Saturday, August 22, 2009

History's Disconnection

It is an immensely weird experience to read Time Regained in 2009. The last volume of In Search of Lost Time is Proust’s portrait of Paris during the First World War, though in all fairness and accuracy, I should call it The Great War. Proust died in 1922, and wrote most of Time Regained while the war was ongoing. So he never saw the catastrophic development of the German economy, the resurgence of nationalism, or the Nazi Party and the Second World War.

His Paris of 1916 is utterly traumatized and largely broken by the bombardment and the slow, dragged out terror of the war. I think people today, or even people from the 1950s onward, really appreciate how horrifying the Great War was to the people who were living through it. We see the war historically, as a prelude to the greater cataclysms of the Holocaust, the rape of Nanking, the massacres of Slavs on the Eastern Front, the nuclear bombings, and the firebombings. The almost worldwide destruction of the 1940s made the bloody trenches in France and the years-long artillery barrage of the Eastern Front look like a scuffle at a bar.

But the characters of Proust, and the man himself, are watching the collapse of their entire world, quite literally I think. The quaint, mannered lifestyle he described in the entire rest of the story simply don’t make sense in a world where every night brings the constant fear of Zeppelin bombings, and there’s a stupendous chain of trenches and battlefields barely a hundred miles away from your city. At this point, I begin to see In Search of Lost Time as cataloguing the history of a forgotten, innocent world. Where I’m reading right now, one of the major characters has just died, shot in the face with a machine gun while covering his regiment’s retreat. It makes the narrator’s previous anxieties over what arrangements to meet for a restaurant date seem nonsensically trivial.
In other, awesome, news, The Kids in the Hall are back together to produce new material. It’s a murder mystery in a small Canadian town called Death Comes to Town, which will play on CBC in January 2010. It will be an eight part miniseries, and will include such scenes as Mark McKinney’s Grim Reaper taking a Greyhound to the town of Shockton, and Bruce McCulloch playing a 600 pound man. I am, needless to say, quite excited.

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