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Proust, again

Posted on August 27, 2020
Tags: proust, literature

At the beginning of July I finished reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time again, my fourth read through the book, and barring some unforseen misfortune certainly not my last. What struck me this time, more than others: Proust’s extraordinary intellectual independence in many of the subjects he mentions; how well Proust’s aesthetic discussions, of painting and music and literature, teach us to read his book; the care he often takes (which I certainly missed the first time around) to qualify the general claims Marcel makes about love, friendship, and intimacy. I was also struck by how much Proust struggles at times within the confines of a first person narrative — or is this part of a deliberate design, to serve a purpose? At any rate, beginning very notably in Swann’s Way, Marcel tells us things he could not possibly know, with the omniscience of a third person narrator, and sometimes with the thinnest of excuses.

The book is long but it is very memorable. The fourth time through was a slow meditation, made more challenging by the distractions and worries of the pandemic. In spite of my generally poor memory, there are no passages in the book at this point that I would not immediately recognize if someone read me one at random, since everything he writes is so vivid and fresh and stamped with his personality. If Proust had lived to finish his book and been unable to resist stretching it another few thousand pages I would not hesitate to read it as often as I do.

Proust and his narrator Marcel are in a number of ways objectionable and silly, just like Plato, another author on whom I have lavished years of attention. But no other authors I’ve discovered have come close to them in artistry or a sense of depth that their works give me. So I’ll keep reading both of them, over and over, until I’m dead or too senile to read another page. My French lessons have continued slowly over the pandemic too and someday I’ll read Proust in the original. Curse my stubborn teenage self for squandering years of French and hours of spare time in which to learn it.