Letter from Venice - Proust on Selfies, Piazza San Marco

Letter from Venice – Proust on Selfies, Piazza San Marco

In search of Marcel.

[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]

This is for Marcel Proust

In April 2013, The Delhi Walla finished all the seven volumes of Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time. Immediately afterwards I picked them up again. By April 2015, I finished re-reading the first six volumes but did not touch the final volume, which has a chapter called ‘Sojourn in Venice’. I had read it the first time sitting in the lobby of Haji Hotel in Old Delhi. This time I wanted to read it in Venice.

Now I’m in Venice.

‘Sojourn in Venice’ is a very small chapter–just 31 pages–so I plan to read very slowly, perhaps only a few lines in one sitting.

In fact, I did not read even a single line during my first day in Venice, which went away in a purposeless stroll with Proust (who remained inside my shoulder bag). Instead, I browsed in the bookstores of the old Jewish ghetto, watched elderly Venetians reading the morning newspapers by the Grand Canal, and in the afternoon I accidently stumbled into Piazza San Marco, the place I intended to avoid at all costs. It had tourists everywhere. Like locusts, they seemed to have destroyed the local vegetation. Pretending to be a sophisticated snob, I was about to turn away in disgust when I noticed that most of the tourists were taking their selfies with their selfie sticks. The sight was amazing. Gathered from across the world, these people had interrupted their daily habits, took a leave from their working lives, left their cities, homes and friends, and made this long journey to Piazza San Marco where they looked into themselves to fix the moment for ever.

In a way, each of them was something of a Proust. Marcel too travelled a long journey, dived deep into himself, but, perhaps unlike most of us, he managed to capture life-shifting moments of his thoughts and feelings. The selfies that Proust took eventually built up the structure of his great work, itself a vast dense selfie in which we can see not only Proust but also something of ourselves.

Still, some of us may scorn at these tourists—“My god, why did they come so far when all they wanted was to take their own photos!”

But somewhere in his long novel Proust had written—“Certain philosophers assert that the external world does not exist, and that it is within ourselves that we develop our lives.”

So, there is no Delhi, no Venice, only us.

A part of ‘Sojourn in Venice’ has to be read in San Marco, too.

Sojourn in Venice