French Novelist, Critic and Essayist
Marcel Proust, fully Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust
French Novelist, Critic and Essayist
The one thing more difficult than following a regimen is not imposing it on others.
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.
Their love--and consequently their fear--of the crowd being one of the most powerful motives in all men, whether they seek to please other people or to astonish them, or to show them that they despise them.
There is probably no one, however rigid his virtue, who is not liable to find himself, by the complexity of circumstances, living at close quarters with the very vice which he himself has been most outspoken in condemning -- without altogether recognizing it beneath the disguise of ambiguous behavior which it assumes in his presence.
This was many years ago. The staircase wall on which I saw the rising glimmer of his candle has long since ceased to exist. In me, too, many things have been destroyed that I thought were bound to last forever and new ones have formed that have given birth to new sorrows and joys which I could not have foreseen then, just as the old ones have been difficult for me to understand. It was a very long time ago, too, that my father ceased to be able to say to Mama, Go with the boy. The possibility of such hours will never be reborn for me.
The features of our face are hardly more than gestures which force of habit made permanent. Nature, like the destruction of Pompeii, like the metamorphosis of a nymph into a tree, has arrested us in an accustomed movement.
The laborious process of causation which sooner or later will bring about every possible effect, including, consequently, those which one believed to be least possible, naturally slow at times, is rendered slower still by our desire (which in seeking to accelerate only obstructs it), by our very existence, and comes to fruition only when we have ceased to desire, and sometimes ceased to live.
The features of our face are hardly more than gestures which have become permanent.
The main narrative of La PrisonniŠre and Albertine Disparue--the flight to Paris, the captivity, the escape, the death, the Narrator's posthumous jealousy and slow oblivion--indubitably retells the true story of Proust's love for Agostinelli. Yet it is as certain as it is strange that the earliest plot of A la Recherche [written before Agostinelli's captivity, escape and death] followed a similar course... It is as though Proust imposed upon his love for Agostinelli the pre-existing pattern not only of his total previous experience of love in his own life, but of the climax of his novel. Agostinelli was conducted along the road to his tragic end by the ineluctable mechanism of a work of art... A la Recherche is a work consecrated by two human sacrifices, the deaths of Mme. Proust and Agostinelli, for which Proust himself, in his own mind and in fact, was partly responsible... 'When I juxtaposed the deaths of my grandmother and Albertine I felt that my life was defiled by a double murder', says the Narrator.
The field open to the musician is not a miserable stave of seven notes, but an immeasurable keyboard (still almost entirely unknown) on which, here and there only, separated by the thick darkness of its unexplored tracts, some few among the millions of keys of tenderness, of passion, of courage, of serenity, which compose it, each one differing from all the rest as one universe differs from another, have been discovered by a few great artists who do us the service, when they awaken in us the emotion corresponding to the theme they have discovered, of showing us what richness, what variety lies hidden, unknown to us, in that vast, unfathomed and forbidding night of our soul which we take to be an impenetrable void.
The man of genius, to shelter himself from the ignorant contempt of the world, may say to himself that, since one's contemporaries are incapable of the necessary detachment, works written for posterity should be read by posterity alone, like certain pictures which one cannot appreciate when one stands too close to them. But, as it happens, any such cowardly precaution to avoid false judgments is doomed to failure; they are inevitable. The reason for which a work of genius is not easily admired from the first is that the man who has created it is extraordinary, that few other men resemble him.
The first theme [of Remembrance of Things Past], then, is Time the Destroyer; the second, Memory the Preserver. But not just any kind of memory... If, by chance, someday, we can give to our memories the support of a sensation in the present, it will come to life again... Other writers had had an inkling of it (Chateaubriand, Nerval, Musset), but no writer until Proust had thought of making the complex, sensation-memory into the essential material of his work.
The memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment.
The Freudian equation of money and love was particularly strong in Proust: all his life he had expected and taken love and money from his parents, to spend on his friends.
The men who produce works of genius are not those who live in the most delicate atmosphere, whose conversation is the most brilliant or their culture the most extensive, but those who have had the power, ceasing suddenly to live only for themselves, to transform their personality into a sort of mirror, in such a way that their life, however mediocre it may be socially and even, in a sense, intellectually, is reflected by it, genius consisting in reflecting power and not in the intrinsic quality of the scene reflected.
The great men of letters have never created more than a single work or rather have never done more than refract through various mediums an identical beauty which they bring into the world.
The mistakes made by doctors are innumerable. They err habitually on the side of optimism as to treatment, of pessimism as to the outcome.
The great modification which the act of awakening effects in us is not so much that of ushering us into the clear life of consciousness, as that of making us lose all memory of the slightly more diffused light in which our mind had been resting, as in the opaline depths of the sea. The tide of thought, half veiled from our perception, on which we were still drifting a moment ago, kept us in a state of motion perfectly sufficient to enable us to refer to it by the name of wakefulness. But then our actual awakenings produce an interruption of memory. A little later we describe these states as sleep because we no longer remember them.
The great renunciation of old age as it prepared for death, wraps itself up in its chrysalis, which may be observed at the end of lives that are at all prolonged, even in old lovers who have lived for one another, in old friends bound by the closest ties of mutual sympathy, who, after a certain year, cease to make the necessary journey or even to cross the street to see one another, cease to correspond, and know that they will communicate no more in this world.
The heart changes, and it is our worst sorrow; but we know it only through reading, through our imagination: in reality its alteration, like that of certain natural phenomena, is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish, successively, each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change.
The heart changes...but we learn of it only from reading or by imagination; for in reality its alteration, like that of certain natural phenomena, is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish, successively, each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change.
The highest praise of God consists in the denial of him by the atheist who finds creation so perfect that it can dispense with a creator.
The idea that one will die is more painful than dying, but less painful than the idea that another person is dead, that, becoming once more a still, plane surface after having engulfed a person, a reality extends, without even a ripple at the point of disappearance from which that person is excluded, in which there no longer exists any will, any knowledge, and from which it is as difficult to re-ascend to the idea that that person has lived as, from the still recent memory of his life, it is to think that he is comparable with the insubstantial images, the memories, left us by the characters in a novel we have been reading.
The immediate possibility of a reconciliation had suppressed in me that faculty the immense importance of which we are apt to overlook: the faculty of resignation. Neurasthenics find it impossible to believe the friends who assure them that they will gradually recover their peace of mind if they will stay in bed and receive no letters, read no newspapers. They imagine that such a course will only exasperate their twitching nerves. And similarly lovers, who look upon it from their enclosure in a contrary state of mind, who have not begun yet to make trial of it, are unable to believe in the healing power of renunciation.