French Novelist, Critic and Essayist
Marcel Proust, fully Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust
French Novelist, Critic and Essayist
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.
The Prince?s name preserved, in the boldness with which its opening syllables were?to borrow an expression from music?attacked, and in the stammering repetition that scanned them, the energy, the mannered simplicity, the heavy refinements of the Teutonic race, projected like green boughs over the Heim of dark blue enamel which glowed with the mystic light of Rhenish window behind the pale and finely wrought gildings of the German eighteenth century. This name included, among the several names of which it was composed, that of a little German watering-place to which as a small child I had gone with my grandmother, under a mountain honoured by the feet of Goethe, from the vineyards of which we used to drink at the Kurhof the illustrious vintages with their compound and sonorous names like the epithets which Homer applies to his heroes. And so, scarcely had I heard it spoken than, before I had recalled the watering-place, the Prince?s name seemed to shrink, to become imbued with humanity, to find large enough for itself a little place in my memory to which it clung, familiar, earthbound, picturesque, appetizing, light, with something about it that was authorized, prescribed.
The suppression of suffering? Can I really have believed it, have believed that death merely strikes out what exists, and leaves everything else in its place, that it removes the pain from the heart of him for whom the other?s existence has ceased to be anything but a source of pain, that it removes the pain and puts nothing in its place? The suppression of pain!
The woman whose face we have before our eyes more constantly than light itself...this unique woman--we know quite well that it would have been another woman that would now be unique to us if we had been in another town than that in which we made her acquaintance, if we had explored other quarters of the town, if we had frequented the house of a different hostess. Unique, we suppose; she is innumerable. And yet she is compact, indestructible in our loving eyes, irreplaceable for a long time to come by any other.
There is no idea that does not carry in itself a possible refutation, no word that does not imply its opposite.
This new concept of the finest, highest achievement of art had no sooner entered my mind than it located the imperfect enjoyment I had had at the theater, and added to it a little of what it lacked; this made such a heady mixture that I exclaimed, What a great artiste she is! It may be thought I was not altogether sincere. Think, however, of so many writers who, in a moment of dissatisfaction with a piece they have just written, may read a eulogy of the genius of Chateaubriand, or who may think of some other great artist whom they have dreamed of equaling, who hum to themselves a phrase of Beethoven for instance, comparing the sadness of it to the mood they have tried to capture in their prose, and are then so carried away by the perception of genius that they let it affect the way they read their own piece, no longer seeing it as they first saw it, but going so far as to hazard an act of faith in the value of it, by telling themselves It's not bad you know! without realizing that the sum total which determines their ultimate satisfaction includes the memory of Chateaubriand's brilliant pages, which they have assimilated to their own, but which, of course, they did not write. Think of all the men who go on believing in the love of a mistress in whom nothing is more flagrant than her infidelities; of all those torn between the hope of something beyond this life (such as the bereft widower who remembers a beloved wife, or the artist who indulges in dreams of posthumous fame, each of them looking forward to an afterlife which he knows is inconceivable) and the desire for a reassuring oblivion, when their better judgment reminds them of the faults they might otherwise have to expiate after death; or think of the travelers who are uplifted by the general beauty of a journey they have just completed, although during it their main impression, day after day, was that it was a chore--think of them before deciding whether, given the promiscuity of the ideas that lurk within us, a single one of those that affords us our greatest happiness has not begun life by parasitically attaching itself to a foreign idea with which it happened to come into contact, and by drawing from it much of the power of pleasing which it once lacked.
The nose is generally the organ in which stupidity is most readily displayed.
The process which had begun in her [was] the great and general renunciation which old age makes in preparation for death, the chrysalis stage of life, which may be observed wherever life has been unduly prolonged.
The theatre of the world is stocked with fewer settings than actors, and with fewer actors than situations.
The work of art is our only means of recapturing the past... I understood that all these materials for literary work were nothing else than my past life and that they had come to me in the midst of frivolous pleasures, in idleness, through tender affection and through sorrow, and that I had stored them up without foreseeing their final purpose or even their survival, any more than does the seed when it lays by all the sustenance that is going to nourish the seedling.
'There is no man,' [Elstir] began, 'however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived in a way the consciousness of which is so unpleasant to him in later life that he would gladly, if he could, expunge it from his memory. And yet he ought not entirely to regret it, because he cannot be certain that he has indeed become a wise man--so far as it is possible for any of us to be wise--unless he has passed through all the fatuous or unwholesome incarnations by which that ultimate stage must be preceded... 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, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.'
This torture inflicted on her by my great-aunt, the sight of my grandmother's vain entreaties, of her feeble attempts, doomed in advance, to remove the liqueur-glass from my grandfather's hands -- all these were things of the sort to which, in later years, one can grow so accustomed as to smile at them and to take the persecutor's side resolutely and cheerfully enough to persuade oneself that it is not really persecution; but in those days they filled me with such horror that I longed to strike my great-aunt. And yet, as soon as I heard her Bathilde! Come in and stop your husband drinking brandy, in my cowardice I became at once a man, and did what all we grown men do when face to face with suffering and injustice: I preferred not to see them.
The novelist?s happy discovery was to think of substituting for those opaque sections, impenetrable by the human spirit, their equivalent in immaterial sections, things, that is, which the spirit can assimilate to itself. After which it matters not that the actions, the feelings of this new order of creatures appear to us in the guise of truth, since we have made them our own, since it is in ourselves that they are happening, that they are holding in thrall, while we turn over, feverishly, the pages of the book, our quickened breath and staring eyes. And once the novelist has brought us to that state, in which, as in all purely mental states, every emotion is multiplied ten-fold, into which his book comes to disturb us as might a dream, but a dream more lucid, and of a more lasting impression than those which come to us in sleep; why, then, for the space of an hour he sets free within us all the joys and sorrows in the world, a few of which, only, we should have to spend years of our actual life in getting to know, and the keenest, the most intense of which would never have been revealed to us because the slow course of their development stops our perception of them.
The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.
The thirst for something other than what we have ... to bring something new, even if it is worse, some emotion, some sorrow; when our sensibility, which happiness has silenced like an idle harp, wants to resonate under some hand, even a rough one, and even if it might be broken by it.
The world was not created once and for all time for each of us individually. There are added to it in the course of our life things of which we have never had any suspicion.
There is not a woman in the world the possession of whom is as precious as that of the truths which she reveals to us by causing us to suffer.
This very parallel between desire and travel made me vow to myself that one day I would grasp a little more closely the nature of this force, invisible but as powerful as any faith, or as, in the world of physics, atmospheric pressure, which exalted to such a height cities and women so long as I did not know them, and slipped away from beneath them as soon as I had approached them, made them at once collapse and fall flat upon the dead level of the most commonplace reality.
The oddities of charming people exasperate us, but there are few if any charming people who are not, at the same time, odd.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.
The time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit fills up what remains. Since railways came into existence, the necessity of not missing the train has taught us to take account of minutes whereas among the ancient Romans, who not only had a more cursory science of astronomy but led less hurried lives, the notion not of minutes but even of fixed hours barely existed.