Proust and the Underworld – the first 4 pages


I have been wanting to reread Swann’s Way for a while. This is perhaps a strange desire during a pandemic, but time feels different, and Remembrance of Things Past is about the experience of time. I picked up the newish Lydia Davis translation and off I went this evening sitting by the fire with my kids reading aloud Swann’s Way. I told the kids if I read 4 or 5 pages to them a day, we will be done in 3 months.

I have two sons 7 and 8, and my 7 year old asked if this was a tutorial on how to fall asleep – touche!

Yes and no. Why so much time about falling asleep? What is it about sleep? It is the liminal, the threshold. Proust describes the journey into sleep as metempsychosis / transmigration of the soul. This is referenced in Joyce’s Ulysses and DFW Infinite Jest Madam Psychosis, I was wondering what other novels reference metempsychosis and guess what – there is a web page for that.

Proust is our psychopomp (escorting souls to the underworld). Going into dreams, into memories, into fantasies are forms of transmigration of the soul.

Whenever there is a journey to the underworld, there is always a map. You cross a river, or you go up a mountain. The underworld has a geography, a landscape. As such your body has an orientation to it. However, your body in the underworld is not the same as your body in the physical world and the landscape of the underworld is of a different materia than the landscape of the mundane world. Also Proust gets sexy on page 2… did not register this the first time I read it. I wonder if this was scandalous or a literary risk at the time.

There is a discussion of while in dream space of the immobility of things, the ability to locate limbs, the position one falls asleep in, the ability to tell time while sleeping, or while drifting off to sleep.

And then I remembered I wrote something about night recently!

The night breathed through the apartment like a dark animal. A panther, a black panther. Also called a Puma. The Runa Puma that all the wanna be shamans talk about these days with metaphysical anthropology and misapplied theories that make the academics unhappy, but creates food for the mystics. 

“Life changes fast” was unintentionally plagiarized by Joan Didion from Ferris Bueller’s day off. “I’m pretty much fucked” is something I say at least once a week even without being stranded on Mars and if… if I say this sentence with my children I must stutter and apologize and come up with a different word.  “Blocked, I mean blocked.”  Blocked is not a synonym for fucked, more of an antonym for fucked. In fact, I am not sure why “I’m pretty much fucked” is considered negative because of the history of sexual violence. It should now be reclaimed in our new sex positive society of our own creation. 

But the night did breath through the apartment like a dark animal. It was hiding in pockets. Night was not a blanket that covered the bed and the night table and the overused microwave and the underused cast-iron skillet. Night existed first in the damp spaces like the steam pipe in the bathroom bubbling with condensation. 

 You can’t see a dark animal but you can hear his breath. Night is a man – tonight. His name is B and I can feel his finger trace lightly trace the curve of my waist up to my shoulder . So obviously night loves me – tonight – while I sleep. Half asleep really. 

What others gifts does night give? There is a dead fish in the mouth of this puma. Definitely dead.  The eyes already turn to glass and the blue gray scaly skin is broken and I can see the red blood and an oozing of something unappetizing. 

It’s too late for me to prepare this fish. It’s not much of a gift either. S and his friends prepared a fish dinner feast once with a fish like this and they all contracted Hepatitis C.  I am not quite sure how that works causally. I do believe in the germ theory of disease and I also believe in terroir. 

The Panther puma night drops the fish by my pillow. And breathes deep into my face. He licks my face with a scratchy tongue, that is also dark night. I reach my hand out to stroke fine thick dense bristles and her back arches. 

Night is now a woman. Why am surprised? No man has ever hunted for me. 

 And of course women are better hunters.   The night puma panther brings over a very sexy white negligee…neglected and drops it by my pillow near the dead fish now laying in a half moon. B breaths deeply next to me, night does not bother him. 

I slip on the white smooth crepe de chine negligee, now a short and tank pair. Strong and heavy, and slightly damp and the enormous black puma panther walks towards the door silently with her big black light paws padding for me to follow.

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