Saturday, April 1, 2017
From Imagination to Contemplation to Absoluteness
Right at the start of his train trip to Balbec with his Grandmother, 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. For, 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 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 in between them, that is, by being removed from the diversity of such distance's path, Proust expresses his search for absolutes, for what should be in itself, like 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 respect, or reverence, recognizing, therefore, only what can be a source of it, that is, only things in themselves: absolutes. Each train station, as the essence of a city, as an "in itself", is everything one could possibly think and expect of this city at once, that is, regardless of reality and its transiency. 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 in 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.
Proust expresses the same search for absoluteness, when criticizing his time's 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 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 sanctifying of rationality through his ethics' categorical imperative, the Proustian text can identify imaginative and contemplative thought to the truth.