Bob Dylan and Marcel Proust

by Larry Fyffe

In his Modernistic Symbolist French novels and short stories that are presented in a rather imagistic surrealistic-like format, devoid of a tight plot (often in diction double-edged and satirical), Marcel Proust searches in vain for meaning, or purpose linked to human existence, except in the creation of art; he considers emotional aspects of life, like love and jealousy, to be fleeting – here today, and gone tomorrow, only to re-appear yet again.

Proust takes an Existentialist position in which the solitary individual is imprisoned within the secret self. Bound by language, the self is entangled in sensual experience, and internal feelings – good and bad – all mixed up with memories from the past, and hopes for the future – with little time left over to appreciate the magical things in life felt in childhood, like the smell of the sea:

To find any happiness, writes he:

It's better not to know, to think as little as possible,
not to feel one's jealousy with the slightest concrete detail

(Marcel Proust: In Search Of Lost Time)

Within a number of Bob Dylan’s, often double-entendred, song lyrics there’s a viewpoint present, albeit sometimes shifted, akin to that of the Romantic-inclined Proust:

She's got everything she needs
She don't look back
She can take the dark out of the night-time
And paint the daytime black ...
You will start out sanding
Proud to steal her anything she sees
But you'll wind up peeking through her keyhole
Down upon your knees

(Bob Dylan: She Belongs To Me)

There be the following formidable song in which thoughts expressed therein are rather similar to those of the nonpracticing Jewish/Catholic writer:

Anger and jealousy is all that he sells us .....
No time to choose when the truth must die
No time to lose or say good-bye
No time to prepare for the victim that's there
No time to suffer or blink
And no time to think

(Bob Dylan: No Time To Think)

Indeed, the following song could be entitled “In Search Of Lost Time”:

It's been such a long, long time
Since we loved each other, and our hearts were true
One time, for one brief day, I was the man for you
Last night I heard you talkin' in your sleep
Saying things you shouldn't say, oh baby
You just might have to go to jail someday
Is there any place we can go?
Is there anybody we can see? Maybe
It's the same for you as it is for me

(Bob Dyan: Long And Wasted Years)

A title that’s referenced in the song lyrics below:

You break your promises all over the place
You promised to love me, but what do I see?
Just you comin' in, and spillin' juice all over me
Odds and ends, odds and ends
Lost time is not found  again

(Bob Dylan: Odds And Ends)

Characteristic of the singer/songwriter, thoughts expressed by Proust he modifies,  sometimes completely inverts:

... I caught a glimpse of the sea through the leafy boughs of trees ...
I was no longer near enough to the sea which seemed to me
not a living thing, but fixed; I no longer felt any power beneath it's colours.

(Marcel Proust: In Search Of Lost Time)

Transformed to:

... I caught a glimpse of the sea through the leafy boughs of the pines.
I wasn't near it, but could feel the power beneath it's colours.

(Bob Dylan: Chronicles I)

One of the basic elements and symbols of times past – earth, water, fire, and wind – revisited.

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