Going to Sodom and Gomorrah with Proust

Sensual delights of all sorts are the focus of In Search of Lost Time’s fourth volume

Going to Sodom and Gomorrah with Proust

Well, I most surely tempted fate when I signed off my last Proust post by writing that I couldn’t wait to begin volume four. Four months later and I’ve finally had time to return to Brittany, the salons of the Fauborg Saint-Germain and Marcel’s labyrinthine mind.

If volume one of In Search of Lost Time represents the novel’s overture, and volumes two and three are concerned chiefly with Marcel’s jejune preconceptions about society and their subsequent explosion, then Sodom and Gomorrah is, as its title suggests, unabashedly about forbidden passions. From Marcel’s chance witnessing of a spur of the moment coupling between an aristocrat and a tailor to the male bordellos of Paris, the book bulges with accounts of love at its most urgent, jealous, lubricious and clandestine.

It was no secret among those who knew Proust – even in passing – that he was gay. Knowing this would have appalled him, undemonstrative as he was, if he had been aware of it. But his reading public knew him only by his works, and therefore he was able to write these extraordinarily frank accounts of the Parisian homosexual demi-monde without attracting (to his noted regret) any scandal.

Indeed, following his death several essayists even praised Proust’s bravery for carrying out the research necessary to tackle such subjects. Others were less fulsome, including his friend and publisher André Gide, who castigated Proust for his cowardice in making his main character heterosexual. Indeed, it becomes apparent that Marcel – in an interesting bit of wish fulfilment, perhaps – is one of the only heterosexuals in his circle, if not in all of Parisian high society.

From the “caressing games” of young women to entire consulates staffed by youths chosen for their looks, athleticism and proclivities, Sodom and Gomorah would be a piece of high camp if it was less insightful about the sexual currents that influence, if not govern, all aspects of daily life. Proust has some fun with his opening potted history of, as he has it, “inversion”, but he tempers his playfulness with serious analysis of what it means to be gay in a conservative, albeit relatively tolerant, upper class milieu.

In this first section he alludes to the existence (pre-empting Phillip Pullman) of gay angels in heaven, and puts forward the idea that homosexuality only became unnatural when man-made laws decreed it so. Continuing on this theme, he asserts that a homosexual man’s actions can only be termed perverse when he has sex with a woman. He then supposedly changes the subject, only to begin the book’s next section with a description of evening sunlight giving the Luxor obelisk “an appearance of pink nougat” so that you might want to wrap your hand around it and give it a twist. It’s a wonderfully Jamesian moment – but in this case we’re talking Sid, not Henry.

From lascivious musings about his lover, Albertine, to passion for a young girl seen smoking a cigarette in a train carriage and Baron de Charlus’s bloodhound instinct for quick pick-ups, Sodom and Gomorrah’s sexual element flickers between the implicit and explicit, but is never entirely absent. Its corollaries, as in The Guermantes Way, are power and status; conversations are transactional to an extreme degree, whether the impetus behind them is the gaining of information, the assertion of superiority or the securing of an assignation. The accounts of Charlus, surely Proust’s greatest creation, stalking through parties hunting for sexual partners while at the same time terrified of being unmasked, are as gripping as they are psychologically complex.

The book also contains, in common with the preceding volumes, lyrical passages of extraordinary power. As the narrator gazes out into the Channel his mind, suddenly and involuntarily, transposes the land onto the sea, so that the wake of a fishing boat is a dusty road, the slopes of the ocean become rolling fields and sailors on a boat’s deck harvesters gathering crops, while a white sail doubles as “the sunlit corner of some isolated building”.

This is another in those series of moments which stud the novel, wherein the writing contrives to step outside itself and becomes – instead of an advancing narrative – a series of images that eradicate the distance between reader and text; wherein, in fact, it’s possible to feel that you are viewing an image rather than reading a succession of words. Fitting for a book so concerned with that very aspect of human nature, it is a moment of pure sensuality.


Sodom & Gomorrah – Volume 4 of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

Sodom & Gomorrah – Volume 3 of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel ProustOh my God: he’s at it again: oh, the pain! The pain! Make it stop! But it never stops for the narrator of this one and a half million word long exploration of love in all its aspects, the prime aspect being agony: jealousy in all its glorious manifestations. According to the narrator/protagonist, as soon as your love is declared you are doomed to suffer from the caprice and selfishness of the loved one, and the dread of not being loved in return: “But it was not her that I was afraid of, it was myself; it was the feelings that I was capable of inspiring that my jealousy made me underestimate. And from this judgement, possibly erroneous, sprang no doubt many of the calamities that were to befall us.” This volume, whilst losing itself in the misery of love, deals with homosexual love, love between what Proust terms “inverts”, those suffering from, or prone to, or defined by “inversion”.

The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche Explained with 8-Bit Video Games

In the world of the 8-bit video game, there may be no more a frustrating,Sisyphusean task than completing the various iterations of Mega Man. Each successive level can feel endless, as one dies and starts again, time after time, with no glorious end in sight. It can feel like, as Friedrich Nietzschemight say, being caught in a cycle of “eternal recurrence,” destined to repeat the same actions, over and over again for eternity.

The videos here then—part of the popular trend of 8-bit shorts—use the graphics and bleeping sound effects and music of Mega Man to illustrate Nietzsche’s seemingly pessimistic ideas. First, with a nod to Rust Cohle, we have the theory—or rather the thought experiment—of “eternal recurrence.” Drawing on Arthur Schopenhauer’s interpretation of Buddhism, Nietzsche imagined a universe with no end and no beginning, an endless loop of suffering in which one is destined to make the same mistakes forever.

If this seems terrifyingly bleak to you, you may approach life through a haze of resentiment, Nietzsche might say, a bitter tangle of anger and blame that rejects the world as it is. The one who overcomes this snare—theubermensch—has achieved self-mastery. Strong in the ways of the “will to power” is he, and delighted by the prospect of living in the present moment an infinite number of times, even if the universe is cold, cruel, and indifferent to human existence. The “will to power” governs all life, for Nietzsche, and human life in particular is weakened by ignoring this fact and clinging to moral systems of resentiment like that of Christianity.

Nietzsche’s argument against Christianity, as explained above at least, is that it encourages, even celebrates mediocrity and frowns upon excellence. That such is the general tenor of our current age—an assessment the narrator makes—is debatable. Yes, we may promote mediocrities at an alarming rate, but we also at least nominally celebrate uber men (almost always men), who may not truly be self made but who surely live by the dictates of the will to power, taking what they want when they want it. Whether Nietzsche’s characterization of this predatory behavior as the highest of human possibilities inspires you or not may depend on how far you feel yourself to be above the common herd.

Nietzsche’s amoral philosophy has appealed to some pretty predatory characters, but it also appeals to anti-authoritarian, post-modern types because of his critical stance toward not only religion, but also what can seem like its secular replacement, science. Nietzsche respected the scientific method, but he recognized its limitations as a means of describing, rather than explaining the world. All of our descriptions are interpretations that do not penetrate into the realm of ultimate causes or meanings, and cannot provide a privileged, god-like vantage point from which to make absolute judgments.

When, in the hopes of replacing the certainties of religious morality and metaphysics, we elevate science to the position of ultimate truth formerly granted to the mind of god, we lose sight of this basic limitation; we commit the same fallacy as the religious, mistaking our stories about the world for the world itself. Would Nietzsche’s extreme skepticism have made him sympathetic to today’s climate science deniers and antivaxxers? Probably not. He did recognize that, like the physical bodies where thought takes place, some ideas are healthy descriptions of reality and some are not. Nonetheless, our explanations, Nietzsche argued, whether scientific or otherwise, are contingent—effects of language, not exposés of Truth, capital T.


For more 8-Bit Philosophy, see our posts on Plato, Sartre, Derrida, as well as Kierkegaard and Camus, all illustrated in short, nostalgic recreations of classic video games.

The Guermantes Way – Volume 3 of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

The Guermentes Way

An interminable party at a Princess’s house announces the protagonist’s arrival in the best of society – or his “passage into the rarefied social Kaleidoscope of the Guermantes’s Paris salon, as the book’s blurb would have it. However, being dominated by the turgid conversation and rather dull wit of a dozen or so stuck up and patchy caricatures, all intent on a brand of crass social one-upmanship, the novel does lean a little heavily on the reader’s patience. And yet! There’s still plenty of space (819 pages) for Proust’s beautiful prose: “But even apart from rare moments such as these, in which suddenly we feel the original entity quiver and resume its form, carve itself out of syllables now dead, if in the dizzy whirl of daily life, in which they serve only the most practical purpose, names have lost all their colour, like a prismatic top that spins too quickly and seems only grey, when, on the other hand, we reflect upon the past in our day-dreams and seek, in order to recapture it, to slacken, to suspend the perpetual motion by which we are borne along, gradually we see once more appear, side by side but entirely distinct from one another, the tints which in the course of our existence have been successively presented to us by a single name.”

50 books that every child should read by 16

1. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

2. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
4. Winnie The Pooh – AA Milne
5. Black Beauty – Anna Sewell
6. James and The Giant Peach – Roald Dahl
7. The BFG – Roald Dahl
8. A Bear Called Paddington – Michael Bond
9. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

11. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
12. Matilda – Roald Dahl
13. The Railway Children – E Nesbit
14. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
15. Five on a Treasure Island – Enid Blyton
16. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
17. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle
18. The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling
19. Charlotte’s Web – EB White
20. The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter

Book covers for Harry Potter and the 

21. Watership Down – Richard Adams
22. The Hobbit – JRR Tolken
23. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling
24. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
25. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 ¾ – Sue Townsend
26. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
27. The Cat in the Hat – Dr Seuss
28. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson–Burnett
29. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
30. The Twits – Roald Dahl

31. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L Frank Baum
32. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
33. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
34. The Tiger Who Came to Tea – Judith Kerr
35. Green Eggs and Ham – Dr Seuss
36. The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
37. Bambi – Felix Selten
38. Tom’s Midnight Garden – Phillipa Pearce
39. Little House on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder
40. Funny Bones – Janet and Allan Ahlberg

41. Where The Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

42. Carrie’s War – Nina Bawden
43. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
44. The Magician’s Nephew – CS Lewis
45. Northern Lights – Philip Pullman
46. The Story of Doctor Dolittle – Hugh Lofting
47. The Story of Tracy Beaker – Jacqueline Wilson
48. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
49. Curious George – HA Ray
50. Each Peach Pear Plum – Janet and Allan Ahlberg


The Gashlycrumb Tinies: A Very Gorey Alphabet Book

In 1963, prolific mid-century illustrator and author Edward Goreypublished an alphabet book so grimly antithetical to the very premise of the genre — making children feel comfortable and inspiring them to learn — that it took the macabre humor genre to a new level. “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs,” The Gashlycrumb Tinies begins. “B is for Basil assaulted by bears. C is for Clara who wasted away. D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh…”

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies


Proust’s Paris


Le Pont des Arts 1862 – © Charles Marville

Charles Marville Marche aux chevaux  1867

Le marché aux chevaux en 1867 – Paris 75005 – © Charles Marville

La rue des Marmousets sur l'île de la Cite en 1865  Charles Marville

La rue des Marmousets sur l’île de la Cité en 1865 – © Charles Marville


Place Sainte-Geneviève en  1865

Urinoir de rue en 1865 - Paris - chaussee du Maine   Charles Marville

Urinoir de rue en 1865 – Paris : chaussée du Maine  – © Charles Marville

la commune de Paris en 1871

La rue Royale face Madeleine. Après la commune de Paris en 1871

Le haut de la rue Champlain 1872 - Musee Carnavalet

La rue Champlain en 1872 – Paris 75020 – © Charles Marville – Musée Carnavalet

Incroyable cette photo de 1879 - le Champs de Mars avant la construction de la tour Eiffe

1879 : le Champs de Mars avant la construction de la tour Eiffel

ancienne photo paris

Les jardins du Palais-Royal en 1890 – © BNF / Vergue

La place Saint Andre des Arts en 1898   Eugene Atget

La place Saint André des Arts en 1898  – © Eugène Atget

Exposition universelle de Paris 1900

Exposition universelle de Paris en 1900

La rue Mouffetard en 1900

La rue Mouffetard en 1900 – © Léon & Lévy

Le Paris des annees 1900

Le Paris champêtre des années 1900


Paris pendant l’exposition universelle de 1900 – (au fond le pont Alexandre III)

Les Travaux du Metro - Boulevard de la Gare - 1903

Les Travaux du Métro – Boulevard de la Gare – 1903 – © CParanta

Les travaux de construction de la ligne 3 sous la place de l'Opera  Paris 1903

Les travaux de construction de la ligne 3 sous la place de l’Opéra – Paris 1903 – © RATP

paris moulin rouge 1905

Le Moulin Rouge en 1905

montmatre ancienne photo

Montmartre – Rue Mont Cenis Bergerie – 1906


Le maquis de Montmartre en 1907

paris avant

Paris en 1908 – Pont de Bir-Hakeim

Le square St Pierre à Montmartre en 1909

Le square St-Pierre à Montmartre en 1909 © Casas-Rodríguez Collection


Inondation au pont de la Tournelle – Paris 1910 – ©BNF

paris 1910 inondation

Station de métro Paris Montparnasse pendant les inondations de 1910

Le musée du Louvre avant la construction de la pyramide en 1910 ! © Les Frères Seeberger

Le musée du Louvre avant la construction de la pyramide en 1910 – © Les Frères Seeberger

La place de Breteuil avec vue sur la tour Eiffel en 1911

La place de Breteuil avec vue sur la tour Eiffel en 1911

montmatre 1900 maquis

Montmatre en 1909

Montmartre et le Moulin de la Galette en 1912

Montmartre et le Moulin de la Galette en 1912

paris en 1912

Un Marcay-Moonen pendant le salon de l’aviation en 1912

le cercle athletique de Montmartre en 1913

le cercle athlétique de Montmartre en 1913

Montmartre et la rue du Chevalier de La Barre en 1913

Montmartre et la rue du Chevalier de La Barre en 1913

Paris en 1914 - Musee du Louvre

Paris en 1914 – Musée du Louvre

La rue des Martyrs en 1914

La rue des Martyrs en 1914

paris en 1920

Notre Dame de Paris en 1920 – © Pierre-Yves Petit dit Yvon

ancien palais du trocadéro en 1920

L’ancien palais du trocadéro en 1920

Montmartre en 1920 - Germaine Krull

Montmartre en 1920 – © Germaine Krull

vieux Paris en 1924 photoL’hippodrome Maison Laffitte inondé par la crue de la Seine. Paris – 1924 © Henri Manuel