“…I would make as if to put away the book which I imagined was still in my hands, and to blow out the light; I had gone on thinking, while I was asleep, about what I had just been reading, but these thoughts had taken a rather peculiar turn; it seemed to me that I myself was the immediate subject of my book…”—Marcel Proust, In Search Of Time Lost, first paragraph of the Overture
Today’s quote is a fragment, bounded by ellipses, from the first paragraph of Marcel Proust’s gargantuan early twentieth century odyssey, In Search Of Time Lost, normally translated into the Shakespearian Remembrance Of Things Past. Whereas the latter has a softer, amber-hued nostalgically poetic ring to it, the former is much closer to the spirit of the work.
Fitting also the bounding ellipses, for Proust’s sinuously refined sentences meander forward and playfully loop back, endlessly expanding and unfolding and embracing all manner of perceptual sense, from scent to touch, the delicate nuance of light and the subtle distinctions of sound, or then again he is burrowing deeper and deeper into the multifarious metamorphoses of relationships, whether of friendship, love or hate, running the gamut from the spiritually exalting to the carnally obsessive….
But maybe you get the picture.
“It seemed to me that I myself was the immediate subject of my book.” Ah, beautifully put. And what a book it is! Three thousand florid, mellifluous pages. A man’s life, and that of an age (just prior to our’s I might add), a portrait of the artist as a floundering, fragile-healthed, idolizing, bounding would-be snob on a fitful journey to utter disillusionment and death.
But in that death to the society of his day, in the holing himself up in his cork-lined room and the going over of the disparate shards of his life with the finest of imaginable combs, there is the birth of something new, the grasping of the deeper, poetic meaning and trajectory of his life and times.
That is Proust and that is his recapturing of time lost.
“For the function of such myth-building is to interpret the sense, not to chronicle the facts, of a life, and to offer the artwork of a legend, then, as an activating symbol for the inspiration and shaping of lives, and even civilizations to come.”— Joseph Campbell, Occidental Mythology
I did my M.A thesis on this book; so this post made me smile and whoop in yayness. I love people who love Proust. Great post.
Thanks, Kyram. It’s probably been upwards of twenty to twenty-five years since I toiled mightily through the whole thing. Often since I’ve restarted, but time and life intruded. Reading so much else, including the biography of Proust, has expanded it all, to something far more than I seem to be able to express. Joseph Campbell makes a big deal of Joyce and Mann in his work, and especially his Creative Mythology; Proust belongs there too.