Copernique Marshall's Essays


No. 091 to 100

(July 3rd, 2017 to date)

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Qu'est-ce qu'un paragraphe ? 

J'ai sans doute mal compris quand on m'a expliqué ce qu'était un paragraphe quand j'étais à l'école : un petit groupe de phrases traitant d'un seul et même sujet ou d'une seule et même idée, ce sujet ou cette idée pouvant être une description, un événement, l'expression d'une opinion, la définition d'un mot, etc. Ce paragraphe, par exemple, qui traite uniquement de la signification du mot «paragraphe» est un paragraphe et il est composé de deux phrases.

Ayant, avec Paul, récemment lu 27 introductions, préfaces ou explications sur la façon dont certaines parties d'À la recherche du Temps perdu ont été assemblées (pour la série de discussions que nous avons sur Proust), j'ai été surpris de la longueur de certains paragraphes que de nombreux rédacteurs de ces introductions, préfaces ou explications ont utilisée pour s'exprimer. Certains de leurs paragraphes s'étiraient sur deux et même trois pages traitant - oui, peut-être - d'un sujet en particulier, mais entre le début et la fin, j'ai pensé qu'il me serait loisible de me demander, en les lisant à voix haute, quand et où je devais faire une pause pour respirer.

J'en ai un sous les yeux en ce moment : 739 mots, 4,248 caractères, 68 lignes. Il contient 16 phrases sans compter celles contenues dans les citations extraites de cinq lettres écrites par Proust à quatre correspondants différents (une de ces citations en contient cinq). - Et à tout cela, il faut au lecteur ajouter deux notes en bas de page et la mention d'un article de Paul Bourget paru dans le Figaro : «Charles de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul» (sic). - Le thème de ce paragraphe : «Sur quoi d'abord, il faut se pencher pour comprendre quand Proust a débuté la rédaction d'À la recherche.» - Imaginez-vous le reste.

Deux explications :

1 - Ceux qui écrivent sur Proust tendent à l'imiter n'ayant pas compris que Proust s'est servi énormément de courtes phrases courtes pour écrire À la recherche, que la plus célèbre de ses phrases ne contient que huit mots : «Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure.» et que ces longues phrases ont un but très précis.

(À noter qu'à Grasset, son premier éditeur, qui trouvait trop longue la première partie d'À la recherche (Du côté de chez Swann), Proust proposa, pour que cette partie soit imprimée en moins de cinq cents pages, de réduire les marges, de supprimer les blancs dans tous les dialogues - ce qui ferait entrer davantage les propos dans la continuité du texte -, ainsi que les «alinéas excessifs»...)

2 - Tout comme les éditeurs, les rédacteurs d'introductions,  préfaces ou descriptions concernant Proust sont des écologistes convaincus et, pour sauvegarder nos forêts, insèrent le mois possible d'alinéas dans leurs textes et insistent pour les faire imprimer en caractères de sept points ou moins.

On est loin de la définition classique d'un paragraphe :

Partie d'un texte contenant au moins une phrase, débutant sur une nouvelle ligne et traitant généralement d'un seul événement, d'une seul idée, etc. 




On Readers

I can't understand why people stick to books, magazines and newspapers when what they read is most likely available on electronic readers which weigh less than a small paperback. They remind me (I think Simon mentioned something along these lines some time ago) of early 2Oth century folks who stuck to candles and horses, and subsequently to ice boxes. - Curiously, most of the people who insist on reading printed newspaper or paperbacks believe in recycling, ecology and global warming but pay little or no attention to the trees and energy it takes to print whatever they want to  read. - One thing is sure : when their favorite newspaper will disapears - and most will - just like La Presse did not too long ago, they'll have no choice : either buy a tablet or a reader or be as misinformed as they were before ; but by then they might consider reading Le Monde, The London or New York Times or the Washington Post, even The Guardian while they're at it. Most for pennies a month. - And, by the way, exist better paper than newspaper to wrap fish n' chips.

And please don't mention the psychological factors or the habits that persist and impossible to get rid of, or the smell, or the touch, or the sight of beautiful bookcases filled with leather bound books and assorted bibelots. Go to your local library or a museum for that and think, just think of the cost involved in printing, distributing and recycling your paper junk. Or, are you the type that would close down the Internet and build more librairies ?

For 80 $, one can buy one of the best readers on the market : the Kindle E-reader. Wanna go into the all-time best ? Try the Kindle Paperwhite. It'll set you back 140 $ which is the average price of a single La Pléiade volume.  - And once you own a Kindle, you'll be able to buy hundreds of books for or less than 2 $ (two dollars !) on Amazon. - What books ? - How about the complete works of :Proust, Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Molière or Shakespeare at 3 $ per author - not per book, per author (that was no typo) - all of which which you'll be able to carry about everywhere including - free of charge with most readers - an English-French-English dictionary or a free English or French dictionary or both or all three. - Best sellers are now being sold for half or a bit more than half the price or their paper edition : instantly, no delivery charge, no trip to the bookstore or whatever they're called nowadays as they've become stores where you'll find more gift items, toys and games they actual books.. - And besides that, you'll find thousands of free books on the WEB (check out the Gutenberg site). - How nany can you store in a reader ? Several ? A couple of dozens ?  Hundreds ? - Thousands, actually : an entire personal library which, in many case, is what some people won't read  unless they live to be 150 years old.




The Decline and Fall of The Clark Institute
(Williamstown,Ma, USA)

A friend of mine, now retired, used to be a «museologist» ; the sort of fellow, you know, who knows - knew, really - how to plan, organize and manage exhibits in museums, that is : he knew, given the size and the notoriety of what was to be displayed, how many guards and clerks would be required, where and how and at what hours visitors would show up, what general paths they would follow, how many minutes they would stay in this or that area, what was going to be the key-pieces people would want to see and how to specifically control the number of people that would gather around them. In other words, he knew, notwithstanding what art critics thought, said or wrote or what the museum directors wanted their «clients» to see, exactly how people would behave given the size of the rooms, the nature of the objects being exhibited - paintings, sculptures or whatever - the lenght of time that should be allowed and generally speaking how to manage the entire show.

He wasn't, of course, very popular, amongst the art elite whose members thought they knew everything about these things and, particularly, how uneducated masses ought to be taught how to appreciate what they considered real art.

And he wasn't an architect nor a designer nor a Johnny-knows-it all ; he was simply somebody who had watched how people behaved in normal day-to-day activities including visits in museums ; very unlike the fellow who designed the staircase in the south building of the Montréal Fine Arts Museum where, in order to climb or go down a single step, one either has to be a midget or 3 meters tall because the length or each tread (the part of a stairway that is stepped on) is one and half time or multiple thereof of what has been considered usual (read : normal) for centuries. - What this implies is that unless one takes half-steps every other step, one winds up using using the same leg to raise or lower riser (the vertical portion between each tread).


You can read all about staircases and how to calculate the rise and run of a set of stairs at the following addresses :

Nothing dramatic, mind you, just a bit annoying but downright frustrating for people who have the slightest problem climbing ordinary stairs.

I understand that the genius who designed the above staircase wanted people to notice how an ordinary set of steps could be changed into something beautiful and worth paying attention to.

Bull, I say and bull as well to I-don't-how-how-many landscapers and architects who take for granted that people will go around corners using points A, B and C to go from A to C and find out after a while that people no longer use the sidewalks then had so thoughtfully designed but walk directly across their beautiful lawn to go from A to C.

An aparté on architects

My idea of an architect is someone capable of designing functional houses, office building, places of worship, arenas or whatever. The key word, her, is functional the definition of which is : practical and useful, not first and foremost attractive or beautiful to look at, - An opera house is not functional if some of the people sitting therein can't hear anything ; an arena is not fuctional if some of the spectators cannot see the entire rink or field ; and so it goes with staircases : if anybody using it cannot go up or down without taking unusual steps is not practical nor useful however attractive and beutiful it might be. Unless, it leads nowhere. Then, we're talking about a work of art, not a staircase. - The same applies to sidewalks who forces anyone to take a longer patgh to go anywhere.

A caveat, of couse ; if it's practical nothing should stop an architect to decorate or embellish it.

(My pet peave on  this is the numbers of models created in the past few years to «embellish»  plumbing fixtures. Nice looking some of them but one pratically needs a 10 page volume to understand how some of them work. - And when was the last time you try to adjust a digital clock ? - How about intelligent phones ?)

And back to the Clarkson :

Anyway, looks like the trustees of the Clarkson Museum did not call a «museologist» to redesign their intallations but either relied on their concept of what a museum should look like or called the genius what created the aforementioned staircase or his counterpart.

Gone is the main entrance which was very well designed. Gone is the parking at the rear where you only had to walk a few feet to get into the building. Gone is the nicely designed rear garden area which now has been replaced by a huge parking from which one has to follow long walls behind which are the new building which one can barely see from the parking !

The museum shop which used to sell an enormous quantity of toys, photos, art kits has been replaced by a collection of artefacts, books and extremely expensive scarfs or other wearing apparels. - Well these walls have to be paid...

I hadn't been there in some years and, being in the area, I decided to go back to see a couple of paintings I really liked but after having walked close to a kilometer in order to reach the exhibit area, I simply turned around.

My opinion ? It has tunred into an architectural disaster. Nice looking thought, if you like straight lines and bricks,

Too bad because the area is beautiful and the nearby village (let's call it a town) is charming. Great book store and a nice pub (owned by an expatriated French restaurateur, by the way) which serves good food.


P.-S. : Speaking of bad staircase design - I haven't been there in months -, there was a shop on Laurier street (in Montreal) - who might no longer extist - whose staircase leading to the second floor was entirely made of meshed or opened design metal. - Very nice in the summer, with girls walking up in their miniskirts but you should have seen the disaster in the winter with people walking up with their wet boots dripping all the way down to those on the ground floor.


2 + 2 = 5

I was talking about statistics, not too long ago, in a the bar of the hotel in which I was staying a few days and mentioned that half of the people one meets in a day are statistically less intelligent than the other half or that half of the drivers on a turnpike drive better than the other half.

The context - highbrow stuff (remember this was a bar) - was wether it was better to say that a glass was half full than half empty. - I won't explain any more.

«Well it depends where you were.» replied one of the regulars.

«Yeah, added another. Depends if you were in the jungle or at a rocket scientists' reunion.»

I went on stating that 2 + 2 might equal 5... if the 2's are large enough.

«Now that makes sense» said the waitress. 

Guess where I was. - No, not at that pub mentioned above.

I'll give you a hint : I was in a country whose north border is the longest in the world.




You know...

I keep thinking that I have very little opinion on anything. I'm a shrinking violet when it comes to proving my point and try to avoid conversations in which I have to ascertain things, not to mention debates. - The reason for this is simple : I'm more a believer in things that can be proven as opposed to proving things I believe in. Sort of a science guy who will do anything to demonstrate that any statement, theory or law is or are wrong as opposed to accumulating facts to demonstrate that a belief is right.

This usually puts me in all sorts of awkward situations because I keep asking questions when someone says anything : where did you hear this ? are your sure ? suppose it wasn't true ? can you trust that commentator, that magazine, that politician ? - And when one does that, one is automatically classified as being in the other camp.

What other camp ? 

All right I'm no George W. Bush who once said that between creationism and evolution, he wasn't too sure as «the jury was still out». - What jury ? Where ? (As Lewis Black retorted.) - But then asking an evolutionist where he gets his facts doesn't necessarily mean that I'm an creationists.

Let me put this another way :

I have problems with people who belong to the Flat-Earth Research Society, those who believe that a wall is necessary to keep Mexican out of the United States, the barroom experts who think that Trickle-Down Economy is a good idea and anybody who have voted for the same party for years when their party has changed its policies several times. No wonder I hang around with Simon.


P.-S. 1 : BTW, go and read what Paul and I have worked on last month : Marcel Proust. Click HERE.

P.-S. 2 : And I know he won't mention it but check out Paul's new radio programs. Click HERE.


092 - 2017-08-07

Les mois passent et ne se ressemblent pas

Je ne sais pas comment ça m'est arrivé, mais j'ai l'impression de n'avoir rien fait, sauf lire, au cours des derniers deux mois.

Matter of fact, I don't know how Paul [Dubé] with whom I'm currently writing on Proust manages but he seems to be reading continuously, day after day, weeks after weeks, months after months. He's been perhaps doing for years, as far as I can see ; at a rate that would humble the most ardent book worshippers. He's into - what ? - three, four, five books a week ? All I know is, having travelled with him, he could be in the six or seven books category, like reading Joyce's Ulysses twice on a single cross-Atlantic flight.

Et ce qu'il lit par dessus le marché ! Ça va d'essais incompréhensibles sur les plus récentes découvertes en mathématique (je ne savais pas que ça pouvait exister !) aux plus obscurs écrivains des deux derniers siècles. - Si encore il ne s'en tenait qu'à ça, mais non : entre deux chroniques il a le temps de préparer des émissions de radio et écouter dix-huit heures de musique entre le moment où il se lève et midi où il en est à l'heure de l'apéro.

And the memory he has ! He's known to be able to quote the most useless statistics on anything ; like how much a loaf of bread used to cost in the late 90's - that's 1890's.

Sans lui, nos chroniques sur Proust n'existeraient pas. «C'est extraordinaire, me disait-il récemment. Suffit aujourd'hui, avec nos ordinateurs. de se rappeler deux ou trois mots pour retrouver n'importe quel passage d'À la recherche, non seulement au complet, mais dans son contexte.» - Yeah, sure ! - Facile à dire par quelqu'un qui peut vous citer des passages complets de Finnegan's Wake, encore faut-il se rappeler les quelques mots de ce passage ou savoir dans quelle édition [de Proust] Bergotte meurt deux fois !

«He's like that» as Mike Stamford mentions about Sherlock Holmes to Doctor Watson in that last version staring Benedict Cumberbatch. - I think he would have made a great troubadour. Not Holmes, Paul, and not the kind you might think of  :  a troubadour like those who could remember a two thousand lines poem, song or story after having heard it twice.

Mon père, qui s'est toujours tenu avec des jeunes, disait qu'ils [les jeunes] lui ont toujours sauvé des heures et des heures de recherches parce qu'ils savaaient tout. Je soupçonne Paul d'avoir été un de ceux-là ! - Doit travailler en catimini pour les rédacteurs d'encyclopédies.

«It's not a gift, he says. It's a curse... Like having a 20 terabytes hard disk in your head, but with no directories. »

N'empêche que lire des heures à la fois, pendant des jours et des jours, c'est fatigant. Surtout si, comme cela lui arrive constamment, on lui demande son opinion sur des choses que vous et moi refuserions de lire, même si on nous payait grassement. Cet homme, comme disait Baudelaire (vous voyez à quel point on finit par lui ressembler à force de se tenir avec lui) a plus de souvenirs que s'il avait mille ans !

I don't know if this is true but I have heard that Mick Jagger can remember all the words of all the songs he ever wrote or sang but he has to have, written on the floor or somewhere on the stage, the titles of those he has to sing because he can't remember the order in which he has to sing them regardless of how many concerts he has to do on a tour. - Memory is a curious thing. - My father says that he vividly used to remember his grandfather on his mother's side but, with the years (avec les années), his memory of him decayed until he became nothing more than a picture on a wall and then 5, 10 years later he might dream about him and, on the next day, waking up, he would remember him as if he had been there the day before. This is something I'm not looing forward to.

Et voici que Jeff me dit qu'il a beaucoup de difficultés à se souvenir de ses enfants quand ils étaient âgés de deux ou trois ans et qu'il n'a que de vagues images d'eux à cinq, six ans, sauf qu'il se souvenait très bien, par exemple, de la journée où sa plus jeune est tombée et s'est blessée à un genou et apercevoir son propre sang pour la première fois.

And what I have been reading lately ? - That's it ! I can't remember but I do remember, practically word of word what Paul asked me to check on «La sonate de Vinteuil» in my English edition...



091 - 2017-07-03

Oh ! laissez-moi dormir en paix, un peu...

Je ne peux pas me plaindre. Après tout, ne suis-je pas le fils du Professeur, le recteur de notre université, le petit fils de celui dont on disait qu'il était «l'initiateur» et l'arrière-petit-fils du Grand Marshall et, de ce fait, petit-fils de Marie Ophélie Whittman et fils de Clara Bibesco-Greffulhe ? - On me le rappelle tous les jours,Ce qu'on oublie, c'est la quantité de livres, d'essais, de choses-absolument-à-lire-avant-de-mourir qu'on dépose sur mon bureau à chaque semaine.Ça va du dernier Spielberg dont, je m'en excuse auprès des fans, je n'ai jamais lu une seule ligne, au quatrième tome sur «La fabrication des archets de violon, en Auvergne, du XXVIe au XVIIIe siècle».

Attendez de voir ce que j'ai lu cette semaine et dont je parlerai le mois prochain...

Copernique P.-S. : Looking up, the other day, on YouTube, for Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto no. 2 op. 18 played by Anna Fedorova, I found this comment by «EverySingle Bit» :  

«We are in 2017, we can read almost any books written ages ago, at that time they were kept and read by only few people, these people were intellect and dedicated their life for knowledge and for life understanding. We have the chance to read the same books as they did, same for the music, for theater and talks. Technologies offer so much that nowadays kids are not even conscious the chance they have, I feel like they just live in the economic prison the society build around them, they think they are happy but their mind is oppressed. And all the work these people worked so hard on to make life more understandable and beautiful is spoiled and silenced in the big breathe the world is now experiencing

Wished I had written that !



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