society. Most importantly, I take away the right to say I have read it all, and deem in unworthy of such a reading. I think a strong and poignant novel of 300-500 pages lurks somewhere here, in the midst of many red lines, but somehow Proust has been canonized, protected from a much-needed abridging.

Books: In Search of Lost Time Volume Six: The Fugitive

After finishing Cities of the Plain, alternately titled Sodom and Gomorrah, and finding that Proust had yet to acknowledge his homosexuality, I expected that he would do so in The Fugitive. I imagined that this volume would describe his fleeing from the stifling, miserable life he shared with Albertine, running away to Venice with Robert Saint-Loup to at last indulge his true desires. Perhaps my expectations are too 20th century. Instead, the “fugitive” is Albertine, who in the middle of the night asks Francoise to pack her boxes, and is gone when Marcel wakes.

Ironically, Marcel had stayed up late that same night, deciding at last that their situation was untenable, and that he would ask Albertine to move out the next morning. Nevertheless, as always, he hates to be pre-empted. Cue despair. He wants to beg her to come back, but knows, or thinks he knows, that the way to get her back is to feign indifference. They exchange letters filled with falsehood. Proust discloses to us, “For a woman is of greater utility to our life if, instead of being an element of happiness in it, she is an instrument of suffering, and there is not a woman in the world the possession of whom is as precious as that of the truths which she reveals to us by causing us to suffer,” thus demonstrating that he is indeed either a masochist or a homosexual, for he derives no pleasure from a relationship with a woman, only pain. (Clearly he is both.)

The moment comes when he has despaired enough at being left that he becomes willing to take Albertine back, to speak the truth to her—that he wants her, whatever the circumstances; that he will give her the freedom she desires, if only she will come back to him. And in the author’s only moment of gross sentimentality, he receives two telegrams at once. One from Albertine, begging to return; the other from her guardian, bearing the news that she is dead, thrown from her horse while riding that morning. Now, despair intensifies, but only briefly. Never having loved Albertine—only the idea of Albertine—weeks pass and soften his sorrow.

He does go to Venice, traveling with his mother, and makes sketches in the cathedral. He watches the women with fascination. He has all but forgotten Albertine when he receives a startling telegram: you thought me dead but I'm quite alive. She wants to talk of marriage. Marcel despairs, not wanting to see her again (I told you; he never loved her.) When it is time to leave Venice, he refuses, sending his mother to the train station by herself with all of their luggage. But in the end, he does as he must, meeting his mother in time for the train, and planning to simply pretend that he never received Albertine's telegram.

Upon his return to Paris, Marcel is met with another surprise; that telegram was not from Albertine, but his childhood friend and first object of desire: Gilberte, in whose terrible handwriting, "Gi" looks like "A." Her news? She is engaged to marry Robert Saint-Loup.