From word to soil

In Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time (1913–27), there are passages where the protagonist, whose name we are never told throughout this seven-volume work, is overwhelmed by a sensuous experience which triggers a flood of memories that completely overtake him.

The most well-known is the episode with the madeleine cake, maybe because it occurs early in the first book. Two other episodes occur later, involving other senses – not taste, but vision and balance.

Near the end of the novel, the protagonist looks back at those rare, ephemeral moments as the very key to the secret of his life. Only when our senses open up a door, he says, between the past and the present, so that both stand with equal vividness before us, do we get in this life a glimpse of eternity.

Is that what Elaine Scarry thought of, when she wrote, in On Beauty and Being Just (1999), that beauty rips “small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space”?

My time to enter Sisters Hope Home as a visiting researcher draws nearer. I have begun to slide from word to soil, från ord till jord.

Inside me I feel someone already reaching towards me from the future, stretching out a hand through the fog of time… Is it me, is it us, reaching out from the days and nights to come, to shake us awake?

My eyes are shut, my hand paints flowers that grow in the darkness of sleep, nightly flowers.


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