July 10th is the anniversary of Marcel’s birth in 1871, and 137 years later, he is still going strong. My latest Proust sighting occured in this book, “The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life” by Twyla Tharp:
“When Marcel Proust dipped his petites madeleines into his tea, the taste and aroma set off a flood of memories and emotions from which modern literature still has not recovered.”
The above quote and the ones that follow are from a chapter called Muscle Memory in which Tharp discusses the form of memory retained by our bodies by a repeated physical act, in an unconscious form similar to the Proustian madeleine moment. You know the saying that one never forgets how to ride a bike? That’s what she means.
“Muscle memory has its uses in the creative process, perhaps more for acquiring skill than for developing inspiration. But it’s useful nevertheless.”
So what’s the connection between muscle memory and Proust? Well obviously, he had to learn the skill of bending his elbow to bring the madeleine to his mouth without spilling the tea in the spoon- not really.
“…the exercise is less about muscles and more about perceiving structures and harmonies anew- from the vantage point of the author rather than the reader.”
The exercise Tharp is speaking of is, in whatever field of endeavor you aspire to, you should choose an example or a mentor that inspires you or challenges you and emulate them, to the best of your ability. This is where Proust comes in:
“Raymond Chandler and Proust went through a similar process when honing their very different crafts. Chandler believed Hemingway to be the greatest American novelist of his time, and he wrote imitations of Hemingway’s style to absorb what he loved about it. Proust went further, spending twelve years translating and annotating the writing of the English art historian John Ruskin. He also wrote a series of articles for Le Figaro imitating the styles of such 19th century literary figures as Balzac and Flaubert.”
I think there is much value in this advice, and I think Marcel would agree with me and with Twyla.
I have not tried to write in the style of Proust, but I have tried to paint in the style of my favorite painter, Vincent van Gogh. Here’s an attempt, in acrylic:
And here’s an attempt in oil, in the style of Marc Chagall, on a subject and a place nearer to Proust’s world:
The Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889, 18 years after Marcel’s birth, which brings us back to the day, 137 years ago, that we look back to today; Joyeux Anniversaire, Marcel.