Monthly Archives: February 2008

Marginalia, no.1

He was one of that class of men who have acquired an entirely different kind of culture, literary or artistic, for which their professional specialization has no use… More lettered than many men of letters…, endowed with greater ’facility’ than many painters, they imagine that the life they are obliged to lead is not that for which they are really fitted, and they bring to their regular occupations either an indifference tinged with fantasy, or a sustained and haughty application, scornful, bitter and conscientious.

~ Proust, Swann’s Way

A description of Legrandin.  I don’t imagine I’m “more lettered than many men of letters” but, though I’ve known once or twice the temptation of “haughty application,” my standard response to the workaday world is precisely “indifference tinged with fantasy.” Legrandin, c’est moi.

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The point is only to write the sort of things you yourself like most to read, which is easier said than done. We picture them as twins born of the same mother, but the two pleasures of reading and writing show little family likeness. They are as alien to one another as the ear is to the mouth. It’s one thing to train yourself to recognize eloquence and to savor the music of language; it’s another thing entirely to write well and put that sort of music into our own words.

The trouble is that a person is always deaf to the sound of his own voice. When he speaks, vibrations reach the ear through the air but also through the subterranean passages of flesh and bone that separate the voice box from the tympanic membrane. What he recognizes as his own voice is not the voice that others recognize as his. It’s no wonder we’re disturbed by recordings of ourselves.

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