fruits & spoils
The nourishing fruit of the historically understood contains time as a precious but tasteless seed.1
While content and language form a certain unity in the original, like a fruit and its skin, the language of the translation envelops its content like a royal robe with ample folds.2
– Walter Benjamin
- Illuminations, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, XVII, p. 263.
- Illuminations, ‘The Task of the Translator’, p. 75
The Guermantes Way
Everything we think of as great has come to us from neurotics. It is they and they alone who found religions and create great works of art. The world will never realise how much it owes them, and that they have suffered in order to bestow their gifts on it. We enjoy fine music, beautiful pictures, a thousand exquisite things, but we do not know what they cost those who wrought them in insomnia, tears, spasmodic laughter, urticaria, asthma, epilepsy, a terror of death which is worse than any of these… (414)
It is difficult if not impossible to think anything of any sense about this work. The narrator, still unnamed, in this volume becomes more interested in the politics and workings of society, but without seeming to grow in self-knowledge or self-criticism. He remains frustratingly childish and self-absorbed. His infatuation with the Robert de Saint-Loup and the Duchesse de Guermantes do not reveal feeling, but only thought. Increasing vexation, as when an acquaintance will talk to you about things you care nothing about but which mean everything in the world to him – this being permissible in friendship, but not in any relationship less strong.
Sodom and Gomorrah
Probably the most titillating volume, but certainly one of the most dull. One imagines the narrator as a carbuncular, crepuscular teenager, creeping at the edges of the shadows and undercurrents of desire, without actually entering into the depths he peers in. This is rendered more obnoxious when we are told that the fawning ladies at the hotel coo about his ‘clear complexion’ (335).
Even when one is no longer attached to things, it’s still something to have been attached to them; because it was always for reasons which other people didn’t grasp. The memory of those feelings is something that’s to be found only in ourselves; we must go back into ourselves to look at it. (139)