Category Archives: Marcel Proust

Proust on cars

Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is a work of self through memory. The search is conducted through memory with the aid and hindrance of phenomena and habit, but done for the authentically expressing self. Or at least so I read it from my vantage point, a few hundred pages into The Captive.

One of the more interesting moves Proust makes in this great search of recollection is that time is not neutral: the wager of the search is that time can be lost and regained. In the course of his search the author comes face to face with the different natures of time, and how each of these differently impacts our self, world, and memory.

Part of the reason for this is that Proust is figuring out how to be an authentic self in a world in which time (and our entire being) has been so uprooted from the natural and tradition-based rhythms in the world around us. In a similar vein as Heidegger, Proust observes that modern technology confronts our world in “the character of a setting-upon, in the sense of a challenging forth.” And because this setting upon “expedites in that it unlocks and exposes…driving on to the maximum yield at the minimum expense,” our time and the world’s time changes, taking on different modes depending on which techniques of revealing and bringing forth are at work. Continue reading Proust on cars

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Proust and Merleau-Ponty on memory, naming, and perception

Memory, naming, and perception: three daily aspects of human life. One cannot collapse them to each other, but they are closely linked. Our memories – who we are, what we know, how we have experienced things previously – shape our perception, give us the ability to name old things, and anticipate our future expression. Naming draws things, people, and categories out of an undefined generality and thereby gives birth to and sustains much of our perception and memory; the moment of naming often coincides with the moment of seeing or of memory. At the same time, we seek for our naming to coincide with what we perceive, and a good memory must bear a close relationship to what we have perceived in the past. Memory, naming, and perception are inseparable and persistently separate.

How we remember, name, and perceive matters quite a bit. It is often rightly observed that how we see the world bears a close relationship to our ability to act well in the world. Only if we can see and name violence, goodness, where God is working in the world, the potential for human flourishing, and so on, can we act ethically. And because the world is made up of stories, our ability for such sight and naming will come largely from the stories we receive and encounter, and whether we receive them with the grace to remember them well. Continue reading Proust and Merleau-Ponty on memory, naming, and perception

Proust on art and genius

Over the last month we’ve had a few discussions on art and genius. One theme has been the question of whether art can reach outside of its context to speak truth, what such art might look like, and whether such art (if possible) would be recognizable to people. I thought we couldn’t do worse than get some of Proust’s ideas on the subject.

In the paragraph I’m about to quote, the narrator is looking at some paintings by his favourite painter, Elstir. He is reflecting, also, on the fact that ‘society people’ despise Elstir’s work. The argument is that genius is never appreciated in its own time, precisely because genius breaks with its own time in its ongoing effort at expression. It’s an open question as to whether this is because art naturally progresses (and people are a step behind) or because the genius creates the foundations for future epochs of art (which are disturbing to those who assume different foundations), though I would tend to favour the latter interpretation. Continue reading Proust on art and genius