I first read the seven volumes of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time spring through autumn of 1997. A couple of years later, I read the collection of Proust’s essays in On Art & Literature: 1896-1919. Looking back over my notes on the text, I can see how significant Proust was for me in the two works (Mev, Layla) that came after my Elie Wiesel book, on which I was working at the time of this reading. I was particularly drawn to Proust’s criticism of the French critic Sainte-Beuve.
Should I make it a novel, or a philosophical study — am I a novelist?
Every day I set less store on intellect.
And if intellect only ranks second in the hierarchy of virtues, intellect alone is able to proclaim that the first place must be given to instinct.
At the same time I put myself in tune with those other realities for which solitude whets the appetite, and whose possibility, whose reality, gives a value to life: the women one does not know.
[Sainte-Beuve’s method] ignores what a very slight degree of self-acquaintance teaches us: that a book is the product of a different self from the self we manifest in our habits, in our social life, in our vices. If we would try to understand that particular self, it is by searching our own bosoms, and trying to reconstruct it there, that we may arrive at it. Nothing can exempt us from this pilgrimage of the heart.
One regards oneself as no more than the trustee, who from one moment to the next may disappear, of an intellectual hoard which will disappear with him; and one would like to say check to one’s previous idleness or force of inertia by obeying that noble commandment of Christ’s in the Gospel of Saint John: “Work while ye have the light.” Read the rest of this entry »