Friday, 12 June 2020

Visual disturbances: Twelve

‘In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower’, Marcel Proust, trans. James Grieve, Penguin, 2002 (originally published as ‘A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur’, 1919), from pages 477-78:
[‘]So, is there a huge difference between an outfit by Callot, say, and an average dressmaker? I asked Albertine. – Huge is the right word, young fellow! she replied. Oh sorry! The only problem is, alas, that they charge you 2,000 francs for what you can get for 300 somewhere else! But of course, it never looks the same – except to people who’ve got no idea, that is. – Precisely, Elstir said. Though I wouldn’t want to say the difference is as far-reaching as between a statue on the cathedral at Rheims and a statue in Saint-Augustin. Speaking of cathedrals,’ he said to me, alluding to a conversation which the girls had taken no part in, and which would have been of no interest to them, ‘remember when I was saying the other day about the church of Balbec looking like a great cliff, a great outcrop of the stone of those parts. Well, have a look now at the opposite, he said, showing me a water-colour. Look at those cliffs – it’s a sketch done not far from here, at Les Creuniers – see the power and delicacy in the way these rocks have been chiselled. Aren’t they reminiscent of a cathedral?’ They did resemble vast pink vaulted arches, but, having been painted on a very hot day, they appeared to have been turned to dust, pulverised by the heat which, across the full breadth of the canvas, had also reduced the sea by half, diluting it to a haze. Illuminated in that way, reality had been almost destroyed by the light, but had been concentrated in dark, transparent creatures which by contrast gave a more vivid and faithful impression of being alive: the shadows.
Two days after I came home from a walk in the city where, before lunch, I took – just after midday – the following photo, I read the above passage. And then also the following, which is on page 501 of the same book:
By now we were out of the little wood and into a network of rather deserted lanes, which Andrée followed without difficulty. ‘Well, here we are! she said all at once. Here are Les Creuniers for you! And you’re in luck – the weather today and the light are just as in Elstir’s water-colour.’ But the game of ring-on-a-string had knocked my high hopes from under me and I was too sad to take the pleasure I might otherwise have enjoyed in suddenly coming upon the sea-divinities whom Elstir had watched for and taken by surprise: there they were, directly beneath me, crouching among the rocks for protection against the rays of the sun, under the glow of a dark glaze as beautiful as any used by Leonardo, those wonderful furtively sheltering Shadows, nimble and soundless, ready at the slightest feint of light to slip under their stones or hide in a hole, and just as ready, once the threat from the rays had passed, to slip out again and lie awake beside the rocks or the seaweed, watching over them as they drowse drenched in the light of the cliff-corroding sun and the faded ocean, unmoving, insubstantial guardians, showing on the surface of the water the viscid shimmer of their bodies and the vigilant dark of their eyes.
On 28 May, I was beguiled by a shadow on the pavement in Martin Place where a couple of seagulls waited near a fallen leaf as a man walked up the hill, heading eastward. The access point in the photo is distracting – as though I had been waiting for some creature to emerge (a golem or the kraken) – though what actually drew my gaze at the time were the strong lines made the shadow cast by a building. The sun also strong. And then, on the storefront, a watchmaker’s name ...

No comments: