Mari Cohen (associate editor): Within a Budding Grove, the second of seven volumes in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, is often described as the installment in which the narrator—seen in the previous book mostly preoccupied with missing his mother at bedtime—grows up a bit and becomes obsessed, instead, with his love for a series of youthful and feisty girls. But what kind of love is this? The book, which I read last month in the C.K. Scott Moncrieff translation revised by Terrence Kilmartin and then D.J. Enright, is less interested in love’s capacity to bring us closer to another person than in the way that love obscures, or interferes, with understanding another: “The questing, anxious, exacting way that we have of looking at the person we love, our eagerness for the word which will give us or take from us the hope of an appointment for the morrow…all this makes our attention in the presence of the beloved too tremulous to be able to carry a very clear impression of her.” Since the narrator’s approach to his objects of desire is less about them than about his impression of them, the real thing is likely to disappoint, just as his attendance at a performance by the actress La Berma and his later visit to a church in the seaside resort town Balbec are feeble letdowns compared to the images he has constructed over a period of years.
When he finally has a chance to meet the girl he’s long admired from afar at Balbec, real life’s intrusion on carefully nurtured fantasy briefly dampens his excitement: “The certainty of being introduced to these girls had had the effect of making me not only feign indifference to them, but actually feel it.” Instead of an experience shared by two people, love, in Budding Grove, is mostly an extended negotiation with the self, about what the narrator can make himself believe about a girl, and whether he can successfully stave off despair by convincing himself she must feel the same way. Indeed, what Proust calls love here might better be understood as lust or a crush; in any case, it’s a relatively pessimistic account of how stubbornly the self intrudes in our attempts to know others. But to read it, and to chew on Proust’s exhaustive and penetrating analysis of every passing emotion our narrator has as he fumbles his way into adulthood, is nothing but a delight.
Nathan Goldman (managing editor): Since New Year’s Eve, my wife and I have been slowly making our way through the oeuvre of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. This week, after celebrating our twin sons’ first birthday, we watched his 1988 masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro. It turned out to be perfect for the occasion. This quiet, whimsical film follows two young sisters as they settle into an old house in the countryside, where they’ve moved to be closer to the hospital where their mother is convalescing from an unspecified illness. As their professor father attends to the house and his work, the girls spend most of their time exploring their new home and the surrounding forest, where they discover a number of friendly, magical spirits, from tiny soot-like beings that swarm mischievously through the house to the large, cuddly, titular beast who reigns over the woods. Though the specter of the mother’s sickness tinges the film with melancholy, My Neighbor Totoro is largely free of narrative conflict. Instead, it’s structured around the sisters’ mundane little missions—planting acorns in the yard and urging them to sprout, meeting their dad at a bus stop to deliver an umbrella—which are suffused with the dreamy unreality of youth. Like Maurice Sendak’s picture books or Tove Jannson’s The Summer Book, My Neighbor Totoro is the rare work that approaches the actual, unadulterated experience of childhood, in which the world is an infinite reservoir of wonder.
David Klion (newsletter editor): The guitarist and songwriter Tom Verlaine, best known as the frontman of the band Television, died last weekend at 73. Though never quite as commercially successful as its peers in the 1970s downtown Manhattan punk scene—a scene that also included Blondie, the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Patti Smith—Television was enormously influential on the way alternative rock would sound over subsequent decades. Perhaps inspired by this classic Onion article, which mentions Television, I’ve been playing 1977’s Marquee Moon for my enthusiastic four-month-old daughter this week. I have a particular fondness for one of the gentler tracks, “Guiding Light,” which seems to anticipate the entire oeuvre of U2, one of the many bands to acknowledge Verlaine’s impact.
I’ve also been revisiting Will Hermes’s wonderful 2011 book Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, which is a panoramic account of the diverse music scenes that exploded across New York City in the mid-1970s (amid the punitive fiscal crisis historians increasingly recognize as the beginning of the neoliberal era). In addition to Television and all the other aforementioned bands, Hermes covers everything from hip-hop to jazz to salsa to classical, all of which thrived as cheap rents attracted misfits from the outer boroughs and the suburbs and facilitated creative cross-pollination. It situates Verlaine in a wider context; while his talent was singular, it was realized through contact and collaboration and experimentation, as everything worthwhile is.
Mitch Abidor (contributing writer): Pierre Le-Tan, who died in 2019, was a French artist and illustrator who collaborated with the Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano, among others. He was also, as he tells us in his marvelous volume A Few Collectors, a tireless collector of thousands of objects, for whom “collecting [was] both essential and completely useless.”
A Few Collectors is itself a collection, a series of illustrated vignettes about the collectors whose path he crossed over the course of a lifetime. There’s the collector who owned the dildo once in the possession of the French fascist writer Robert Brasillach; the former beauty who never married because objects were more important than men; and the people who own things that were once Le-Tan’s, which he had to sell when financial hard times hit.
Though art and artistic objects dominate, there is also the man who collects the wax models of the heads of criminals and, most fascinating of all, the man who collected crumpled pieces of paper: restaurant checks, letters, tissues. Sadly, upon his death his heirs flattened all these apparently worthless pieces of paper he had so carefully saved, destroying a lifetime’s worth of collecting. The tags attached to the crumpled objects, lovingly drawn by Le-Tan, go untranslated from the original French, so only the bilingual will know the sorrow attached to the crumpled letter paper, related to “Nicole, a bad memory,” or that the saved post-it note is described as “a minor, but charming” item.
My thousands of books will find a home with my son after I die. But how long, I wondered after reading A Few Collectors, will my collection of hundreds of bookmarks, picked up at bookstores from around the world, survive me?
Before you go!
There’s a new magazine from Jewish Currents contributors Madeleine Schwartz and Linda Kinstler that should be on your radar: The Dial, which calls itself “the world’s little magazine” and aims to cover stories from around the globe. The magazine’s first issue is devoted to the international fight for reproductive justice and bodily autonomy and includes stories from Poland, Ghana, Turkey, France, and more. Enjoy!