WINTER 2013 (Issue 77)

Valerie Wetlaufer

Writing on Memory with Marcel Proust

Work from Memory: In Response to In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
by Dan Beachy-Quick and Matthew Goulish
Ahsahta Press 2013
96 pages

"Memory larval in mind this honey in its cell" (11).

This complex text moves beyond criticism, memoir, and lyric, though it encompasses all three in an effort to approach what Proust spent seven volumes of a novel investigating: the ways in which memory works on us. The book is set up in an alternating nested pattern. First prose: criticism and analysis of Marcel Proust's novel In Search of Lost Time, then lyric poems follow, enacting the meditations of the previous page.

Reading Proust must be a slow process. The book and its famously long sentences demand we take our time, and, at around 4300 pages, it is a task few attempt and even fewer complete. While it is certainly possible to read the books purely for pleasure, there is so much to unpack, and Beachy-Quick & Goulish's text intelligently and beautifully delves into this endeavor, exploring not only Proust's text in and of itself, but the experience of reading Proust, the way one can't help but have their own memories triggered alongside Proust's, and these authors richly record their own experiences of In Search of Lost Time as well as others' writings about Proust.

"Books bookend the project of the book" (6), the authors write, and italicized portions of other texts nestle against Beachy-Quick and Goulish's words, so that Deleuze, Oliver Sacks, a neurology report, and Proust himself lend their voices to this text in its collaged arrangement. Because pages alternates between prose and verse, it is up to the reader to decide how best to proceed through the book; read as printed, alternating, or stick with prose and read all the way through, then go back and read all the poetry? A combination of tactics?

“When do we accept who we are? I like to think about myself as a child when I liked to think about myself / As a grown man ... / As a child I often wondered what it would mean to be somebody who had a life, somebody who // In that life thought about who he was, and what it meant to be who he was.” (25)

The participatory of arrangement adds to the intrigue, inviting the reader to contribute to the work of meditating on memory, which, as Beachy-Quick and Goulish show us, is essentially a meditation on consciousness, on identity.

"This is the life project of the book. It overflows its frame or any frame because its bigness forestalls any approach to singularity. We can by no means accurately consider it one book, one project, any more than we can consider a city one building. It is an aggregate--a multiplicity that coheres under a single name, and its fundamental strategy of closure is the double bookend." (24)

Work from Memory explores not just Proustian recountings of how memory works on a person, but scientific knowledge on how memory functions in our brains.

An intimate response to and engagement with Marcel Proust's masterpiece In Search of Lost Time (and coming conveniently 100 years after Proust's publication of Swann's Way, the first volume of the Search). There are sure to be a host of books and articles published this year in honor of the centennial, and a popular Goodreads group ( (over 700 members as of this writing) has already started reading the novel together. This intricate and imaginative volume is a welcome and vital addition to the growing collection of works on Proust.