Saturday, 28 July 2012

Proust's Lift

Every now and then I heard the sound of the lift coming up, but it was followed by a second sound, not the one I was hoping for, namely its coming to a halt at our landing, but another very different sound which the lift made in continuing its progress to the floors above and which, because it so often meant the desertion of my floor when I was expecting a visitor, remained for me later, even when I had ceased to wish for visitors, a sound lugubrious in itself, in which there echoed, as it were, a sentence of solitary confinement.
Proust is very aware of the way in which emotions come to be housed in objects, come to assume the shapes, smells, colours and sounds of the external world.  And the individual’s will, unaided, cannot then bring these emotions back, for they dwell outside us. 

In the example above, it is as if the ‘lugubrious’ emotion comes to ‘agree’ with the sound of the lift, comes, like water in a glass, to assume the shape of its container, so that even when the emotion’s initial context has vanished (‘when I had ceased to wish for visitors’), the presence of the container - the lift's noise - enables one to again taste the melancholy pleasure. 

The sound of the lift here functions like a word, but a word in a wordless language; a word which instantly summons and is wholly at one with its meaning.

And it is this which is raised to a second power, made self-conscious and purposeful, by art and literature, which involves housing emotion in the forms and shapes of language or paint, clay or notes, where they persist and reside long after the artist is dead.

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