Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Proust on blind spots

Édouard Manet: Nana (1877). Kunsthalle Hamburg.
1.54 m x 1.15 m.
Proust on our defects (défauts), our friends, ourselves
from A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleur
pp. 308-311, Folio classique edition (Gallimard, 1988)
Translation mine

In humankind, the frequency of the virtues identical to all is no more wondrous than the multiplicity of the defects particular to each. Without a doubt, it isn’t good sense that is “the most widespread thing in the world”; it’s goodness. In the most distant, out-of-the-way corners, we marvel at seeing it flourish on its own—like he who has never seen a poppy in a secluded valley, just like those everywhere else, and never knew that the wind sometimes makes its lone red escort shiver. Even if that goodness, paralyzed by interest, isn’t put into practice, it nevertheless exists; and each time some fickle egotist stops it from doing so (for example, during the reading of a novel or a newspaper) it blossoms, turns aside—even in the heart of he who is an assassin in life, but remains tender as a lover of literary magazines toward the weak, toward the just and the persecuted.

But the variety of defects is no less admirable than the similarity of the virtues. The most perfect person has some defect that shocks or enrages. One has a beautiful intelligence, sees everything from an elevated point of view, never speaks ill of anyone—but forgets in her pocket the most important letters that she herself asked you to entrust to her, and then makes you miss a major meeting, without making any apologies, with a smile, because she puts a sense of pride on never knowing the time. Another has so much refinement, so much gentleness, such delicate comportment, that he never tells you on your own that the things which can make you happy, but you feel that he is silent about, that he buries in his heart, where they turn sour, are all of different kinds; and the pleasure that he has in seeing you is so dear to him that he would sooner exhaust you with fatigue than leave you. A third has more sincerity, but pushes it to the point of being keen that you know, when you have excused yourself because of your state of health from having gone to see him, that you were seen going to the theater and that people found you in good shape, or that he couldn’t entirely benefit from the step that you have taken for him, that moreover three others have already proposed to him to take, and for which he is only slightly obliged to you. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Juxtapositions: Lucretius and Frost

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 1.250-64 (ca. 56 BC?)
(translation mine)

Finally, the rains perish, as soon as Father Sky
has hurled them into the womb of Mother Earth.
And the bright fruits rise, and the branches strengthen
on the trees, and themselves grow and are freighted with young.
Thus is nourished our own species and those of the beasts.
Thus do we see the joyous cities flower with boys
and the leafy woods singing with new birds on all sides.
Thus the cattle weary with fat set their happy bodies
down in the pasture, and wet white milk
swings in their swollen udders. Thus the new calf,
frisky on shaky joints, plays in the soft grass,
its new mind energized with raw milk.
So nothing whatsoever really passes away
when Nature refashions something from something else,
and suffers nothing to exist except with the help of something else’s death.

The Pasture (1915)
Robert Frost

I'm going out to clean the pasture spring; 
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away 
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may): 
I sha'n't be gone long.—You come too. 

I'm going out to fetch the little calf 
That's standing by the mother. It's so young, 
It totters when she licks it with her tongue. 
I sha'n't be gone long.—You come too.