Archive for the 'Ebooks' Category

Jul 14 2007

Listening to Proust

Published by under Ebooks,French Literature

I have just finished reading The Guermantes Way (1925) by Marcel Proust. That is to say, I have just finished listening to it. I discovered the wonders of speech synthesis technologies, also known as text-to-speech (TTS) software several years ago (a guide to various TTS software is at Master New Media). There are lots of companies around these days which produce audio books, but most people don’t realize how easy it is to turn any electronic text you possess into your own private audio book. You can download the Moncrieff translation of Remembrance of Things Past at the University of Adelaide, and then all it takes is a little time and patience to turn all the texts into mp3 files. You can also create mp3 files from other public domain authors whose works are online, such as—for example—Ernest Dowson or Arthur Machen. No one is ever going to make audio books from the works of authors like these, but who cares about that—you can do it yourself. For a long time now I have been listening to 20-30 minutes of Proust each morning as I drive to work, and it helps me survive the day.

This is the second time I am making my way through Remembrance of Things Past. I never got around to reading all seven of Proust’s volumes until I was in my forties, which I now consider one of the major mistakes of my life. Proust opened my eyes to the mysteries of time and memory, the need for self-examination, the importance of the imagination, the necessity of aesthetic perception, the glories of nature, the intricacies of the human soul, and—most important—the spiritual vision in all great art. (And if only I had discovered all this when I was younger!) I’ve learned that Proust’s masterwork is even more intricate and brilliant the second time you experience it. Like all supreme works of art you always find something new and wonderful every time you go back to it. As far as I’m concerned, Proust was second only to Shakespeare in his ability to create vivid characters, memorable dialogue, and absorbing situations.

The Guermantes Way is one of Proust’s most satirical volumes. It concerns the adventures of Proust’s narrator in Parisian high society, an in-group composed of superficial bores and titled idiots, all of whom occupy their useless lives with never-ending social events. But all the characters come across as living and breathing human beings, and you can really discover what goes on inside their heads. Their petty maneuverings can also be quite humorous—one thing I never expected when I decided to tackle Proust was that some passages would be so funny that I would end up shaking with laughter.

Onward to The Cities of the Plain

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