In Search of WASTED Time

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Spyglass
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  • #1
  • Posted: 08/01/2020 16:23
  • Post subject: In Search of WASTED Time
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I was recently in a conversation about what it takes to write a proper story, which started because I had read a full novel's worth of content in an incredibly long and slow-paced novel: In Search of Lost Time. This is a French autobiography written by Marcel Proust, and it's notable for the advanced grammar and theme of memory. These are good traits about it, and by those standards it's a good novel. The grammar is so perfectly written that its helped authors after its time to achieve greater grammatical prowess. However, some places site this novel as the greatest ever written. I came to the realization that the novel is incredibly overrated, and possible from the (dare I say it), objective standpoint. Now You're probably thinking, "If you haven't read the whole novel, you can't judge." Newsflash: the world is full of surprises. If a novel demands so much attention that you have to read 3,000 pages of slow-pace to finish it, then you CAN judge if you've invested enough time.

This isn't the same thing as reading War and Peace, and I loved War and Peace. The novel may have lasted for 1,000 pages, but their were multiple main characters with their own stories being connected, and the novel covered 13 years of activity between all of them. This made a 1,000 page novel surprisingly quick-paced and to the point. A novel that focused anymore on vocabulary might have lasted 400 pages more, but I still would have read it. The problem here is that the majority of the appeal towards this slow-paced 3,000 page novel is that it's ambitious in its grammar. I am more than willing to read long novels. I'm currently getting through two novels: The Godfather and Journey to the West. The latter is 1,400 pages, and incredibly entertaining because there is a lot going on, and it's all unique and out of this world. It's true that the grammar of In Search of Lost Time is beyond incredible, but a Grammarly advertisement put the novel to shame without realizing it by saying, "take a look at this sentence. Grammatically, it's correct, but it's lengthy and hard to read." That's probably not verbatim, but the meaning is the same. I never forgot it. In Search of Lost Time is not only far too long... it's far too demanding.

The novel carries a long paragraph describing the very instant that a man wakes up from a dream. That's slow-pace if I ever heard of it. These are very well-written paragraphs; beautiful ones. But still, if that was only an occasional thing, it would be more forgivable. Even Satantango isn't that slow, and it's a seven hour black-and-white film full of five-to-ten minute camera shots. But at least Satantango had a story that stands out. In Search of Lost Time is an average story about an average boy's life in the 1800's and going into adulthood. What's so unique about an average life that it requires 3,000 pages of lengthy paragraphs? The story of Satantango centered around a slightly-apocalyptic world where the government has fallen, and now they're sending a man back to his village with a deal to use the people to rebuild the communist government without realizing it. This movie came from a novel, the debut novel of Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai. I read that this novel's anti-communist message was so cleverly hidden that the communist government didn't even notice. A few years later, the communist government of Hungary DID go backwards. There's innovation, a message, a unique story and a satisfying negative ending. It's not about being a "commercial" story, (my belief in quality versus commercialism is why I love several Tarkovsky films and why I loved Satantango and Abel Gance's Napoleon. It's about relation, which can be hidden behind the length and vocabular by accident.

Now, listen. The minimum length of a novel is 50,000 pages. I've read half of Swann's Way has a word count of 195,000 words. I read half. That means I've already essential read two minimum novels. After deciding that I didn't want to spend another 1.1 million words to reach the end of the slowest-pace I've ever experienced, I quit. I think 100,000 words is more than enough to validate an opinion on a novel so incredibly demanding. The novel wants you to achieve a sort of patience which goes beyond average readability. You see, sentences will oftentimes be as long as paragraphs. Why? The sentences that don't fall into dialogue will diverge into so many sub-points that you might forget what the original point of the sentence was. For some, this novel is saved by grammar so beautiful and perfect that it's ambitious.

So we have an ambitious and flawless college-English lesson that lasts for 3,000 pages. Otherwise, the characters are average and the story is not very unique even for 100,000 pages. It's not a very interesting story. War and Peace had lots of interesting topics to cover because it was covering history from multiple perspectives. Journey to the West is probably the most active novel I've let my eyes see. Atlas Shrugged was fairly slow-paced, but the only reason I didn't finish it was because I moved and I couldn't find the copy. If someone has the audacity to say that you can't judge In Search of Lost Time because you haven't finished it, then ask the, "Why should I treat a slow-paced 3,000 page novel like any other novel?" You shouldn't. If something demands too much time from you, and you subject yourself to it for a little while and decide that it's too much, your opinion is PERFECTLY VALID and don't let anyone tell you that it's not.

Now I'm not saying that the novel is bad. Their are definite merits to take from the novel and I'll never be against that. But relation makes a novel more readable. If a 3,000 page novel is so complex in its writing that you have to go back and read multiple paragraphs, then there's a HUGE flaw with the novel. The story and characters suffer for this at times. If you enjoyed it, that's valid. But the validity of reading 100,000 words and saying "That's enough" is valid as well, even if you love experimental/avant-garde/arthouse things. In fact, the right to quit if it bores you is undeniable, but the right to rate it has merit in special cases, and ISOLT is a special book for its strengths and flaws.
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Last edited by Spyglass on 08/05/2020 16:40; edited 1 time in total
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Applerill
Autistic Princess <3


Gender: Female
Age: 26
Location: Chicago
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  • #2
  • Posted: 08/05/2020 07:53
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Okay, I keep putting off responding to what is possibly the worst take in the history of this site, but I’ll try my best to get it out of the way. I’ve only read Swann’s Way, but what that section alone is able to accomplish is more than enough to cement Proust’s legacy.

Anyway, the most disgusting argument you make is framing the novel as whether it’s “worth your time”, which is an argument that can only be understood through a neoliberal framework of the novel as a consumer product. Art is (in most cases, at least) not a value-added commodity, so it’s silly to treat it as that way.

Second, I think that as a visceral experience it is wonderful, because it brings you into this wonderful dream state that hypnotizes you for pages and pages. You brought up Satantango, which I obviously love, but I think a much better comparison would be Morton Feldman’s late-period compositions from 60 years later. With Feldman, the bleeding-edge composers at Wandelweiser are still working with the ideas he put to music, so to see a writer have a similar affect with just the written word 60 years later is astounding.

And then there’s obviously the central image of Swann’s Way that stands as one of the most timeless mythologies of the twentieth century: The Madeline cookie. Just in the past few weeks I’ve repeatedly brought up this image when talking about country singer Riley Green’s song “I Wish Grandpas Never Died”, and I’ve seen so many other writers use it as a way to talk about our obsessions with nostalgia in general. I honestly can’t think of a book that better understands the nature of memory than Swann’s Way
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Gowi
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  • #3
  • Posted: 08/05/2020 10:20
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One of the few times I sort of agree with Charli.
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Spyglass
Holier than "X_Person"


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  • #4
  • Posted: 08/05/2020 15:18
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Understanding the nature of memory is one thing, but even The Mirror was able to cover that ground in 90 minutes. The difference between The Mirror and In Search of Lost Time is that the former balances out the many traits of filmmaking while the main focus is centered around the genre: experimental films, which is to be expected. But that all happens in 90 minutes.

I understand where you got the idea that I was saying that it should be a "consumer product," but that's not what I was trying to say. All I was saying is that it needs to be more readable, not to treat the English language as an obsession so that the novel is more relatable considering how personal it's attempting to be. Understanding memory is all fine, and it's actually up my alley. The Mirror is a top 20 movie for me and it's my current favorite from Tarkovsky, but going into an incredibly lengthy paragraph going into too much detail about the VERY INSTANT YOUR EYES OPEN FROM A DREAM is too much.

I admit that I'm not the bookworm that I want to be, but never let it be said that I don't like long novels. In fact, I started In Search of Lost Time strictly because it was so long. War and Peace was practice for it, and I loved that novel so much that I wanted to make my own movie out of it. But War and Peace is still a very readable book. ISOLT is a very demanding novel. It's not horrible or anything like that (I'm not going to call a novel with ambitious vocabulary and perfect grammar "bad" because those are great traits alone) it's just that the flaws seem to go largely ignored. If the focus is memory then it needs to be more relatable, and the constant rambling ran away with itself. War and Peace and Journey to the West are 1,000+ pages and they don't ramble as much at all.

Another point that I need to make is that War and Peace lead me to Abel Gance's Napoleon, which is a five-and-a-half hour silent film from 1927. It's a hard biopic to beat, it really is. The movie placed a balanced emphasis on the development of Napoleon's character, cinematography (fucking incredible), relation to Napoleon and the events of the war, and other traits of filmmaking. A novel is not an essay. There's plenty of room for psychoanalysis (and ESPECIALLY cover memory and dreams for me. I love dream and memory-centered stories). But ambitious vocabulary went above and beyond the focus, and detracted from the focus of the story and theme. Why couldn't these paragraph-long sentences be separated?
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Spyglass
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  • #5
  • Posted: 08/05/2020 18:39
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Gowi wrote:
One of the few times I sort of agree with Charli.


I'd like to hear your take on this. But first, let me repeat: it's an alright novel with its own strong merits, but IMO they also get in the way of readability and relation.

EDIT: I just counted the lines of a sentence in the first part of Swann's Way: 54. It wasn't even a full paragraph.
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