I am still on the plane. But this time, security didn’t stop me. This time, I wasn’t carrying the thick, bible like tome that contains the whole of “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu”, but an Ipad, something that, being ridiculously thinner than the printed volume of Proust’s masterpiece, fits it in its gut, along with other literary works. With all of this content, however, the apple gadget is not impenetrable to the X-Ray, like the thick book was, according to the airport police from whom I found this out, the third time my carry on was over searched. I thought it was rather funny, and metaphorically fitting, that Proust’s work was impenetrable to technology, since it literary is, for so many people. But rather than funny, it was ironic that an iPad made it “accessible” to technology. I know that Proust, originally, wanted the whole of his definitive work to be in one volume, like the one I had been carrying, and he obviously wanted it this way for a reason. Rather than a sequence with beginning and ending, “A La Recherche…” has the continuity of a circle, in which beginning and end meet, and of which any part is self-sufficient, rather than a mere transition of the work’s development. “ A la Recherche…” is a continuum, just like the long Proustian sentences, that, unlike a straight line, which is the shortest way between two points, take a long sinuosity before going back to their original point. With the wholeness and self-sufficiency of circularity, the Proustian text should not be sliced up, or discontinued by the separations that exist between volumes. It makes total sense to hold all of it between one’s hands, having all of its parts equally present in the same accessible and touchable unity. But what about their being invisible in a flat device, among other “books”? How would Proust take it? How would the hypersensitive writer, who valued the individual copy of a book one reads a text in, as much as the content of such text, like he expresses, when talking about that volume his mother read François le Champi to him, considering a million of particular, concrete details of it, like its color, as components of its meaning, from the associations one had when reading it, to the person one was at the time …? Wouldn’t it be an offense, or vulgarization, to stuff his masterpiece in a device that needs no individual volume for each time it reproduces anew any section of the novel? How would someone who was so at one with the heart, in his faithfulness to the concreteness of each moment- the physical dimension of reality- to the point of reaching essence through object sensations, feel about such invisible, practically abstract, condensation?
Proust is ambivalent towards technology. If on one hand, he is poetically awed by it , comparing, for instance, the operators of the recently invented telephone to mythological creatures, or attributing this same mythical reality to the airplane he first saw flying over him and his rearing horse. On the other hand, when such poetic dimension is missing, he can also be horrified with new inventions, declaring he is not made for such a world, like he does, when revisiting Le jardin de femmes, at the Bois de Boulogne, and seeing, instead of the carriages of the past, the newly invented automobile . Along this line, he also accuses, through the person of his revered grandmother, who is for him a model of good taste, the vulgarity of mechanical reproduction, and that of utilitarianism, which is, really, the reason for technology. The grandmother, and Marcel, for that matter, live in the world of contemplation, not usefulness, that of respect for the object in itself, rather than that of its enslavement for use. Thus, the grandmother prefers to give as a present, an antique chair that is to fragile to stand the weight of its recipient, to be “used”, that is, but that, as an antique, stimulates the imagination; has stories to tell. In this light, it is fair to say that usefulness is “vulgar”, and Marcel, in fact, accuses the vulgarity of photography’s mechanical reproduction, when explaining that his grandmother would rather give him paintings of the places he was curious to see, than photographs of them.
Digital devices are the epitome of mechanical reproduction. They reproduce any page of anything to the touch of a finger, and, to another touch, make it go back to invisibility, to giving up its slice of space of the world. They reproduce anything, apparently out of nothing, as well as send it back to an apparent nothingness. This power of reproduction, in this sense, concerns some sort of corruption , a robing of the most fundamental right from what it reproduces: the right of occupying a visible space of the world, and be constantly visible and touchable.
Obliterating the physical space a book full of pages would take, or reducing it to an invisible minimum inside the device, it also diminishes the time one takes to read it, by serving, in one goal, as dictionary, book of notes, file of all the sentences one underlines, and more. Everything, again, stored into invisibility, but available, not really to the touch of one’s finger, like a page made of paper is to the grasping of one’s hand, but to the invisible electricity mediating this touch. Not so warm to the skin, its responsiveness is also quicker than that of physical contact, making pages appear and disappear in a flash, when one least expects, from accidental , inadvertent skin contacts with the “black mirror”.
A bunch of pages have now hysterically succeeded one another under my eyes, and I don’t even know which one I was on, and what I have done wrong… and I get to hate my device, as much as I also hate my incompetence to figure out extra text, omnipresent icons, to totally oblige the exactness of the gadget’s mechanism, over the looseness of organic movement; the harsh of programing, over the endlessness of freedom. Yet, I have to recognize it allows me to have, at my disposal, the whole of A la Recherche and other titles, without being searched by the police, without carrying the heavy weight all those books would take, and without having to keep an additional book for my notes. I have to recognize, in a few words, how useful the damned thing is. It sure obliterates the right of each page’s physical, fixed space, and the time spent in the physical manipulating , and searching in, a paper book, for the notes and whatever the reader personally requests from it, blowing to pieces the conditions of concreteness that form the altar of existence, for the sake of pure, profane, utilitarianism.
I think I have a hint of what Proust may think of such digital device, just like I know how he referred to utilitarianism. I still swallow the profane nature of its efficiency; I still carry my gadget, to read A la Recherche, and not have the airport police stop me.
Forgive me, Marcel Proust!