Jun 27, 2006

I'm having nicotine withdrawal and I can't sleep


Lamoureux nee Bergotte

"Bergotte is what I call a flute-player: one must admit that he plays very agreeably, although with a great deal of mannerism, of affectation. But when all is said, there's no more to it than that, and that is not much. Nowhere does one find in his flaccid works what one might call structure. No action--or very little--but above all no range. His books fail at the foundation, or rather they have no foundation at all. At a time like the present, when the ever-increasing complexity of life leaves one scarcely a moment for reading, when the map of Europe has undergone radical alterations and is on the eve, perhaps, of undergoing more drastic still, when so many new and threatening problems are arising on every side, you will allow me to suggest that one is entitled to ask that a writer should be something more than a clever fellow who lulls us into forgetting, amid otiose and byzantine discussions of the merits of pure form, that we may be overwhelmed at any moment by a double tide of barbarians, those from without and those from within our borders. I am aware that this is to blaspheme the sacrosanct school of what these gentlemen term 'Art for Art's sake,' but at this period of history there are tasks more urgent than the manipulation of words in a harmonious manner. I don't deny that Bergotte's manner can be quite seductive at times, but taken as a whole, it is all very precious, very thin, and altogether lacking in virility. I can now understand more easily, when I bear in mind your altogether excessive regard for Bergotte, the few lines that you showed me just now, which it would be ungracious of me not to overlook, since you yourself told me in all simplicity that they were merely a childish scribble...For every sin there is forgiveness, and especially for the sins of youth. After all, others as well as yourself have such sins on their conscience, and you are not the only one who has believed himself a poet in his idle moments. But one can see in what you showed me the unfortunate influence of Bergotte. You will not, of course, be surprised when I say that it had none of his qualities, since he is a past-master in the art--entirely superficial by the by--of handling a certain style of which, at your age, you cannot have acquired even the rudiments. But already there is the same fault, that nonsense of stringing together fine-sounding words and only afterwards troubling about what they mean. That is putting the cart before the horse. Even in Bergotte's books, all those Chinese puzzles of form, all those subtleties of a deliquescent mandarin seem to me to be quite futile. Given a few fireworks let off prettily enough by an author, and up goes the shout of masterpiece. Masterpieces are not so common as all that! Bergotte cannot place to his credit--does not carry in his baggage, if I may use the expression--a single novel that is at all lofty in its conception, one of those books which one keeps in a special corner of one's library. I cannot think of one such in the whole of his work. But that does not mean that, in his case, the work is not infinitely superior to the author. Ah! there's a man who justifies the wit who insisted that one ought never to know an author except through his books. It would be impossible to imagine an individual who corresponded less to his--more pretentious, more pompous, more ill-bred. Vulgar at times, at others talking like a book, and not even like one of his own, but like a boring book, which his, to them justice are not--such is your Bergotte. He has the most confused and convoluted mind, what our forebears called sesquipedalian, and he makes the things that he says even more unpleasing by the manner in which he says them."

M. de Norpois on the imaginary poet M. Bergotte in Vol. 2 of In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust.

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