Proust in the Artificial Intelligence Era

by | Aug 29, 2022 | Articles | 0 comments

Let’s consider this week’s post as part two to last week’s part one, When Will the Robot Overlords Replace Us? I know I’ve been thinking, talking, and writing about this a lot lately. Today, though, I have a different spin—one which both surprised and amused me.

Last week I wrote a bit about the horrendous Grammarly, a “cloud-based typing assistant” (insert stifled guffaw here) that I have to use for some of my freelance work. In between that post and today’s, I’ve been reading, or re-reading Proust.

Allow me to explain. I want to say I originally read Swann’s Way about 2.5 million years ago, as I already own a worn paperback copy. But did I? Or do I just remember Diane Chambers on Cheers waxing eloquent about “Proust and his madeleines?” Whatever the case—and yes, I have pretty much completely forgotten entire books I read over 30 years ago—I’ve been plowing through Swann’s Way as a prelude to reading all of Remembrance of Things Past. The second volume, Within a Budding Grove, is already on deck.

 

Proustian, Jungian, or…Something Else?

The inevitable clash between modern technical-related writing and classic literature seems to get wider as I delve into Proust’s world. And I’ve had something else on my mind, possibly related to Proust but not necessarily so. It’s something I don’t even know how to discuss, much less define.

Oxford defines “Proustian” as “relating to or characteristic of the French writer Marcel Proust or his works, particularly with reference to the recovery of the lost past and the stimulation of unconscious memory.” This typically involves sensory phenomena, such as when the taste of a tiny piece of a cake calls up a whole range of memories and associations.

There’s something very Jungian about all this to me, and that’s what I can’t get my hands (or brain) around. Like Proust and innumerable other writers, I’ve had dreams and associations that don’t seem to mean anything in particular, yet call up a strong emotional response. Some remain vague, as if the veil has yet to be lifted.

That’s where I am today: a brief image, like a still from a video clip, of a carriage flying down a dirt road, all sepia-toned and with autumn leaves swirling past it. Did I dream it more than once? Is it meant to conjure up something else, or even find a place in a future project of mine?

I have no idea.

 

These Smart Bots

But oh, yes: I promised something surprising and amusing here, didn’t I? Not only my straining to recall something vague and mysterious, as-yet-understood.

Here it is. Just for fun, I decided to use the above mentioned Grammarly app to “edit” some Proust, and some Faulkner, for good measure. After all, a modern “editing” bot would surely object to 900-word sentences with a ton of commas, right?

I copied and pasted a massive Proust sentence into it…and yes, Faulkner’s longest sentence, around 1,200 words.

And the result? No problem! Both sentences scored nearly 100%, with high ratings for clarity, correctness, engagement…in short, Grammarly was obviously programmed to recognize great literature and not suggest corrections. Pretty smart, these bots.

And now, I’m off to ponder the great mystery of the carriage and the autumn leaves swirling past it. Happy Monday.

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