Friday, 31 October 2008

Guermantes Extracts and Nice and Cold

A couple of days ago it was that kind of dry cold that doesn’t make me shiver but only attacks my extremities. Sore fingers, nose and ears that rather than making me want to escape indoors were like tickled whiskers that woke me up, made me alert, sensitized me to what was going on around me. And just as it wasn’t the kind of cold that cloys and sinks heavily through clothes and skin, it wasn’t the sort of air that flattens everything, pulls things forward and pushes them back until they’re all level; just as that cold picked out my finger tips and the bridge of my nose to me, the air was so thin and precise that all the cars and lampposts and bicycles stood out, independently described at their most revealing angles, clearly separated from each other and set back in space. It was dark as well, dark and cold and exciting at 6pm and I was looking for something, or rather I was ready to find beauty in something. It could have been looking trough a crowded shop window or staring into an empty backstreet. Anything would have been sufficient because I wasn’t looking for something that was in itself beautiful, but my mood and the light wanted to pour themselves out, to play themselves out somewhere, and on this occasion I spent fifteen glorious minutes in front of a forest of slowly rotating cranes and spotlight-lit concrete walls behind Centre Point. I have walked past these many times, and had only ever looked at them as their quantifiable end-results: as vast floor-plates of normalising economics and architecture; but a couple of days ago they became an impenetrable mystery, they became impossibly strange. Looking up at a sky full of monstrous red creatures, alternately bowing and raising their necks at each other, talking silently and slowly, and all hemmed in by elongated grey battlements which were covered in partially legible numbers and signs; looking up at this floating world, picked out with points of light against a totally flat sky, I was separated from the usual certainty I have about things, objects, events. I didn’t know what it was anymore, all I knew was that it was glorious, red and bright and invigorating, and that it had all started with the coldness in my finger-tips. I moved on when the gesticulating beasts all froze at the same time, as if the temperature had just got too much for their cold-blooded bodies, and little men began to descend from their heads, making their way down ladder by ladder from what were once again clearly cranes.

P8 The Guermantes Way
At an age when Names, offering us the image of the unknowable that we have invested in them and simultaneously designating a real place for us, force us accordingly to identify the one with the other to a point where we go off to a city to seek out a soul that it cannot contain but which we no longer have the power to expel from its name, it is not only to cities and ruins that they give an individuality, as do allegorical paintings, it is not only the physical world that they spangle with differences and people with marvels, it is the social world as well: so every historic house, every famous residence or palace, has its lady or its fairy, as forests have their spirits and rivers their deities.

P13 The Guermantes Way
“In the parties she gave, since I could not imagine the guests as having bodies, moustaches, boots, as making any remark that was banal, or even original in a human and rational manner, this whirl of names, introducing less physical presence than a banquet of ghosts or a ball of spectres around the statuette in Dresden china known as Mme de Guermantes, maintained a show-case transparency around her glass mansion.

P27 The Guermantes Way
I assured myself that, had I been a regular visitor to Mme de Guermantes’s house, were I one of her circle, were I to enter into her life, I should then know what was really enclosed within the brilliant orange-coloured envelope of her name, know it objectively, through the eyes of others.