French Novelist, Critic and Essayist
Marcel Proust, fully Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust
French Novelist, Critic and Essayist
The names of Northern railway stations in a timetable where he would like to imagine himself stepping from the train on an autumn evening when the trees are already bare and smelling strongly in the keen air, an insipid publication for people of taste, full of names that he has not heard since childhood, may have far greater value for him than five volumes of philosophy, and lead people of taste to say that for a man of talent, he has very stupid tastes.
The person with whom we are in love is to be recognized only by the intensity of the pain that we suffer.
The stellar universe is not so difficult of comprehension as the real actions of other people.
The wish for a total mutual absorption between the beloved mother and himself reveals itself as a leading motif in symbiotic love with its clearly oral implications. No closeness to the love object is ever satisfying to Proust unless it is unlimited in time and space. This is apparent in the basic scene [with his mother] and becomes even clearer in all the derivatives of other possessive, all-encompassing love situations, whether they are focused on an Albertine or an Albert.
There is in this world in which everything wears out, everything perishes, one thing that crumbles into dust, that destroys itself still more completely, leaving behind still fewer traces of itself than Beauty: namely Grief.
This malady which Swann?s love had become had so proliferated, was so closely interwoven with all his habits, with all his actions, with his thoughts, his health, his sleep, his life, even with what he hoped for after his death, was so utterly inseparable from him, that it would have been impossible to eradicate it without almost entirely destroying him; as surgeons say, his love was no longer operable.
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.
The ineffable utterance of one solitary man, absent, perhaps dead (Swann did not know whether Vinteuil were still alive), breathed out above the rites of those two hierophants, sufficed to arrest the attention of three hundred minds, and made of that stage on which a soul was thus called into being one of the noblest altars on which a supernatural ceremony could be performed.
The facts of life do not penetrate to the sphere in which our beliefs are cherished; they did not engender those beliefs, and they are powerless to destroy them; they can inflict on them continual blows of contradiction and disproof without weakening them; and an avalanche of miseries and maladies succeeding one another without interruption in the bosom of a family will not make it lose faith in either the clemency of its God or the capacity of its physician.
The inertia of the mind urges it to slide down the easy slope of imagination, rather than to climb the steep slope of introspection.
The faithful burst out laughing and they suggested a band of cannibals in whom the sight of a wound on a white man's skin has aroused the thirst for blood. For the instinct of imitation and absence of courage govern society and the mob alike. And we all of us laugh at a person whom we see being made fun of, which does not prevent us from venerating him ten years later in a circle where he is admired. It is in like manner that the populace banishes or acclaims its kings.
The intellectual distinction of a house and its smartness are generally in inverse rather than direct ratio.
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.