Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Proust, art, and the Search for Essence

  “Bien qu’on dise avec raison qu’il n’y a pas de progress, pas de découvertes en art, mais seule, dans les sciences, et que chaque artiste recommençant pour son compte un effort individual ne peut y être aidé, ni entravé par les efforts de tout autre…” Marcel Proust
   Trans. " It is rightly said that there is no progress, no discoveries in art, but only in the sciences, and that each artist re starting for himself an individual effort cannot be neither helped, nor impeded by the efforts of all the others"
   We all know that scientific discoveries become obsolete, when replaced by newer findings in their area. The treatment they gave Proust for asthma, for instance, is completely outdated, and medicines that didn't exist in his time took its place. On the other hand, Leonardo Da Vinci's La Gioconda, to name a famous artwork, was made all the way back in the Renaissance, and is art through and through. It is timeless, and will never be replaced.
Proust's extensive reflections on art, when he talks of it as the book he had within, and that had already been written for him, (admitting that each of us has his own inside) he expresses the transcendence and individualism of this book, which he has only to discover and bring to light. A task from which, according to him, people in general will do anything to escape. Escaping from something that exists within independently of one's will is to escape from one's own essence. 
    Every artwork is contextual, in the sense of its being traceable to a period in Art History, or to a determinate culture. In this sense, it is bound to time. But insofar as an expression of the uniqueness of the artist's individuality, of its absoluteness, it is timeless.  People no longer paint like Renaissance artists, because the culture and ideals of that time, its context in other words, is gone. But the unique way Da Vince painted is alive forever. 
   Scientific discoveries, on the other hand, go on dethroning one another, because they are stages of a development that is collective and purely objective, since it is empirically deduced from the observation of facts that should be the same for all, or from the development of laws that should also be the same for all. Knowledge is objective: The subject of science (the scientist) objectifies the world, abstracting his field of inquiry into knowledge, and being therefore, split from it. The artist, on the other hand, feelssenses, or communes with, rather than abstracts. His rules are his own, because they oblige the expression of his uniqueness.
    The fact that these rules, or ways of expression, are individual, does not detract from the universality of an artist's work. On the contrary. The miracle of art concerns precisely  the point in which subjectivity is soul, rather than arbitrariness. This miracle is the elevation of what would be mere particularity to absoluteness. 
   Proust contends that the duty of artists is to live for themselves; for their inner world. Like Proust's narrator, they have to look within, to discover this world in the depths of themselves. To discover what has been already there, uniquely for them; their essence. Their struggle is, paradoxically, to be led by it, to bypass their ego. From the sphere of being one-among-many, they become alone in being.
I would say that while science aims at asserting the truth, art is beyond the division of reality between true and false; while science is conquest, art  is surrender, and if science tames the world, art gives it rebirth.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The unveiling of Proust

Marcel Proust comes to light:
Like all, or most, human beings, the sculpture of Marcel Proust, made by Edgar Duvivier, took nine months of gestation, from the conception of its idea, to its inauguration. Nine months of anxiety through the vague and slow communication with local authorities in Cabourg (Proust's Balbec); nine months of suspense:
What if the French people didn't appreciate this type of accessible, life size sculpture, out of a pedestal and with which one can interact? What if they only liked the traditional way of turning the modeled person into a monument, for being looked up at from below, that is, above the direct reach of people?
I shared Edgar's concern, because his emails to France would takes weeks and weeks to be answered. "When will the inauguration be?" " Where will you place "him?"
One should be ready for any kind of receptivity from people in Cabourg, and, lo and behold, the returning of Proust to Cabourg was blessed.
Following the warm speech of Tristan Duval,  who was the current mayor of Cabourg, of the writer and Proustian authority, Gonzague Saint Bris who confessed he'd already seen the statue prior to its unveiling, and found it a magnificent work that shows both the inner and the communicative character of Proust. Questioning how it had been possible that a dandy, who was ill and bedridden, while writing The Search, could have aroused passion in the whole world, Gonzague brilliantly concluded that it wasn't for writing about general subjects, but because he got closer and closer to himself going deep within, no-holds-bar, and resonating, therefore, with people around the whole world.
 The Proustian approach to oneself involves the search of one's profound self, that which, ignored by most, concerns the essence of each one, that which is promised and sought after by meditations of all types, transpersonal psychology, Junguian psychology, and New Age's doctrines.
With the typical daring of French intelligence, which in my opinion uniquely weds the intimate and the objective, passion and intellect, M. Saint Bris passed from the historic, psychological and factual dimension, to that of spirit: Declaring the inauguration to be a moment of World Communion, he concluded that Edgar, with his ancient, French family name had been chosen from above, by Proust himself, to make his sculpture and take him to Cabourg.
The statue is endowed with life, not just for its elegant similarity to Proust, but also its interactive nature, with which the French people were immediately familiar, in the wonderful and dynamic possibility of being personal, with it.
Life, in interaction, concerns the requesting of not only the observation of the spectator, but his immersion in the work's atmosphere, his participation, that is. Like it happens in Contemplative Interaction- the contemporary art of installation- the spectator contemplates the artwork, at the same time that his immersion in it, becoming  necessary for this work to reveal itself, transforms him into spectator and agent, at the same time, making one of he who acts and he who reflects.
 Edgar's sculpture gives the spectator the opportunity to interact with it in a personal way: the possibility, really, of re creating it. Each person can take a selfie in whichever way he/she wants; each becomes unique, through the particularity of his/her participation, equally making, in what he/she gives off him/herself, the sculpture to be reborn. For, in its generosity to give each spectator the chance to add something of him/herself, it eternally reveals itself. It is constantly created anew and constantly re creates, expressing the essence of life.
It is with great joy that we thus see the generosity of Marcel Proust being propagated through that of Edgar, in the statue he gave life to, and now lives at The Grand Hotel's gardens: it echoes the immense grace of Proust in writing a book whose readers  would be also the readers of themselves, as he stated it, that is, would be able to make the revelations of Proust's sublime intelligence their own.
I think M. Saint Bris was right, when thinking that Proust chose Edgar Duvivier to resurrect his likeness and expression. After we saw many people taking their particular selfies with the sculpture, when returning late, to the hotel, we could still spot a couple passionately kissing by its side. Would it be inspired by the passion of Proust himself? or by the passion that he arouses?… Certainly!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Proust and the Real, Transcendent Reality

   Looking at this photo, on the cover of a book written by C Mauriac, Proust par lui même, we remember, from the angelic expression of the writer in the photo above, Iris Murdoch saying,  Proust writes like an angel. Not only does he writes like an angel, but uses  frequent metaphors of the angelic nature, in his poetic descriptions whose beauty, delicacy and purity, in the particular one he mentions the pear trees in flower that he saw in the "accursed" city, while waiting for Saint- Loup,  even led him to wonder whether those were not really angels...
This alternation of a higher reality with the one we take for granted and is in front of our eyes happen often throughout The Search, and make, in my opinion, some of the highest peaks of it... I say amen to flowers being angels, having read Proust's angelic description of them.
Note that, in this passage, Proust mentions Magdalene's mistaking Jesus for a gardener, mistaking the one who resurrected for a mere mortal man... There is a parallelism with our usual, commonsensical view of flowers as mere plants and our overlooking their angelic nature.
The Proustian passage I am referring to was supposed to be happening around Easter. That may also be why the writer mentions the resurrected Jesus. 

Resurrection is another frequent theme through The Search, whether taken metaphorically, as death of an old self and rebirth into a new one; botanically, like when he mentions, thinking of The Search to be written, that he, as a seed, must die so that the fruit can grow out of "him", something that actually, did happen. Proust is essentially Christian because he is self-sacrificial to the chore, and he is an angel because he channeled the angelic nature...

Saturday, April 1, 2017

From Imagination to Contemplation to Absoluteness

     Right at the start of his train trip, with his Grandmother, to Balbec, Proust says that such a trip, on the days he was writing about it,  would be made by car, (on le ferait sans doute aujourd'hui en automobile) in the belief of rendering it more pleasant.  He explains that a car can make the voyage more realistic, because it allows one to be closer to the path and intimately follow the several gradations through which  the surface of the Earth changes. However, the pleasure of a trip, according to him,  is not that of getting out of the vehicle one is traveling in and stop whenever one is tired, but to render the difference between one's departure and arrival not just imperceptible,  but as profound as one can, so as to be able to feel it in its totality, intact, just as it was in our thought, when our imagination took us from the place where we lived to the heart of the desired place.  This  leap in space, for Proust,  felt less miraculous for covering a distance between two cities, than for uniting two distinct individual places of the Earth. The individuality of each place is represented by the train stations, which, like Proust says, are not part of the cities, but contain the essence of these cities' personality, along the name of each. Preferring to go from one "essence" to the other, by leaving "intact" the distance between them, that is, by being removed from the diversity one experience in covering this distance, Proust expresses his search for absolutes, for a wholeness that is independent from what is around, and from what led to it. Essences, or absolutes, cannot be relative to anything. They are "truths" by themselves. They can only be accessed by contemplation, a mode of mind that is alien to considerations of finality, utility and transiency- the main categories of reality-  because it springs from imagination and the consequent respect, or reverence, for its endlessness, the timelessness, that is, of its object. 
   Each train station, as the essence of a city, as wholeness, or an in itself, (to borrow a term from Kant) is everything one could possibly think and expect of this city at once, that is, regardless of the  transiency of reality. Essences, the source of awe, are above the ordinary thought and its sole concern for the real: In fact,  when considering the imaginary transportation from the place one lives to the heart of the desired place, as that which keeps intact and profound the distance  between them, in other words, as that which takes the imagining person from one essence to the other, Proust identifies imagination, as the seat of essences, to contemplation, the recognizing of them, and places  both above reality.

 He expresses the same search for absoluteness,  when criticizing the point of showing certain things,  such as a painting, along with the trivial objects that  surround it in reality. According to him,  such display, unlike those of museums, detracts the artist's act of mind that precisely isolated  his work from the real, eradicating thus the uniqueness of such work. Making relative, in other words, that which should be absolute.

  Like Kant, Proust does not believe what is generally considered reality to be ultimately real. But, unlike Kant's giving transcendence to practical reason by admitting free will in the realm of ethics, that is, freedom of choice to obey the categorical imperative, against all one's possible inclinations and above all determinism, the Proustian text finds this same freedom from causality in the access to the transcendence of essences, (which correspond to the unrelated and absolute Kantian noumenon, or in itself) by imaginative and contemplative thought .

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Proust and Intelligence

  Proust is love of intelligence,
  Proust is love and intelligence,
  Proust is intelligence of Love!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Proust at the Airport

 I turn one more page, marveling at Proust’s courage to face pain; at  Proust’s  Courage, period. In  his text, courage is at one with intelligence and love.
   I am still on the plane.  But this time,  security didn’t stop me. This time, I wasn’t carrying  the thick, bible-like tome  that contains the whole of “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu”, but an Ipad,  something that, being ridiculously thinner than the printed volume of Proust’s masterpiece, fits it in its gut, along with other literary works. With all of this content, however, the apple gadget is not impenetrable to the X-Ray, like the thick book was, according to the airport police from who cared to give me this information, the third time my carry on was over searched.  I thought it was rather funny, and metaphorically fitting,  that Proust’s work was physically impenetrable to technology, because it literary is for many people.  But rather than funny, it was ironic that  an iPad  made it “transparent” to technology.  I know that Proust, originally, wanted the whole of his definitive work to be in one volume, like the one I had been carrying, and he obviously wanted it this way for a reason.  Rather than a sequence with beginning and ending,  A La Recherche  has the continuity and completion of a circle, in which beginning and end meet, and of which any part is self-sufficient, rather than a mere transition of the work’s development.  
 A la Recherche  is circular, just like the long Proustian sentences,  that branches off from the main subject in parentheses and sub parentheses that enrich the theme, before inevitably returning to the initial point. Unlike the objective assertiveness of short sentences, which, like  straight lines, are the shortest way between two points, their sinuosity expresses the subjective and contemplative rhythm of the soul.  The wholeness and self-sufficiency of circularity of the Proustian text  should not be sliced up, or discontinued by the separations that exist between volumes.  It makes total sense to hold its continuum between one’s hands, having all of  its parts equally present in the same accessible and touchable unity.  
   But what about their being invisible in a flat device, among other texts equally invisible?  How would Proust take it? How would the hypersensitive writer, who never despised the physical, not technologically abstracted dimension, by valuing even the individual copy of a book one reads, as much as the content of this book, like he expresses, when talking about  that volume his mother read François le Champi to him, considering a million of particular, concrete details of it, like its color, along with the associations he had when reading it, as components of the meaning it had for him? Wouldn’t it be an offense to him, or vulgarization of his work, to stuff it in a device that needs no individual volume for each time it reproduces anew any section of the novel? How would someone who was so at one with the heart, in its faithfulness to the  concreteness of each moment-  the physical dimension of reality- to the point of reaching essence through object sensations,  feel about such invisible, and totally abstract condensation?
    Proust is ambivalent towards technology. If on one hand, he is poetically awed by it, comparing, for instance, the operators of the recently invented telephone to mythological creatures,  or attributing this same mythical reality to the airplane he first saw flying over him and his rearing horse. On the other hand, without this poetic dimension, he can also be horrified with new inventions, declaring he is not made for such a world, like he does, when revisiting Le jardin de femmes, at the Bois de Boulogne, and seeing, instead of the carriages of the past,  newly invented automobiles . Along this line, he also accuses, through the person of his revered grandmother, who is for him a model of good taste,  the vulgarity of mechanical reproduction, and that of utilitarianism, which is, really, the mother of technology. The grandmother and Marcel, for that matter, live in the world of contemplation, not usefulness, that of finding another meaning, or life, in the object, beyond enslavement by utility. Thus, the grandmother prefers to give as a present, an antique chair that, too fragile to stand the weight of its recipient, to be “used”, that is, stimulates the imagination whit the stories its long life has to tell. In this light, it is fair to say that usefulness is “vulgar”, and Marcel, in fact, accuses the vulgarity of photography’s mechanical reproduction, when explaining that his grandmother would rather give him paintings of the places he was curious to see,  than photographs of them. 
    Digital devices are the epitome of mechanical reproduction. They reproduce any page of  anything to the touch of a finger, and, to another touch, make it go back to invisibility, to giving up the slice of space it briefly took of the world. They reproduce anything, apparently out of nothing, as well as send it back to an apparent nothingness.  This power of reproduction, in this sense,  concerns some sort of corruption , a robing  of the most fundamental right from what it reproduces: the right of occupying a visible slice of the visible and touchable world, as their seat and anchor.
   Doing away with the physical space the several pages of a book would take, or reducing it to an invisible minimum inside a device, it also diminishes the time one takes to read it, by serving as dictionary, book of notes, and file of all the sentences  one underlines in one goal. Everything, again, stored into invisibility, but available, not really  to the touch of one’s finger, like a page made of paper is to  the grasping of one’s hand,  but to  the invisible electricity mediating this touch. Not so warm to the skin, its responsiveness is also quicker than that of physical contact, making pages appear and disappear  in a flash when one least expects, from accidental and inadvertent skin contact with  the “black mirror”.
   A bunch of pages have now hysterically succeeded one another under my eyes, and I no longer now which one I was on, (which will be certainly filed somewhere in the control freak device) and what I have done for that… and I get to hate this excessive control and regimentation, as much as I  also hate my incompetence to figure out all it has to offer in order to totally oblige the exactness of the gadget’s mechanism, over the looseness of organic movement;  the pettiness  of programing, of having "in control"over the endlessness of abandoning oneself to the inspiration which the physical book itself, humble, warm to the touch, and being a repository, in the direct marking of its pages, and even of the possible stains and marks made on it by inadvertent, indelible contacts of things with its pages, not just enriched my reading of it, but honored this reading with a whole collateral and yet intrinsic universe to my experience. For holistic and organic Proust, reading was obviously not an activity in which the subject of it was split from the objectivity of what his reading which would turn into some sort of impartial non personal knowledge, like it happens with the information we get from google and wikipedia, which, at the point of our fingers, are disembodied and cold, for having nothing to do of our personal search. For Proust, reading was a communion between the reader, the intimacy of his person, and the particularity of his life, through the unpredictable manifestations of the moments during which he read.
    Yet, I have to recognize that devices like the Ipad allows me to  have, at my disposal,  the whole of A la Recherche,  not to mention other titles, without  being searched by the police, by not carrying  the heavy weight all those books would take, besides having  to keep no additional book for my notes. I have to recognize, in a few words, how useful the damned thing is.  It sure obliterates the right of each page’s physical, fixed space, and the time  spent in the physical manipulating and searching, in a paper book, for the notes and whatever the reader personally requests from it, blowing to pieces the  conditions of concreteness that form the altar of existence, for the sake of pure, profane, utilitarianism. The fact of the knowledge obtained by such radical, impersonal objectivity, begs the question of how much it can impoverish such knowledge, by separating it from the humanness of the person acquiring it. From expelling the unpredictability and personal element on of this person's search, by replacing it with an industrial like repetition of its targeting gimmicks. The realm of this objectivity certainly contributes to the death of Passion that was inherent to any individual, no gadget mediated search for the knowledge he or she would add its personal imprint.

   I think I have a hint of what Proust may think of  digital devices, just like I know how he looked down on utilitarianism.  But I still have to swallow the profane nature of its efficiency, and carry my gadget to continuing to read  A la Recherche, without having the airport police stopping me. 
Forgive me, Marcel Proust!

Friday, October 28, 2016



I stopped reading Mauriac's book on Proust,  when he said that God is absent from a A la Recherche.  The letters GOD may be, but it is rather "blind" to not "feel" the divine dimension, if for just a hint of it, in Proust's text, beginning with his recognizing and sharing of beauty,  with the immense depth of generosity  of his thought. 
It should be also considered that, in often placing the truth of the heart over that of facts, ie. the intensity of a subjective state, over that of objective reality,  the Proustian text asserts the  value of authenticity over that of objective reality; individual essence, above transience. In believing that  there is an individual truth to each of us (some are lucky to discover "the hour of truth" before that of death, according to him) Proust identifies this truth to the real life we had, and didn't know we did. It is a book that "has already been written", inside of us. We  have to decipher what is deep inside, and at the same time transcends us: What turns out to be our work of art, our authenticity, and our soul.
   Proust gives the reader the opportunity of experiencing  the divine presence for himself, rather than indoctrinating the latter with conceptualizations of it. He doesn't spell the letters G O D, because he doesn't need to. Proust is all words and, at the same time, the overcoming of words. 
   Through his text, he takes the readers by the hand, through his deepest spiritual experience, allowing them to make this experience their own, and to soar high above, or to their infinite profundity, with him. But if he'd indoctrinated faith, he would have committed, to use his words, a "grand indelicatèsse". He would have written a book that would be like an object with a "price tag on", to use his own metaphor, regarding books with theories. 
   Metaphors, which are often used in Proustian descriptions, assert nothing directly, escaping, thus, the one sidedness of concepts: they are transmitted to the heart.  It is also transmitted from heart to heart, Proust's departing from the most personal and concrete element,  his individual  experience, in a confessional style that is the pure generosity of sharing his best self, in the effort and search of "his" truth, in a content of which the poetic exuberance of his thought makes it universal. It also shows that one's truth, that is, the depth of one's real self, is universal, because it is one's soul.
Proust's sentences, like his text as a whole, have the cosmic circularity that makes them self-sufficient. In this sense, the circularity of the Proustian sentences and that of the whole Proustian text reflect each other, like Jung's representation of the Self, in which an inner, small dot in the middle of a circle, reflects the whole of the circumference, and is reflected by it. The use of metaphor,  as well as the  intimate report of the narrator's personal life, are equally fundamental traits of Proust's style, and equally point to his faithfulness to the physical dimension of reality, not only that of metaphor, but of his departing from the small and apparently simple to the great; from brief facts, to the endlessness of essence, from amorality to sanctity, from matter to spirit.
Through the Proustian "lenses" the reader sees, in his own self, depths that he would never have been aware of without such "lenses"; the depths of his own soul. 
    Identifying individual truth to essence, and to artistic creation, Proust transmits the divine presence, that which is sublime and above factuality. 
   Here are examples of the evokation of religious dimension, through the poetic beauty of Proust's words:  In Le Côte de Guermantes, after a long, descriptive passage  of pear trees the narrator contemplates, he compares their white flowers  to angels, mentioning even a biblical story:  "Ces arbustes que j'avais vu dans le jardin, en les prenant pour des dieux étrangers, ne m'étais-je pas trompé, comme Madeleine quand, dans un  autre jardin..... elle vit une forme humaine et "crut que c'était le jardinier?  Gardiens des souvenirs de l'age  d'or, garants de la promesse que la realité n'est pas ce qu'on croit, que la splendeur de la poésie, que  l'éclat merveilleux de l'innocence peuvent y resplendir et pourront être la recompense que nous nous efforcerons de mériter, les grandes créatures blanches....... n'était-ce pas plutôt des anges?"
  The miracle of beauty is the transmission of exclusivity: a reality that dims everything outside of it. It speaks for God. Pledge to the beauty of essences Proust speaks for Him, and shares the divine presence undogmatically.
   This Presence is also expressed in Proust's talking, as Swann's thinking about "la petite phrase", and his breath- taking conclusion that,  "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 `a 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." 
   By not asserting directly the existence of an after life, Proust, yet again, leaves the  implication  of it to be experienced by the reader himself, expressing his conviction that death cannot put an end to  "ces captives divines", these messengers of God; the spiritual reality which is above everything: "Swann n'avait donc pas tort de croire que la phrase de la sonate existat réellement." and, "...ele appartenait pourtant `a une order de créatures surnaturelles..." 
   The poignant experiencing of what Proust generously transmits is, much beyond a proof, or a mere assertion of the divine presence, the evoking of its reality. 
   Identifying, as mentioned again, artistic creativity to the truth of the essential order; the timelessness of the divine, Proust doesn't make of it an indoctrination.  With the same humbleness and generosity, he offers the reader, instead, the experience of such identification, when eloquently saying: 
"... au fond the quelles douleurs avait-il (Vinteuil)  puisé cette force de Dieu, cette puissance illimitée de créer?"
   Divine presence and that which is the source of creativity, our highest self, are at one, giving us the precious clue to fulfill God's ways to one and each of us.