Tag Archives: The Guermantes Way

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