August 29, 2012 by Marcus Speh
I picked a slim book up today. It caught my attention because on the pink dust jacket that loudly said “Marcel Proust — Kreusnach”. The title reminded me of the name of my hometown, “Kreuznach” (pronounced “cruise neck“), and as it turns out it actually was just that. The story, written in 1909, describes Proust’s visit to ‘one petite ville d’eaux allemande’, undertaken with his mother in order to treat his asthmatic ailments. Apparently, it was one of the many germs of his magnum opus, “In Search of Lost Time” and found its way into part 3, The Guermantes Way. But rather than simply writing about this stay as a travel experience, Proust’s tale is a long, scarcely punctuated meditation on the quaint beauty and meaning of the arcane aristocratic title of the count of ‘Faffenheim-Münsterburg-Weiningen’, which reminds him of “the names of Homeric heroes”. The name (belonging to an historical German Prime Minister) is sung like the beginning of an incantation. It serves as an excuse to describe the multitude of influences of the Rhineland-Palatine region, which include Goethe, “who christened the hills with his walks”, and “an invisible crown of the holy German Empire situated a little above ground”. Proust leaves the reader somewhat hanging in mid air with a two-headed monster of the Teutonic title and the levitating tiara. Since this part of In Search of Lost Time also includes an account of the infamous Dreyfus affair, an example of late 19th century anti-Semitism, I cannot be but surprised about the synchronicity that seems to manifest itself once again, as I am deeply engrossed in reading Sebald’s The Emigrants, another, much more modern manner of reflection that also uses the fate of Jews to illuminate the loss of memory, which is a symptom of our time. Is this strange to notice the similarity of the word blankets spread out by both the Germans and the French author writing almost 100 years apart from one another, especially their way of looking at nature and landscape.