Having recently read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism and Deep Work, I thought of Marcel Proust’s Time Regained, volume 7 in his In Search of Lost Time.
As for the inner book of unknown symbols… if I tried to read them no one could help me with any rules, for to read them was an act of creation in which no one can do our work for us or even collaborate with us. How many for this reason turn aside from writing! What tasks do men not take upon themselves in order to evade this task! Every public event, be it the Dreyfus case, be it the war, furnishes the writer with a fresh excuse for not attempting to decipher this book: he wants to insure the triumph of justice, he wants to restore the moral unity of the nation, he has no time to think of literature. But these are mere excuses, the truth being that he has not or no longer has genius, that is to say instinct. For instinct dictates our duty and the intellect supplies us with pretexts for evading it. But excuses have no place in art and intentions count for nothing: at every moment the artist has to listen to his instinct, and it is this that makes art the most real of all things, the most austere school of life, the true last judgment.
So that the essential, the only true book, though in the ordinary sense of the word it does not have to be ‘“invented” by a great writer — for it exists already in each one of us — has to be translated by him. The function and the task of a writer are those of a translator.
The artist who gives up an hour of work for an hour of conversation with a friend knows that he is sacrificing a reality for something which does not exist (our friends being friends only in the light of an agreeable folly which travels with us through life and to which we readily accommodate ourselves, but which at the bottom of our hearts we know to be no more reasonable than the delusion of the man who talks to the furniture because he believes that it is alive)… Read the rest of this entry »