French Novelist, Critic and Essayist
Marcel Proust, fully Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust
French Novelist, Critic and Essayist
You, who are so fond of the things of intelligence... [Anatole] France said to [Proust]. I am not at all fond of things of the intelligence, but only of life and of movement, Proust replied.
We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us.
We may, indeed, say that the hour of death is uncertain, but when we say this we think of that hour as situated in a vague and remote expanse of time; it does not occur to us that it can have any connection with the day that has already dawned and can mean that death can occur this very afternoon, so far from uncertain, this afternoon whose timetable, hour by hour, has been settled in advance. One insists on one's daily outing, so that in a month's time one will have had the necessary ration of fresh air, one has hesitated over which coat to take, which cabman to call ;one is in the cab, the whole day lies before one, short because one must be back home early,as a friend is coming to see one; one hopes it will be fine again tomorrow; one has no suspicion that death, which has been advancing one on another plane, has chosen precisely this particular day to make it's appearance in a few minutes' time.
What barrier is so insurmountable as silence?
When we understand that suffering is the best thing we can encounter in life, we contemplate death without dismay as a sort of emancipation.
Your soul is a dark forest. But the trees are of a particular species, they are genealogical trees.
We are very slow in recognizing in the peculiar physiognomy of a new writer the type which is labelled 'great talent' in our museum of general ideas. Simply because that physiognomy is new and strange, we can find in it no resemblance to what we are accustomed to call talent. We say rather originality, charm, delicacy, strength; and then one day we add up the sum of these, and find that it amounts simply to talent.
We must never be afraid to go too far, for success lies just beyond.
What best remind us of a person is precisely what we had forgotten (because it was of no importance, and we therefore left it in full possession of its strength). That is why the better part of our memories exist outside us, in a blatter of rain, in the smell of an unaired room or of the first crackling brushwood fire in a cold grate: wherever, in short, we happen upon what our mind, having no use for it, had rejected, the last treasure that the past has in store, the richest, that which, when all our flow of tears seems to have dried at the source, can make us weep again. Outside us? Within us, rather, but hidden from our eyes in an oblivion more or less prolonged. It is thanks to this oblivion alone that we can from time to time recover the person that we were, place ourselves in relation to things as he was placed, suffer anew because we are no longer ourselves but he, and because he loved what now leaves us indifferent. In the broad daylight of our habitual memory the images of the past turn gradually pale and fade out of sight, nothing remains of them, we shall never recapture it. Or rather we should never recapture it had not a few words been carefully locked away in oblivion, just as an author deposits in the National Library a copy of a book which might otherwise become unobtainable.
When, from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflattering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.
To know a thing does not always enable us to prevent it, but at least the things we know we do hold, if not in our hands, at any rate in our minds, where we can dispose of them as we choose, and this gives us the illusion of a sort of power over them.
We are, when we love, in an abnormal state, capable of giving at once to the most apparently simple accident, an accident which may at any moment occur, a seriousness which in itself it would not entail. What makes us so happy is the presence in our hearts of an unstable element which we contrive perpetually to maintain and of which we cease almost to be aware so long as it is not displaced. In reality, there is in love a permanent strain of suffering which happiness neutralizes, make potential only, postpones, but which may at any moment become, what it would long since have been had we not obtained what we wanted, excruciating.
We must never be afraid to go too far, for truth lies beyond.
What keeps people from suffering very much is lack of imagination... Everything great that we know has come from neurotics. It is they and only they who have founded religions and created great works of art. Never will the world be aware of how much it owes to them, nor, above all, how much they have suffered in order to bestow their gifts upon it.
When, on a summer evening, the melodious sky growls like a tawny lion, and everyone is complaining of the storm, it is the memory of the M‚s‚glise way that makes me stand alone in ecstasy, inhaling, through the noise of the falling rain, the lingering scent of invisible lilacs.
To mount the skies it is not necessary to have the most powerful of motors, one must have a motor which, instead of continuing to run along the earth's surface [is] capable of converting its speed into ascending force. Similarly the men who produce works of genius are not those who live in the most delicate atmosphere, whose conversation is most brilliant or their culture broadest, but those who have had the power, ceasing in a moment to live only for themselves, to make use of their personality as of a mirror... The day on which young Bergotte succeeded in showing to the world of his readers the tasteless household in which he had passed his childhood...on that day he climbed far above the friends of his family, more intellectual and more distinguished than himself; they in their fine Rolls Royces might return home expressing due contempt for the vulgarity of the Bergottes; but he, with his modest engine which had at last left the ground, he soared above their heads.
We betroth ourselves by proxy, and then feel obliged to marry the intermediary.
We need, between us and the fish which, if we saw it for the first time cooked and served on a table, would not appear worth the endless shifts and wiles required to catch it, the intervention, during our afternoons with the rod, of the rippling eddy to whose surface come flashing, without our quite knowing what we intend to do with them, the bright gleam of flesh, the hint of a form, in the fluidity of a transparent and mobile azure.
When [M. de Charlus] had perfected...an entirely successful epigram, he was anxious to let it be heard by the largest possible audience, but took care not to admit to the second performance the audience of the first who could have borne witness that the novelty was not novel. He would then rearrange his drawing-room, simply because he did not alter his programme, and, when he had scored a success in conversation, would, if need be, have organized a tour, and given exhibitions in the provinces.
Whether it is because the faith which creates has ceased to exist in me, or because reality takes shape in the memory alone, the flowers that people show me nowadays for the first time never seem to me to be true flowers.
To such beings, such fugitive beings, their own nature and our anxiety fasten wings. And even when they are with us the look in their eyes seems to warn us that they are about to take flight. The proof of this beauty itself, that wings add is that often, for us, the same person is alternately winged and wingless.
We can immediately detect the language of passion...unexpressed as it happens, but revealing itself at once to the listener by an intuitive faculty which [is] the most widespread thing in the world.
We never see the people who are dear to us save in the animated system, the perpetual motion of our incessant love for them, which, before allowing the images that their faces present to reach us, seizes them in its vortex and flings them back upon the idea that we have always had of them, makes them adhere to it, coincide with it.
When a belief vanishes, there survives it -- more and more vigorously so as to cloak the absence of the power, now lost to us, of imparting reality to new things -- a fetishistic attachment to the old things which it did once animate, as if it was in them and not in ourselves that the divine spark resided, and as if our present incredulity had a contingent cause -- the death of the gods.
While Elstir, at my request, went on painting, I wandered about in the half-light, stopping to examine first one picture, then another. Most of those that covered the walls were not what I should chiefly have liked to see of his work, paintings in what an English art journal which lay about on the reading-room table in the Grand Hotel called his first and second manners, the mythological manner and the manner in which he shewed signs of Japanese influence, both admirably exemplified, the article said, in the collection of Mme. de Guermantes. Naturally enough, what he had in his studio were almost all seascapes done here, at Balbec. But I was able to discern from these that the charm of each of them lay in a sort of metamorphosis of the things represented in it, analogous to what in poetry we call metaphor, and that, if God the Father had created things by naming them, it was by taking away their names or giving them other names that Elstir created them anew.