Proust as speculator

by on May 29, 2017 at 12:10 am in Books, Economics, History, The Arts | Permalink

Through a fast alternation of buying and selling, orders and counterorders, the end of 1911 marked Proust’s fastest plunge into debt exposure in his fifteen-year-long investing career. His patrimony amounted to about 1,522,000 francs, but more than 40 percent of it, precisely 640,000 francs, was tied up in forwards contracts—a crazy level of exposure for an amateur investor. In terms of American dollars, at this time Proust owned a personal fortune of $6,864,000 and had about $2,900,000 tied up in obligations to buy.

That is from Proust and His Banker: In Search of Time Squandered, by Gian Balsamo, via Ray Lopez.  Ray also passes along this from the book summary:

Focusing on more than 350 letters between Proust and Hauser and drawing on records of the Rothschild Archive and financial data assembled from the twenty-one-volume Kolb edition of Proust’s letters, Balsamo reconstructs Proust’s finances and provides a fascinating window into the writer’s creative and speculative process. Balsamo carefully follows Proust’s financial activities, including investments ranging from Royal Dutch Securities to American railroads to Eastern European copper mines, his exchanges with various banks and brokerage firms, his impetuous gifts, and the changing size and composition of his portfolio. Successes and failures alike provided material for Proust’s fiction, whether from the purchase of an airplane for the object of his affections or the investigation of a deceased love’s intimate background. Proust was, Balsamo concludes, a master at turning financial indulgence into narrative craftsmanship, economic costs into artistic opportunities. Over the course of their fifteen-year collaboration, the banker saw Proust squander three-fifths of his wealth on reckless ventures and on magnificent presents for the men and women who struck his fancy. To Hauser the writer was a virtuoso in resource mismanagement. Nonetheless, Balsamo shows, we owe it to the altruism of this generous relative, who never thought twice about sacrificing his own time and resources to Proust, that In Search of Lost Time was ever completed…
This sounds like a book I should read.

1 toby ziegler May 29, 2017 at 12:27 am

let us eat more lettuce and use let us more, let us refuse to measure refuse, let us eliminate regulation that refers to tautology of eating a lettuce head on bus unless one is a lattice day saint

2 prior_test2 May 29, 2017 at 12:46 am

But how are the madeleines in Switzerland – worth speculating on?

3 Ray Lopez May 29, 2017 at 12:47 am

Oh my, thank you TC. I am breaking my vow of silence in the comments section for the month of May to say it’s a surprisingly fascinating book, and the author attempts to answer the question: does an artist actually have to live his life according to his fiction in order to write well? Proust himself apparently thought so: if he did not give away and recklessly spend his huge fortune (Johnny Depp style) in real life, Proust specifically said he would not have had the creativity to write his magnum opus in fiction, “In Search of Lost Time”, which was inspired by real life. The book has some interesting twists and turns, and is very wordy (like Proust’s works) but without getting into spoilers, Proust lost two-thirds of his huge fortune during WWI, apparently not due to the war itself, but in spending it on friends and unwisely investing it. A banker who attempt to revive Proust’s fortune, and battled Proust (akin to J. Depp’s financial advisers in the present), ended up performing a miracle (I won’t tell you what, that’s the spoiler, but it’s surprising, especially what happened to Proust after the miracle). But like billionaire Liliane Bettencourt (?) of L’Oreal, who also gave away I think a fortune (dementia), as well as multi-millionaire Paul English, the founder of Kayak.com, who did the same, Proust did not mind one bit giving away his fortune, for the reasons mentioned above, as well as being an admirer of the English social thinker John Ruskin (1819–1900), who believed that economic gain was not the be-all and end-all of human existence (no Freakonomics for him!), but in fact sacrifice and charity is what defined humans. Proust attempted to put this theory into practice in his own life.

Bonus trivia: Proust was bisexual, and was really, really lazy. He liked to lie around the house doing nothing, kind of like his classic book I’ve not read.

4 prior_test2 May 29, 2017 at 12:49 am

‘does an artist actually have to live his life according to his fiction in order to write well’

Of course not – that is just one of the reasons it is called fiction.

5 derek May 29, 2017 at 1:11 am

The origins of cultural appropriation. Which says you can’t write about the experiences of others.

There is a certain truth to the idea, I suppose. Men and women, rich and poor, people who have experienced winter and those who haven’t, for example have perspectives available to them that others don’t. But a good writer is capable of putting themselves into someone else’s experience and write about from a point of view.

6 prior_test2 May 29, 2017 at 8:31 am

‘The origins of cultural appropriation. Which says you can’t write about the experiences of others.’

Well, we are talking about fiction, you know, things that are actually made up.

7 Greg May 29, 2017 at 3:09 pm

They say all fiction is autobiography, and all autobiography is fiction. It’s not strictly true, of course, but there’s plenty of fiction that’s very thinly disguised memoir.

8 Ray Lopez May 29, 2017 at 1:19 am

@prior_test2 – you are in agreement with this NY state lawyer from Austria, Michael Orthofer, a book a day avid reader and reviewer, who believes fiction is often a flight of fancy that has no bearing on reality… (listen to the Conversations with Tyler interview, at the beginning : https://medium.com/conversations-with-tyler/michael-orthofer-complete-review-fiction-literary-saloon-b028a1ca2620)

Against that view, which is in the minority it seems, both the artists Van Gogh and Monet painted the way they did, say some, because that’s how they saw things due to medical conditions (halo effect due to mental illness and blurry vision due to an eye disease, respectively). And most teachers of fiction say writers must be ‘true’ to their craft by either researching their material very well (Michael Crichton, a brilliant non-practicing doctor did that with this fiction), perhaps Tom Clancy is another example (embedded in the US military), or actually ‘live’ their fiction (in character, like movie stars stay in character between sets to stay authentic to their role). +Internet screen scrape from LitHub 5/26/17 article: ” I remember hearing an interview with David Foster Wallace where he responds to a question about whether or not he’s a realist by saying that he doesn’t know any writers—even so-called postmodernists like himself—who don’t consider themselves realists, in terms of writing about what life really feels like to them.”

Bonus trivia: $7M back in 1911 is like $70M today, and Proust gave it all away…but with a twist (read the book, buy it or as I found it on a pirate site just before it was shut down…amazing how the pirate sites are being shut down these days)

9 prior_test2 May 29, 2017 at 8:34 am

‘who believes fiction is often a flight of fancy that has no bearing on reality’

Well, maybe. Particularly when reading about what it is like to crew a starship for example, as in Anderson’s Tau Zero. I*m pretty sure that Anderson could not draw on his – or anybody else’s – experience in that area.

Fiction is not real, regardless of how willing our suspension of disbelief.

10 Edward Burke May 29, 2017 at 10:58 am

If fiction were not “real”, I could not sit here and scan the titles of the hundreds of fictional works I’ve assembled on the six shelves of a seven-foot bookcase.

This itself is no definitive argument, of course, so I defer:

http://fictionaut.com/stories/strannikov/truths-of-matters

11 Thor May 30, 2017 at 3:39 am

There is now a large and skillfully drawn graphic novel version of his masterpiece. (Yale UP? Can’t recall.)

It was a frivolous purchase and I’ve not read it because I’m ashamed I’ve not attempted the original novels.

But I can give it away, I suppose.

12 anonymous as usual May 31, 2017 at 10:10 pm

do what I do – read page one to ten, then page one hundred one to one hundred ten, then page 200 to 210, and so on (I have read the whole thing, by the way, but that 10 percent reading was my last rereading). It is not a book where the spoilers are simple , so don’ t worry about that – you can read the spoilers and not have any idea what you have just read. No different than, say, watching a few John Ford Westerns without watching them all in order from the beginning to the end of his career. Or start with Eve by Peguy, which Balthasar (Hans Urs von) said completed the Proustian project of redeeming memory with meaningful words and images – that is a poem that is a few thousand lines long, though. The graphic novel version you own is very good, by the way – not great (but not bad) on portraits, but fascinating on the landscapes and beachscapes and cityscapes, and the clothing and housewares are accurately drawn.

13 rayward May 29, 2017 at 7:14 am

“This sounds like a book I should read.” A good joke on this holiday morning. It’s been said that In Search of Lost Time is so famous that one need not have read it to talk about it. So Cowen, you need not have read this book about Proust to talk about it.

14 Dan Lavatan-Jeltz May 29, 2017 at 8:20 pm

Don’t have the book but writing puts in 1911 was probably a reasonable strategy, even if things went down they would have recovered by 1912 and obviously the indexes are much higher today.

15 anonymous as usual May 30, 2017 at 2:08 am

It is hard to figure out if so many great writers of novels were born rich because rich-dad/rich-mom genes were so beneficial *** or *** if the money was what gave them the time to develop, time the other novelists did not have. Someone did a study once on the salaries of the parents of mathematicians, novelists, and physicists – the only ones to pop up from nowhere were recreational mathematicians (1800-2000) and number theorists. That being said, there is a pretty well known census (consensus, if you prefer) of writers of great very ong novels in the common Northern European languages – two Russians (Tolstoy and Dostoevsky) , one Scandinvaian (Undset), two Frenchmen (Balzac and Proust), one Irishman (Joyce), three Englishmen (Richardson, Tolkien, and Powell), and a not quite certain number of Germans and Austro-Hungarians. Sure there is a selection bias – grown-up rich kids sell more books than grown-up poor kids, just like a cool church in Paris gets more visits than the same church would get in Clermont-Ferrand, and old copies of Spiegel magazine are worth less than old copies of Interview – but it is fair to say that the two Russians were born to top one percent landowners, the Scandinavian had a dad whose job was the equivalent, in Scandinavia, of a professorship in American history at Harvard, the two Frenchmen included the millionaire Proust, Joyce’s family was well-known in Dublin (poor celebrities, not rich celebrities, but celebrities nonetheless). Tolkien was educated at the best school in the country. That leaves Powell and Balzac, neither one of them poor. So, if you are an AI guy, spend a year or two coaxing your little AI to write at that level but without the aristocratic and lucky family background. The advice is free, and Good luck!

16 anonymous as usual May 30, 2017 at 11:28 pm

There is another good book from USC press, also out this year, explaining the results of various concussions on poor Ernest Hemingway as he got older. For the record, I could not care less about who wrote the best long novels – escuche, amigos: The funny thing is you will hear people say things like “poor John Lennon – he is so underrated” and you think “how is it possible Lennon cares one way or another? He got so many compliments, he had more than he can handle. Was he kind, was he generous, did he respond when God spoke to him, either in subtle or non-subtle ways?” “That is what counts.” Life is life, it is not some contest for the mostest quantities of rare tramway tickets.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: