Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.
After completing incredibly satisfying studies of Ulysses and Magic Mountain, it is time to turn to the next big mountain of Modernism, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. This will be the third troop I have led through this massive work – even though this means 2.5 years of reading together, most have stayed the course and have found the work immensely satisfying. I would say simply that my time in Proust has changed the way I understand my relationship to the world of art and experience.
Here is how one Salonista describes the pleasure and work of reading Proust: “This is a velvet jewel of a book that demands the attention of a lover full of enchantment and obsession, we need not get impatient as all good lovers perfect their art in taking their time.”
Proust’s writing requires a wide awake mind as the reader is drawn into dissecting the world as it is experienced and the way our minds decorate and create memories, values and paradigms of understanding. This sounds so dry; the wonder is how deeply sensual Proust’s work is—he is most concerned with the experience of intimacy and how this dance between two beings is fractured and re-imagined through the lens of perception.
Reading Proust teaches the reader to observe how the world is experienced, to be aware that although humans are tempted to give greater weight to the perceptual universe, it is the entwining of memory, idealized experience (dreams) and relationships with what our senses perceive that molds our consciousness.
Proust also uses his curious and attentive narrator to uncover the ombre—the part of the self that hides in the shade or shadow. As we come to know the characters in the narrator’s world, each turns out to have aspects that reveal a savagery or laziness or discrepancy that was not what appeared on the surface. Of course, as soon as Proust reflects this to the reader, we recognize this truth of human nature: all carry a shadow, an untoward or simply unmanageable part of the self that we struggle to contain. In Proust’s world, these aspects are equally a part of the coherent self. This has me thinking a great deal about how carefully we construct the social self—and how we temper what simmers beneath the surface.
For further reflection, I offer you this keen reader’s reasons to study Proust:
September 28, 2009 by Dennis Abrams
You know you’ve been meaning to. You’re pretty sure that you’ve got a dusty copy of Swann’s Way sitting around somewhere. You’ve probably even read the book’s famous opening line, “For a long time I would go to bed early,” and thought to yourself, well, not now, maybe some other time.
That time has finally come. Next Monday, Publishing Perspectives is launching The Cork-Lined Room, a blog devoted to the reading, discussion and study of Proust’s masterpiece of 20th century literature, In Search of Lost Time.
Join us, (there is safety in numbers) and see what you’ve been missing all these years.
Should you need further encouragement, here are ten reasons why you should join in and make Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time your next big literary project.
- You’ll finally be reading the work of one of the great prose stylists of all time. Long, sensuous sentences that cast a spell like no others: Glorious descriptions of nature, art, music, and fashion, full of witty conversation and aphorisms galore.
- You will be constantly putting the book down to underline another memorable passage, all the while asking yourself, “How does he know that?”
- You’ll be surprised to learn that Proust is surprisingly funny. Yes, In Search of Lost Time is a literary masterpiece, it’s long, and it’s French, it can’t possibly be funny. But it is. Truly.
- You should do it because it’s there. At 3,000 pages and over 1.25 million words, it’s the Mt. Everest of literature, but you can reach its peak without an oxygen mask or the assistance of a Sherpa. By way of comparison, it took David Chase 86 episodes and six seasons to tell the story of The Sopranos and the Harry Potter saga is 4,224 pages long and contains over one million words. Given that, Proust doesn’t seem nearly as daunting.
- You’ll learn nearly all there is to know about love, jealousy, obsession, memory, and time. It will, if you let it, change your life: it is one of those rare books that provides an entirely new way of perceiving and understand the world.
- You’ll have the thrill of accomplishment. Think of the sense of pride you’ll have in having read, comprehended, and enjoyed In Search of Lost Time.
- You’ll meet lots of fascinating people from all levels of French society. Harold Bloom wrote that “Proust’s greatest strength, amid so many others, is his characterization: no twentieth-century novelist can match his roster of vivid personalities.” Of course, Harold’s not always right, but this time he is.
- You’ll impress your friends. Consider the following piece of dialogue. Them: “Did you catch last night’s episode of Lost?” You: “No, sorry, I was so enthralled reading Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time that I couldn’t bring myself to turn on the television.” Game, Set and Match (Of course, you should say it nicely).
- You’ll be able to relax knowing that for the next few months at least, you will not have to worry about what you’re going to be reading next.
- And finally, and most importantly, reading In Search of Lost Time means that at last you’ll be reading the greatest novel ever written. Virginia Woolf said, “My greatest adventure was undoubtedly Proust. What is there left to write after that?” Who are you to argue with Virginia Woolf?
- In Search of Lost Time: Volume I, The Way By Swann’s, by Marcel Proust, translated by Lydia Davis; Penguin Modern Classics; ISBN 978-0141180311
- For volumes II through VI: Vintage Classics editions, translated by Moncrief/Kilmartin/Enright ISBN-13: 978-0099362319
If you would like to request this study or have any questions about it, please contact us.