The two steeples of Martinville. Rereading Swann’s Way

Lessons on memory and time in the fictions of place. Didn’t know the significance of this ecphrasis, quite extended, on steeples of Martinville that the boy recollects in Part 1. He is in a carriage watching the steeples of Martinville catch up then recede against the steeple of Vieuxvicq: relativity: distance, space, and time converge to create the illusion of the steeples “flung at [his] feet”—so that while they seemed faraway at first, and separate, at one point in time because of illusions of space and speed, they in fact seem all one, whole and indivisible, right in front of him. Then they recede and separate again, at a different time, and so on. At the end, of course, his memory of Combray (in Part 1) is enfolded in his final passage at the Guermantes’ home (in Part 6), in which he collapses Time as simultaneously Art and Memory: crafted and lived at once. That, for Proust, is novel-making. A novel is simultaneously a lived memory in time (it arises from the accident of life and must be looked for, felt: “in fashioning a work of art, we are by no means free”) but paradoxically also a crafted rendering of time (which is also all that Time is). Reality, and the novel, is an illusion of space and time (like the steeples of Martinville watched from a speeding carriage).


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