... Never bite the hand that feeds you. But today I will.
Yesterday, apparently (according to an urgent communiqué from my mother), my performance of Brahms E-flat Sonata with Richard Stoltzman was played on NPR's Performance Today. Apparently the host of that program, the delightful and eternally curious Fred Child, mentioned my blog, and there is a link on NPR's site!!! I am grateful.
But then, by a curious twist of fate, today I read an article on Slate ... an article also featured on NPR's Day-to-Day... which has enraged me, beyond reason. In it, the author attempts to "reconstruct" a recipe for Proust's madeleine from Proust's own words. Read it yourself, if you must; he comes to the conclusion that the madeleine, such as Proust describes it, "never existed." Short rebuttal: duh. Longer rebuttal, with ranting:
1) Anyone who obsesses about the madeleine and Proust hasn't really read Proust. ("Oh yes, Proust, the chap with the madeleine, rather long book, that.") There's a lot more book out there, kids, go to it! If you get past page 40, let me know! I'll be really proud of you!
2) The WHOLE MASSIVE NOVEL is ABOUT the elusiveness of experience, memory, time... it debunks "realist" description at every turn. Nothing is ever as it seems; everything is in flux, subject to change, perception, etc. etc. Therefore, it is not a place to seek "recipes." Again: read the book! The whole thing!
[Insert Howard Dean-esque scream here. Magnify times 10. Then imagine me in my pajamas running around my bedroom yelling like that as I read the article, and write this post.]
3) OK, I'll quote from the article: "Many cookbooks claim that you can reproduce Marcel Proust's magical madeleine in your own kitchen. But do any of the recipes yield the genuine article? " Aaarrgggghhhhh. Repeat after me! THERE IS NO "GENUINE ARTICLE." Keep repeating until you have a literary sensibility. The whole proposition is patently absurd! Then later on, he refers to Lydia Davis' translation as the most "accurate." Again, with the ridiculous words!
It's enough to send me scrambling through my volumes for the perfect debunking Proust quote, and within 5 minutes I found:
"For things ... as soon as we have perceived them [i.e. the madeleine] are transformed within us into something immaterial [are you listening?], something of the same nature as all our preoccupations and sensations of that particular time, with which, indissolubly, they blend. A name read long ago in a book contains within its syllables the strong wind and brilliant sunshine that prevailed while we were reading it. And this is why the kind of literature which contents itself with 'describing things,' with giving of them merely a miserable abstract of lines and surfaces [refer again to article, and various diagrams in it], is in fact, though it calls itself realist, the FURTHEST REMOVED FROM REALITY [emphasis added, mea culpa, I'm in a mood] and has more than any other the effect of saddening and impoverishing us, since it abruptly severs all communication of our present self both with the past, the essence of which is preserved in things, and with the future, in which things incite us to enjoy the essence of the past a second time. Yet it is precisely this essence that an art worthy of the name must seek to express; then at least, if it fails, there is a lesson to be drawn from its impotence (whereas from the successes of realism there is nothing to be learnt), the lesson that this essence is, in part, subjective and incommunicable."
This endless baker's dissection of Proust's description... reminds me so much of cocktail party conversations where nothing is ventured or gained, where trivia are exchanged endlessly and knowledge hovers in the background, unable to penetrate. Also to some extent, it reminds me of some post-concert receptions, where people come up, very friendly, wonderful people, and ask me all sorts of bizarre minutiae about composers, their eating habits, the strings on their pianos, their views on elephants--I don't know, whatever. And while I am telling them I have no idea, I am thinking "I could tell you a lot, maybe, if you'd ask the right questions."