Processing Ore

Hesperus has a lovely edition of Proust and Ruskin On Reading. Included in this edition is the lecture “Sesame and Lilies” by Ruskin with notes by Proust. In one passage Ruskin is discussing the difficulty of reading wise men who “always hide their deeper thought”. Proust comments at length and concludes:

Only desire and love give us the strength to make this effort; the only books we incorporate into ourselves are those we read with a genuine appetite, after having struggled to procure them for ourselves, so great was our need for them.

Proust turns the reader towards alimentary metaphors from what announces in Ruskin an extended conceit built on metallurgy.

There seems, to you and me, no reason why the electric forces of the earth should not carry whatever there is of gold within it at once to the mountain tops, so that kings and people might know that all the gold they could get was there; and without any trouble of digging, or anxiety, or chance, or waste of time, cut it away, and coin as much as they needed. But Nature does not manage it so. She puts it in little fissures in the earth, nobody knows where: you may dig long and find none; you must dig painfully to find any. […] And, keeping the figure a little longer, even at cost of tiresomeness, for it is a thoroughly useful one, the metal you are in search of being the author’s mind or meaning, his words are as the rock which you have to crush and smelt in order to get at it. And your pickaxes are your own care, wit and learning; your smelting furnace is your own thoughtful soul.

One is tempted to think of reading as a kind of mining and of writing as a species of hoarding. But the need for refining in the figure traced by Ruskin militates against an easy picking of amassed treasure. And so Proust’s turn to the alimentary figure is kin to the work of forge and crucible. As Jay Parini writes “There is also a strange but unmistakable connection between cooking and writing — writing, like cooking, is a bringing together of elemental substances for transmutation over a hot flame.” (from Some Necessary Angels excerpt in A Slice of Life).

And so for day 809

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