A New Scar in Time

Marcel Proust, art, and time


in Features • Illustrated by Bhavna Ganesan


One of my dreams was the synthesis of what my imagination had often sought to depict, in my waking hours, of a certain seagirt place and its mediaeval past. In my sleep I saw a gothic fortress rising from a sea whose waves were stilled as in a painted window. An arm of the sea cut the town in two; the green water stretched to my feet; it bathed on the opposite shore the foundations of an oriental church, and beyond it houses which existed already in the fourteenth century, so that to go across to them would have been to ascend the stream of time. This dream in which nature had learned from art, in which the sea had turned gothic, this dream in which I longed to attain, in which I believed that I was attaining to the impossible, it seemed to me that I had often dreamed it before.

The Guermantes Way 

I’ve come to more and more trust those conjunctions and serendipities that some people prize like the appearance of gold, while others scoff or take little notice. In lately reading Proust, along with Gilles Deleuze and Jean Baudrillard, I started to feel a vortex open, even stirrings akin to Marcel’s above-quoted dream of a gothic fortress rising out of the water, because Deleuze, who indeed wrote Proust and Signs, and Baudrillard are each outgrowths of Proust — Roland Barthes, who also branched off that tree, designated it best in The Pleasure of Text: “I recognize that Proust’s work, for myself at least, is the reference work, the general mathesis, the mandala of the entire literary cosmogony.” Reading is nowhere near a one-way street, even apart from the books that make other books — patterns and disjunctions emerge depending on where and how one reads, exemplified by Roberto Piglia’s scar: “The value of reading does not depend on the book in itself but on the emotions associated with the act of reading . . . What is fixed in memory is not the content of memory but rather its form. I am not interested in what can obscure the image, I am interested only in the visual intensity that persists in time like a scar.” No doubt my scars are young, and the tree still has not been able to complete its first true ring, though a few years so far have been given to Marcel’s quest. 

Another heat-filled summer pressed down on all of civilization with a force as strong as ever. In that summer of turning 47, I continued to revolve in my chair and look out the window if only to witness a tree that sometimes grows close enough that it has to be pruned. But that encounter was shadowed by the space-module sucking noise of the Amazon truck or myriad other delivery services — whose streets? I’d like to go Chekovian and say how future generations will know how we resisted the technocracy as much as we could, but this is more than borderline bullshit — hypocrisy is our soup du jour — and to pretend otherwise will not make those generations judge us less harshly if they have a world in which to do so. It was not exactly a wonderful life anymore after multiple concussive shocks to the system and now, nearing 50, one begins or continues to see existence is of a much different luster. Some people will dub this process “to take an accounting,” yet, I’m simply reading; reading Proust and seeing my life, all the awe-filled afternoons, the mistakes, and the trifles surge into shape like a flexed vein. After 1,400 pages of The Search for Lost Time, the reader starts to get a good idea of when Proust will tell his receivers (his audience) to go long, for here comes a jolt of wisdom: “We never see the people who are dear to us save in the animated system, the perpetual motion of our incessant love for them, which before allowing the images that their faces present to reach us catches them in its vortex, flings them back upon the idea that we have always had of them, makes them adhere to it, coincide with it.” One may bristle at Proust’s “we” voice, but he is one of few authors one would forgive its appearance in. But then — what does one do with such prose? To call it information would demean and desecrate, but to some that is what it is, resembling a canard some co-worker prints onto yellow paper and hangs in the office to hopefully caution the crew. It’s not something to be read aloud — people who don’t know much would know enough to call us “prigs” if we started to spout Proust’s beautiful swill. Yet, it unsettles when silently taken up from the page to flare inside the brain. It’s a wisdom one could only get in reality form during break of day or a break in the day — nobody outside of the “Proustitutes” would understand, because of the superstructure (the story) underlying the tornado-ing pronouncements. 

I’d noticed in the two years since finishing Kilmartin’s Volume One and beginning The Guermantes Way that something had changed, surely me; even though, for once, the world had, too. Health failings, deaths, a child growing up, and, voilà — because the end is much closer than the beginning, measurements change. In the months before the summer, I became a fair-weather fan of Deleuze — not the larger husky ideas in Repetition or Anti-Oedipus, but the padding in the cinema books and What is Philosophy? and even video interviews for a project called “The Alphabet Book,” especially “D is for Desire.” Maybe one thinks less and less about desire as one gets older and marries or mates, but youth is almost made out of nothing but that essence and peer pressure, as in Hal Hartley’s mantra from Simple Men: “There’s nothing but fear and desire.” Seemingly, around 40, our undercarriages suddenly contain more black holes.  

Wallace Stevens was good on the loss of searching out essences as one gets older: “What I want more than anything else in music, painting and poetry, in life and in belief is the thrill that I experienced once in all the things that no longer thrill me at all.” This frightened me because when coming upon it, I had already begun to feel its pinpricks — even in redoubtable Proust. Just before, I’d taken in Henry James’s The Awkward Age and though I admired it, I wasn’t so much moved, though the other seven novels of his I’ve read did lance me. So, along came gravelly-voiced Deleuze in “D for Desire” to tell me about something I hadn’t thought of, maybe never, given how much I took the term for granted, or just continually pressed the emotive on-button rather than grapple with philological considerations around the bends. To look at desire differently now will not unlock a door, but it might cause a minor tremor. Delueze: 

You never desire someone or something, you always desire an aggregate…Our question was: what is the nature of relations between elements in order for there to be desire, for these elements to become desirable? I mean, I don’t desire a woman — I’m ashamed to say things like that since Proust already said it, and it’s beautiful in Proust: I don’t desire a woman, I also desire a landscape that is enveloped in this woman, a landscape that, if needs be — I don’t know — but that I can feel. As long as I haven’t yet unfolded the landscape that envelops her, I will not be happy, that is, my desire will not have been attained, my desire will remain unsatisfied. 

This thinking, extracted from Proust, also shares bandwidth with how poets have looked at desire, especially Wallace Stevens’s “Woman in Sunshine”: 

It is only that this warmth and movement are like 
The warmth and movement of a woman. 
It is not that there is any image in the air 
Nor the beginning nor end of a form: 
It is empty. But a woman in threadless gold 
Burns us with brushings of her dress 
And a dissociated abundance of being, 
More definite for what she is — 
Because she is disembodied, 
Bearing the odors of the summer fields, 
Confessing the taciturn and yet indifferent, 
Invisibly clear, the only love. 

One could extrapolate that one is trying to build a world via an intrepid childhood manner — a make-believe one, but with the purpose of gain (double and triple gain), not play. This might be why many cry out (often the leaver) that the one hampering them in a relationship, whom once they loved (or had they loved the person’s body, money, or behavior?), has unfortunately fallen prey to projections. And now, only a deranged image of them (the leaver) and not the real human being remains — but this calls into question their culpability in the tango. 

Soon, I wanted to run a spot-check on my past. In pretty much every case of my few great carnal desires, Deleuze’s pronouncement held some truth. I did, in fact, desire an aggregate — the woman and the windfall of her associations, both visible and not: going to the hip restaurants, also museums and arthouse films, though the ubiquitous cad might say I wanted someone like myself but that’s too easy — the desire would disappear too quickly, as Shakespeare dramatically counseled (I only held an instinct for Cleopatra): “Other women cloy / The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry / Where most she satisfies.” People do dream about someone coming into their life and changing that existence—totally metamorphosing the landscape they live in — they have to. But some emergency brake made me stop dwelling on the past. 

Maybe a strange landmark in aging occurs when one becomes less interested in one’s own stories (one’s past) than in those who will live on after one — one’s children certainly, but more so those 20-year-olds who are inheriting the earth and are experiencing their salad days. And maybe there is also a tendency to compare and contrast and to grow crotchety, especially in these uneasy hours — times in which Proust, who tosses out edicts like free lollypops at the dentist, might certainly be jettisoned because his holier-than-thou are too beautiful and biting, not politically-semaphoring enough. The rub: how to appear wise when questioning an entire generation for their secret, their secret lynchpin — the most tender part of someone’s psyche —their desire? 

The cultural inheritance is passed on between generations. Though, there is some unnamed force field one has to get through in order to take an interest in people younger, especially when not of the same blood or if one is not a teacher. Why are you interested in my life? —that is the mimeographed hoot one hears, mostly internally, though the culture has continued to strengthen this bulwark; yet isn’t this precisely what is needed? Older people have to take the reins and guide because the young haven’t learned to see, and though encroachment, it is vital. Those who bother to do so are the real unacknowledged legislators of the world. Ensue, for a few days the spectra of Deleuze’s question in my life compelled until its irons oxidized into blurry tie-dyes and slumped, before heading off and drowning in an undignified manner. Taking a cue from William Gass’s “You do not tell a story; your fiction will do when your fiction is finished,” I thought, You do not need to emplace yourself in your own stories, your outward appearance and actions will do that for you. I did try to take an aidful tack about eight years ago with a friend’s despairing German roommate, a soul about 15 years younger. Out drinking, I started talking to him and challenging him. He took me up and we walked into some hard issues — at the end of the evening, he said, I thought you didn’t like me. This commonplace, kept curled up in so many, might end our civilization quicker than climate change.  

Meanwhile, Baudrillard, who lived a little longer to see what a shambles would envelop us, wrote a book, The Intelligence of Evil, prompted by 9/11 and the Gulf War, where he lamented the immediacy and immanence of the growing world of the digital and screens:  

There is no gaze any longer, no scene, no imaginary, no illusion even, no longer any exteriority or spectacle: the operational fetish has absorbed all exteriority, reclaimed all interiority, absorbed time itself in the operation of real time. In this way we come closer to a world that is integrally realized, that is effectuated and identified as such, but not closer to the world as it is, which is something quite different.  

There is a small mountain of books on the gaze — what it is, where it comes from, starting with Freud and Lacan, going to Laura Mulvey, only to be hit by the landslide of Camille Paglia, while John Berger stays steady on the switchbacks — but is there anything on its coming extinction in a detailed manner? The easiest explanation is that the gaze leaves (and leaves an open wound) as more and more screens dominate with distraction being de rigueur — the legacy around the gaze (think of once how we became culturally credentialed, we were taken to museums, films, and plays, starting with The Nutcracker) gives way to a type of distracting guise and the tripwire of social media-in-res. 

When I think of Baudrillard’s text, I sharpen the memory of a certain man. I have little idea what he looks like, though he’s not smiling, but wait — I imagined the obligatory grumpy old man I would come upon at a variety of hot springs: the frustrated “hippy” sort who had qualified his temper with his mass of whiskers (“How ill white hairs become a fool and a jester!”) as he huffed about the state of things, piling high heaps of negativity into a warm pool of peace, aiming at our twenty-something souls his unwarranted and finally unacceptable belly-aches about Bush II, chemtrails, and bad acid. Now, people like this have less of an audience because there is little need to hear even diluted Noam Chomsky anymore — it’s all true and there is little to debate about, though a recent article in CNN suggests I get a smart thermostat and eat less meat if I want to fight climate change on my own. Yes, Baudrillard and Chomsky are right, and they have my anger — did they set out their ideas to do more? 

If there is loss of desire or gaze, those who know of these things (and where to cultivate them) must reach out and point the way, otherwise, the cultural inheritance will continue to go haywire, as corporate pseudo-art makes too many minds into egotistical sots (my playlist, my menu, my feelings [only to be shown when I want them validated]) — will loving relationships even be possible? This pseudo-art takes less chances and is less challenging so to appeal to the greatest common denominator — content mirroring the nonce demands of that growing audience.  

Still, why are there nearly a dozen books on how Proust can change one’s life? People tend to get lost without some dose of art in their hours — or those highly fabricated corporate-toxic stand-ins (i.e., superhero movies, politics, and grievances) that are the daily bread of QANON and similar people drifting angrily away from a reality they can’t face. 

Desire and gaze. Gaze and desire. 

I didn’t want to explore these notions or bellyache about their loss so much as to turn away — and in doing so, darkening, and deepening them. Perhaps another station in aging (a by-product of the previous) is how when one sees oneself in others, one will easily erase oneself in a Lynchian time-lapse and get left with the other and the ghost of oneself, an uncanny coupling. Somewhere during the pandemic’s beginning this started for me, though I’ve only been able to articulate it a year and a half after its infancy. Is this my nod to Deleuze’s “We are not in the world, we become with the world; we become by contemplating it. Everything is vision, becoming”? — a quote growing out of a Cezanne canard that Deleuze helped to fashion: “Not a ‘minute of the world passes,’ that we will preserve if we do not ‘become that minute.’” And how do we become that minute and the next with the seemingly insurmountable forces of distraction, that are also lifelines, letting us correspond with people thousands of miles away in seconds — indeed, I once had a roommate who told me it was quicker to download an album online than to get out of bed and find the CD and put it in the player?  

Is contemplating the world enough? Maybe the world makes slightly more sense when we get older because we’ve had longer to think about what has occurred — who’s really in or out (us, too) and why. Years ago, I was mystified at the cruelty of a woman I pursued. After a number of dates, she had chosen a particular roommate-less night to bring me back to her apartment for the first time — I then lived in an artist’s loft with a small makeshift bedroom divided from the main space by the equivalent of darkened plexiglass, while also legally agreeing I would not bring anyone home to the embarrassment of all involved. At the woman’s apartment, we circled around each other with tawdry obligatory: What should we drink? I like that picture. You named your cat Wasabi? Then, lip-locked in the living room, it was time to proceed to the next stage, and just before, in the hallway, she took a quick blade to my chest, and said with a grin: Do you want to talk about your writing now? I didn’t have the right parry, though I would the next day. Women usually know more than men and we will happily let ourselves be destroyed in the harbor (“If eyes, corrupt by over-partial looks, / Be anchored in the bay where all men ride”), as few can resist the heaven that may lead to a sort of hell. 

Seasons on, I can see it somewhat better from her purview — the pressure to have sex, to finally let the pursuer beneath the chastity belt. There is such a thing as the collective unconscious, eerily propitiated by the pop culture industry that strings us along from holiday to holiday, with the neo-medieval prurience around St. Valentine’s Day and all the noxious scents emitting from it translating into the modicum: “If you don’t have that someone special, you are less than.” Her one-liner, delivered with a sloppy snicker, was also, I have to admit, a wonderful dark joke of a Kubrickian pedigree that the Bronx-born genius would have been proud to have served in one of his beloved screenplays before an exhausted actor locked and loaded them for emission. It was also an honest to goodness sign — exactly one of the sorts that Proust would moon about for a page or two, and the type Deleuze in his Proust and Signs would highlight, saying,  

Learning is essentially concerned with signs. Signs are the object of a temporal apprenticeship, not of abstract knowledge. To learn is first of all to consider a substance, an object, a being as if they emitted signs to be deciphered, interpreted . . . Everything which teaches us something emits signs, every act of learning is an interpretation of signs of hieroglyphs… 

Surely the woman would have been too much for me to handle — she had her career, her fancies, and her brunches, while I temped at J.P. Morgan and lived in a hovel she couldn’t visit. Julia Kristeva: “The speaking subject gives herself away . . . ” But then, I was a rookie, and soaking up the sunny haze of living on my own in Brooklyn for a few months — I wanted to see it all, and though very far behind in performance, I had to learn to read the signs, and not only those that would be to my advantage. The signs of people in their twenties and thirties are lined with ulterior casements to duplicate their delirious experience of youth, so one can unfortunately almost expect the youth suicide rate to skyrocket with today’s piss-poor peer pressure overload, carrying myriad faults in what is supposed be a time of strengthening ligatures. Today, I would applaud the woman’s brio if such a story was passed down from some bewildered jejune soul, and I would tell the wounded, only after they insisted on consoling, to watch a Cassavetes, read Christine Schutt — the best advice will come from parable because the viewer/reader will be forced to come to their own conclusion or opening, possibilities which might not happen unconsciously and maybe not for some years. Get muddy, I remember an older man telling me about a possible sticky relationship on my horizon, a phrase transposing as, Life is short. 

Two avenues, then, when one reaches middle age — or two ways, Monsieur Proust — the curmudgeon or a more measured empathetic response, though it seems the youth have a head start on the former, their street smarts can get hampered by not looking in too deep, nor too far — there are no wrinkles in their faces to prove the emoluments for the morbidity of their arguments. The measured empathetic response is the much more difficult path, decorated with unbecoming laurels that don’t translate digitally, on top of grass that may be slime to the soles, or a hardy vegetal matter clung to by the right shoes. And, as I am on the footbridge toward the land of the setting sun, I carry the words of Proust, Deleuze, and Baudrillard close, gloriously imbibing the former, while often fending off the theoretical wiring and barbs of the other two, with exceptions. I recall Baudrillard’s “world as it is” and, surely, I am losing touch with it, as I devote more hours to the Internet and the incessant news cycle of the feed, including close-to-complete strangers sharing their most painful and mundane details, with blurry selfies, too — because what is one contemplating when one is so taken away, out of the moment, in quest of what will only be a ruse of being connected, in having the validation of the “like”? — only the avenue of attention. I am scared and then overcome, and I close the computer and open the books of life or listen to the rain gently falling onto the grass, and the birdcall and I begin to mourn for the life my daughter might lead — her very mood tied to frivolous things, porcine ideas, hoaxes, counterfeits, corporate-pseudo culture like reality shows and movies like American Beauty, Green Book, et. al. and I take a turn toward ballsy Baudrillard again and that hot spring man, irradiating my contumely with the best and worst of them in an unremarkable manner. 

At the same time, I was cracking the spines of the three Frenchman, we had rented a place in the country and some nights, while the bedtime routine continued without me, I would sit on the porch in the gloaming and watch the stands of trees sprinkled on the property, with the periodic buzzing and blaring from the highway semis down the hill. The treetops undulated in a moderate wind. Just to watch them for a minute — even less than a minute, and it was pure watching — made me sigh; too many moments had I spent looking at what trees become after pulping. Earlier that day we’d driven by the burnished table rocks of the privately-owned Mohonk Preserve, and, often missing the gargantuan nature housed in the American West, I decided one could pretend there was another mountain over the mountain I saw, and those chocolate Shawangunk mountains could, with the right tincture and avoirdupois, become the Table Rocks just outside Medford, Oregon that one can see when driving north on I-5, though they were close to last summer’s fires and may have been in danger from this years’.  

I had just read of the grandmother’s death in Proust and instantly put a transparency of my life, including one of those aforementioned deaths, my father’s, over his description of the stages of her disappearance, particularly this: 

And if Legrandin had looked back at us with that astonished air, it was because to him, as to the other people who passed us then, in the cab in which my grandmother was apparently seated, she had seemed to be foundering, sliding into the abyss, clinging desperately to the cushions which could barely arrest the downward plunge of her body, her hair in disorder, her eye wild, unable any longer to face the assault of the images which its pupil was not strong enough now to bear. She had appeared to them, although I was still by her side, submerged in that unknown world somewhere in which she had already received the blows, traces of which she still bore when I looked up at her a few minutes earlier in the Champs-Elysées, her hat, her face, her cloak left in disorder by the hand of the invisible angel with whom she had wrestled. 

Proust is Proust because he is words and sentences, but also cinematography — the weight of sculpture, the spread of color on the canvas, the dancer and the dance. That sample is part of a paragraph holding other staunch sentences, but it is also fractal led — mood indigo and crack cocaine to those murmuring senses on our surface and those buried. 

Nothing can cleave like death. No matter the corporations and propaganda departments trying to the keep the real specter of it from us, like the TV news — “And a woman was killed in the robbery attempt.” Pause, the newscaster turns to a different camera: “In other news, a man has been eating the same three meals a day for over two years . . .” — it stands out more perversely now that people don’t die at home, and we rarely see the final breath in the hospital. 

I recognized that the above part of Proust was the beginning part of a grand epitaph for those millions quietly perishing, that we will never meet, as well as whoever reality has taken from one — a parent, a friend, a child. This sequence stretches ten pages, and it ends in something too charged to be sentimental: 

An hour or two later Françoise was able for the last time, and without causing them any pain, to comb those beautiful tresses which had only begun to turn grey and hitherto had seemed not so old as my grandmother herself. But now on the contrary it was they alone that set the crown of age on a face grown young again, from which had vanished the wrinkles, the contractions, the swellings, the strains, the hollows which in the long course of years had been carved on it by suffering. As at the far-off time when her parents had chosen for her a bridegroom, she had the features delicately traced by purity and submission, the cheeks glowing with a chaste expectation, with a vision of happiness, with an innocent gaiety even which the years had gradually destroyed. Life in withdrawing from her had taken with it the disillusionments of life. A smile seemed to be hovering on my grandmother’s lips. On that funeral couch, death, like a sculptor of the Middle Ages, had laid her in the form of a young maiden. 

It is not surprising how Barthes found Proust’s novel the cherished mandala nor that he would read Flaubert according to Proust. It is the heaviest weight in World Literature along with Dante and Shakespeare. Edmund Wilson called it a one of the gloomiest books ever written.  

A strange Proustian moment occurred while I ruminated about the grandmother’s death — a text chain, with three other people attached, came in from a friend who read the new Proust story in The New Yorker. He had attached me, someone else literary-minded, and his stepdaughter, who had read through the whole of Proust eight years before; this woman I had grown close to via our love of art and literature — she was also a deft painter, bowing to the old masters rather than the non-figurative flights of present day. We read each other poetry, watched Tarkovsky, and debated Henry James. She implored me to read Proust, just as I pressed The Golden Bowl and William Gaddis on her. Time passed. People moved, people were born and died, people forgot things — there is no fault, some weeds overgrow a friendship. Because texting is a meaningless tool for deep communication, I eschewed the chain, and the next day wrote an email telling her of being enthralled by Proust, while being presently situated in the belly of The Guermantes Way. No answer, but I could quarter-expect that. She was a phone person when I knew her and not too interested in email, though she had a precise way with the written word. Within the barrage of back-and-forth texts, it turned out she was in Rome, seemingly on vacation, though I asked for clarification in the email. Weeks on she did call.  

An unexpected bonus to getting older is learning to be less bothered by certain things and saving the fury for the ventricles closest to the heart. My falling away from her step-father, the originator of the text, will give my days a much more dire cast and, at home, I’ll walk into the bedroom and sit at the overcrowded desk, wondering whether to leave the window open to the sounds of those delivery trucks or whether to parse the latest translation of The Duino Elegies (“before the heart’s curtain”) or just to remain still in the chair, while everything continues on, and go back into my time with the one-time friend, when the world’s problems seemed almost laughable because we were so innocent — me 30, him 40. Proust, not Rilke, is the life-vest:  

Is it because we live over our past years not in their continuous sequence, day by day, but in a memory that fastens upon the coolness or sun-parched heat of some morning or afternoon, receives the shadow of some solitary place, is enclosed, immovable, arrested, lost, remote from all others, because, therefore, the changes gradually wrought not only in the world outside but in our dreams and our evolving character (changes which have imperceptibly carried us through life from one to another, wholly different time), are of necessity eliminated, that, if we revive another memory taken from a different year, we find between the two, thanks to lacunae, to vast stretches of oblivion, as it were the gulf of a difference in altitude or the incompatibility of two divers qualities, that of the air we breathe and the colour of the scene before our eyes? 

If the anger at the lack of what I desire now — male friendship — doesn’t occur so much, I still dabble in its quicksand if only to justify being let go by the other party, her stepfather (or did I do it?); people especially grow apart in these days when the Internet is humankind’s best friend, with nostalgia existing to only get us through the weekend. If we can’t live in memory, aren’t we more prone to madness and delirium? So we authorize surgical appliqués of chosen moments to keep ourselves in a hazy twilight sedation — even when masked and going to buy groceries and not looking long at some alien visage or ensemble so as to betray what we’ll gladly let foment alone on or near our bed, that oasis for pain-letting where we can double or treble the vaunted stimulus, reaction, fear, and desire — this crenellated murky mirth that appears as marl is quite redolent of Proust and the length of The Search for Lost Time speaks to the experience of why deja vu is so prevalent — nobody can say with any authority that what we feel had happened before did not happen, not even us. A Baudrillard/hot springs man spirit could arise inside, but I prefer Proustian consciousness, which glazed and imbricated by transmuting scorn, and it retains the Socrates/Jungian equipoise of “the only thing I know is that I know nothing,” even if this is not borne out in words — Proust, like Jung, has done enough work to piss on laurels and let plaudits lie where they may. One of Proust’s most prominent interpreters, Roger Shattuck, points out, “The congruence of his faith in desired things with the real presence of those things close to him produces a wholeness of experience that stays in his memory. It provides the eternal standard of a world not yet sundered by soul error,” which is another strain of “We create our own reality.” We live in the past (Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past”) as we walk in the future (Twin Peaks: The Return: “Is it future…or past?). 

“We are not in the world, we become it by contemplating it.” Nearly every line of Proust fists this feeling into form. Even if every minute is the search for lost time, one can reverse-osmosis that process into those crystal-images Deleuze writes of in his cinema books that unite an actual image and a virtual one until they can no longer be distinguished — the dream of the Gothic fortress rising from the sea of still waves — something that can be (Oregon mountain over New York Mountain) if we want. Many are searching for the primordial feeling of childhood, and we are agitating to return or at least feel it again, a second, a third time, through love, art, folly — and contemplating. 

One might say the point of life is the pain: the realization of the realization that I was once this, and I had this and this — and now I have this…perhaps it is not good enough, perhaps it is, and perhaps it doesn’t matter. It isn’t that time heals all, but that we constantly revise the volumes containing our life “thanks to lacunae, to vast stretches of oblivion . . . ” Just as I can put one mountain over the other, I can picture a happy ending like in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, where I will be united with this friend and so many others. The letter never sent, the email never pressed into the cloud, the text never thumbed — they all depend on the “memory that fastens upon the coolness or sun-parched heat of some morning or afternoon, receives the shadow of some solitary place . . .” I can also imagine that one-time friend who introduced me to so many writers who would have an enormous impact on my life, in reading just a touch of Proust in The New Yorker, was sharing something vital with me and no matter the unresolvedness, we are on Marcel’s mandala mountain, waving to each other.  

But such a fantasy was barbed. A few weeks later this man left a voicemail asking if I’d ever gotten his message. What message? His mother had died. Cancer — she stopped eating and, in a few days, she was gone. I hadn’t gotten this message from four days before — some satellite malfunctioned, and it only popped into my voicemail a few hours after his asking me. All of this was communicated by text — to my dissatisfaction. Being on a trip, I had a hard time finding an opening to call. But, of course, there is no excuse, though I didn’t have to look into my moleskin for my list of disappointments. Had he called me when my father died? Proust would soon tell me why he had not. 

There is no reclamation, but I began to build another scene on that imaginary mountain. Art making life and importance is the (next) best thing. •