Poetry: Gate of Lilacs 10: Adventures of the Aerosol Elixir | clivejames.com
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Gate of Lilacs 10 :  Adventures of the Aerosol Elixir

Touchstone and lodestone, linchpin, holy scroll
Of the learned industry based on his name,
The Quest for Proust should not start with his book:
It ends there. What he really felt, or knew,
Was never crystallized before he wrote,
But came true in the writing. The effect
Of all encyclopedists is to make us
Punish ourselves that they can know all that.
They never did. Before they wrote it down
They had not yet become themselves in full,
And while they studied hard and long, they changed
And grew, and so with Proust, whose every theme
Is brought to being in his masterpiece,
Not brought to it. The same way molten rock
Makes possible the earth on which we walk,
The way he writes about desire reminds us
Of what it was when we were still too young
To know about its power, but everywhere
We felt it, and in everything. The world
Was soaked in it. The sensual, Proust insists,
When it strikes us in the hot part of the year,
Is less a longing for a girl’s cool kiss
Than a thirst for orangeade. The areas
Of lust that he knows best are nearly all
Pre-sexual, or at any rate pre-conscious
Of what sex is. Thus he is at his most
Precise about the generalized. When, later,
The sexual world splits up into its genders
He prides himself on how he can record
Behaviour, see how sex determines action;
But the act itself is often non-specific,
A thing of hints for all its urgency.
Even the rhapsody on deviance
That forms Part One of Sodom and Gomorrah
Is chastened by its references to flowers,
As if the author’s mind were swamped by blooms
And lust could have the softness of a petal.
Marcel sees Charlus in the flagrant act
Of getting whipped, but of his basic tastes
Nothing is said. Not one male mouth is kissed,
So what goes on? And Françoise saw Marcel
In bed with Albertine, but what did they,
Exactly, do? And Albertine likes girls;
Her means of progress is to swing both ways.
All set to flee even when standing still,
Her essence is to be ambiguous,
And those of the book’s people who are not
Could well, we feel, become so overnight,
Until you don’t know where you are. Can it
Be real that Saint-Loup ends up turning gay,
Or isn’t that a case of the tenacious
Belief of some gay intellectual men
That all men are bisexual underneath
And masculinity is just a pose?
If that were so, then he was fooling Rachel
For all that time. It just seems one too many
Unlikely thing to hear about Saint-Loup,
Always supposing that we lend our credence
To the scenes in which his fellow officers
Approve his war-like stature in the barracks
Yet never notice that around his neck
He wears Marcel like a wet feather boa.
Unlikelihood, however, is trumped always
By what Marcel can see. Somehow he guesses
Charlus, when vamping Madame de Surgis
(The plaything of the Duke, a liaison
Put up with by his wife, if not endorsed),
Has aims of getting closer to her sons.
Saint-Loup, however, doesn’t spot the ploy,
Believing that his uncle feels desire
Only for women. Later, he learns better,
Or worse, if we believe that an illusion
Can better serve a civilized existence.
From time to time, we all do, but not Proust,
Who tells the truth like one marked out for death,
The only real distortion in his story
Imposed by one fact: he was always dying.