Friday, October 31, 2014

Marcel Proust: Immortality, how ?


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Swann is a wealthy art collector who falls in love with a beautiful girl of expensive habits.

He chases and finances her until he almost breaks down under the strain.

Finally he discovers that he does not love her, but ends up marrying her.

It is a good story included in the famous first volume of Remembrance of Things Passed, and it can also be read as an independent novelette. The English translation is stuffy, but freely available as Swann in Love .
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Proust's idea of art:



Since most people believe more or less coherently in some ideal like justice, beauty, love, loyalty, something that does not seem to serve their practical interests, Proust reasoned like this:


If there is no immortal soul, then:

 (quote)
 "these notions which exist in our mind must be nothing either. We must perish, but we have as hostages these divine captives who will share our fate.
And death in their company is somehow less bitter, less inglorious, perhaps even less probable. "
(end of quote)
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Proust explains elsewhere:

A work of art makes you happy because it strongly relates the present moment  to a moment far away in the past.

Thereby the soul feels that it is where it truly belongs, outside of time, above time, not subject to time, enjoying its immortality.

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The original French text:

«Par là, la phrase de Vinteuil avait [...] épousé notre condition mortelle, pris quelque chose d’humain qui était assez touchant. Son sort était lié à l’avenir, à la réalité de notre âme dont elle était un des ornements les plus particuliers, les mieux différenciés.

Peut-être est-ce le néant qui est le vrai et tout notre rêve est-il inexistant, mais alors nous sentons qu’il faudra que ces phrases musicales, ces notions qui existent par rapport à lui, ne soient rien non plus.

Nous périrons mais nous avons pour otages ces captives divines qui suivront notre chance. Et la mort avec elles a quelque chose de moins amer, de moins inglorieux, peut-être de moins probable. »


Marcel Proust: Un amour de Swann
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