Monday, March 28, 2011

Proust pledges Guermantes

In Search of Lost Time, Vol. III: The Guermantes Way (v. 3)I finished the 3rd volume of A Remembrance of Things Past after a week of being sick (complete with feverish dreams/hallucinations of polite French society), and was struck by a brilliant (or possibly idiotic) idea while riding the subway last night.  I was in the middle trying to explain to my wife how some bits of Proust are so fantastic and others have a tendency to drag a bit.  When he talks about love, loss, jealousy, art, infatuation you can relate and you constantly have moments of surprise at his brilliance, and that feeling of recognizing a thought or feeling that you experienced thousands of times but never articulated, condensed in the perfect language.  On the other hand most notably when he writes about the fashionable salons, politeness, society and nobility he sometimes manages to feel alien enough that it can end up droning on and on.

There is; however, always a kernel of truth in Proust, always something he gets at in a way you have never thought of, and in this case in the interminable pages about fashionable parties and invitations it struck me that there are some real truths about social environments, it's just that the social framework we exist in now is much more heterogeneous and complex, much less obviously stratified than that of upper class France circa 1900.  The notable exception of course is school.  Middle school, high school, college -- it doesn't matter.  Those small, rigid, and incredibly stratified social environments are the places where you can really mentally set the high society Proust spends so much time discussing.

So that's when I got another million dollar idea (I think this is number 5) -- someone needs to adapt A Remembrance of Things Past set in a school. The main character Marcel of course as the surprisingly cool and popular freshman, for some reason invited to all the right parties.  Mme de Guermantes as sorority queen -- her boyfriend, M de Guermantes, no doubt captain of the football team. Albertine as the still-in-highschool girlfriend in town for a sexy visit, M de Charlus as the lecherous and quick tempered advisor.  I'm thinking Baz Luhrmmann to direct -- no doubt with Michael Cera as the lead.

The more I think about it the more the details fall into place.  Saint-Loup as Marcel's host when he visited as a pre-frosh, now studying abroad (Morocco of course -- have to keep some details), Rachel, as Saint Loup's townie girlfriend.  M. de Guermantes' collection of paintings by Elstir re-imagined as a rare vinyl collection (albums far cooler than someone so fashionable should own).

The sticking point is that people graduate from school.  We leave that environment of exclusive parties and sought after invitations, of worrying about what people are saying behind our back, and shifting social alliances (well hopefully we do).  The thing about the Guermantes and the rest of the society Proust writes about is that they never leave that environment.  They are defined by their permanent obsession with the social and the fashionable -- even as they deny it.  They live solely to socialize, for fashion, somewhat akin to celebrities now, but they were born into it and will die in it, without ever having done anything useful.

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