An airplane – but why tears? Why moved?

An airplane – but why tears? Why moved?

Ganymede (by Eustache Le Sueur) and WWI French plane

Ganymede (by Eustache Le Sueur) and WWI French plane

Will I ever “finish” reading the Search, stop discovering new things?  Clearly the answer is no, for here today is a new discovery (new, I mean, for me.)  But it leaves a question.

Marcel is on horseback.  Suddenly, his horse rears at a sound overhead – two metal wings flashing,  bearing a man.  What he sees is a pilot in a plane. (rare sight in those days.)  Quickly, the plane disappears and seems to head straight up into the sky.  Throughout this marvelous moment, beyond the horse, beyond the winged creature, beyond the capture of a man aloft, more broad clues are dropped – (“mythological personage”, “Greek”, “demi-god”)  OMG, how could I have missed this obvious reference on earlier readings??  Here is the beautiful youth Ganymede kidnapped by a mighty bird – the bird is the yearning Zeus himself or his messenger.  In compensation for his loss, Zeus sends a gift of horses to Ganymede’s father. [Vol II, Cities of the Plains, 1061-1062   from ” … I had gone on horseback to call on the Verdurins and had taken an unfrequented path …” to ” …with a slight adjustment of his golden wings he headed straight up into the sky.”]

Throughout this breathtaking moment, Marcel is “deeply moved as an ancient Greek on seeing for the first time a demi-god.”  He “wept” when he realized that he was going to see a plane for the first time.  He is stunned by its endless freedom – a contrast to his own imprisonment in “habit.”

I asked myself, why is is Marcel so moved?  Why tears?  He gives one answer – it’s the high excitement and thrill of being able to see a plane for the first time.  (We’ve seen him in this kind neurasthenic agitation many times before – eg, going to see Berma for the first time, or anticipating the awesome sublime of the Normandy sea.)

But I think that in addition, the tears are of something else.  As he imposes the myth of Ganymede onto the man borne away on the airplane wings, M has “aestheticised” the moment.  He has created an extended metaphor.  For M (as for Proust), is beginning to sense that metaphor and similarity are at the very heart of art.  This moment with Ganymede and the plane is a metaphor moment and is as “joyful” as, for example, seeing the 3 trees of Hudesmil in unity with the 3 church spires.  It is in this recognition that M’s tears come, they are tears of joy – tears of recognizing another artful metaphor in his surrounding reality.


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