Proust Speaks: Part 1

Proust rises from the grave to attend his 100th Anniversary Wake

It was inconceivable for The Marcel Proust Support Group to let the 100th anniversary of the author’s death go by without observation. So a few months before the date, I sent a letter to the owner of the Savoy Tivoli, my all-time favorite North Beach social nexus, to ask if they’d be open again—after a lengthy closure for renovation—and if I could host the Wake there. Given my history with the place, and the former owner, they were fine with having us do it there.

Since the Savoy now has a stage in the main room, with lighting and other tools for a bit of theater, I decided to have Proust rise from the dead and give a speech. Unfortunately, days before the wake, the Savoy people called to say that the Board of Health inspectors were still not happy with the improvements and they wouldn’t be open on time; however, they arranged for us to move the event to the former Old Spaghetti Factory, around the corner, which has no stage. But the speech was never delivered, and I’m posting it here—in three parts. It’s not that long, but blogs are supposed to be mercifully short, so here’s Part 1 of 3.

Proust Speech, part 1

The spotlight goes on at center stage. Proust steps into the spotlight, brushing the dust of the grave off his shoulders.

Proust:

Ahhh, so nice to have the physical remains out from under that huge slab of black marble in Pere Lachaise, and to be, once again, revived in earthly cafe society. It’s great to know also that someone missed me enough to observe the date I took off for celestial parts unknown with this charming wake.

As one might imagine. I really had no idea what to expect from the afterlife, and I assumed it would be uneventful. My imaginings were recorded in my books, of course. I hope you’ll forgive me, but 100 years is a long time to remember exactly what I wrote, so I’m going to read bits of it. This is what I said about being dead, before I actually was.

In Sodom and Gomorrah, I wrote:

“We passionately long for there to be another life, in which we shall be similar to what we were here below. But we do not pause to reflect that, even without waiting for that other life, in this life, after a few years, we are unfaithful to what we once were, to what we wished to remain immortally. Even without supposing that death is to alter us more completely than the changes that occur in the course of our lives, if in that other life we were to encounter the self we have been, we should turn away from ourselves, as from those people with whom we were once on friendly terms, but whom we haven’t seen for years…”

But really, as I wrote in The Fugitive, “one ought to be more afraid if one believed in heaven. But no one does believe in it.”

How could we actually believe that, if we live a blameless life, we’ll have to spend eternity listening to choirs of angels and the endless blatt of trumpets? That doesn’t sound like a reward to me, and certainly not enough incentive to give up what we might enjoy in our earthly life. Why would God give us pleasures, if we weren’t supposed to enjoy them? Human life is too full of suffering as it is, without having to feel guilty about much. And I must say that we all suffer, to some extent, but it’s even more acute for people in the arts. In Time Regained, I wrote this:

“The cruel law of art is that people die and we ourselves die, after exhausting every form of suffering, so that over our heads may grow the green grass not of oblivion, but of eternal life, the vigorous and luxuriant growth of a true work of art.”

Me again:

This was obviously not the end of Proust’s speech. Neither the deceased author, nor his speechwriter—myself—would halt without a suitable concluding line. Thanks to blog formatting, I needed to cut the speech up into manageable bits, and actually helpful for variations in attention spans. The speech, part 2, is ready for you when you are.

By P Segal

P Segal, nee Roberta Pizzimenti, was born and raised in San Francisco's North Beach. where the remaining Beat poets, regrettably, inspired her to pursue the literary life. A Cacophony Society event, the Marcel Proust Support Group, led to the obsession recorded in these pages.

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