This Week in Proust



“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

A while back I shared a list of books I thought I would never read.   Among them was Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.  Well, guess what?  I’m reading Proust!  What changed?  These words from a friend:  “I read it for the first time in 1996-97, and not a day has gone by since when I haven’t thought about it.”  Wow, right?

For the English speaking reader, translation is important.  Maybe the edition I picked up in the past wasn’t as good as the one I’m reading now.  I bought mine here, and it’s the Moncrieff/Kilmartin translation, revised by D.J. Enright.   This is the one my friend recommended, and it’s wonderful – modern enough to be relatable and conversational, but retaining in Proust’s musical sentences the evocative poetry and laser sharp insight.

My friend encouraged me to read the book “shackles off” (thank you, Martha Beck for the term), so my Proust-reading rules are kind of un-rules:

  1. I don’t have to read it every day.  This book is contemplative, philosophical and meandering. You have to pay attention.  This sounds like a chore but it’s not – it’s just that to enjoy it you need to be more than awake – you need to be mindfully present. So if I’m tired, or too distracted, I’ll pick up something else. I suppose this might change, and I may feel that the book is able to bring me to mindfulness, like meditation, or drawing.
  2. I don’t have a deadline for finishing it.   One day I will come to the last page, but I’m not in a hurry.
  3. I don’t feel the need to read it exclusively.  It’s one of a number of books I’m reading.  You don’t just listen to one kind of music, do you?

If Proust can inspire every day, there should be enough in 3200 pages to share something each week, however small.  And beyond the covers of In Search of Lost Time there’s a temps perdu-niverse of Proustian thought, insight and influence to explore, from Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change your Life to Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire.  We’ll start next week.

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