Tuesday, October 10, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 595

I did not even give a thought to carnal pleasure at this moment; I did not even see in my mind's eye the image of that Albertine who had been the cause of such an upheaval of my being, I did not perceive of her body, and if I had tried to isolate the idea - for there is always one - that was bound up with my suffering, it would have been, alternately, on the one hand my doubt as to the intention with which she had left me, with or without any thought of returning, and on the other hand the means of bringing her back.  Perhaps there is something symbolical and true in the infinitesimal place occupied in our anxiety by the one who is its cause.  The fact is that her person itself counts for little or nothing; what is almost everything is the series of emotions and anxieties which chance occurrences have made us feel in the past in connexion with her and which habit has associated with her.  What proves this clearly is (even more than the boredom which we feel in moments of happiness) the extent to which seeing or not seeing the person in question, being or not being admired by her, having or not having her at our disposal, will seem to us utterly irrelevant when we no longer have to pose ourselves the problem (so otiose that we shall no longer take the trouble to consider it) save in relation to the person herself - the series of emotions and anxieties being forgotten, at least so far as she is concerned, for it may have developed anew, but transferred to another.  Before this, when it was still attached to her, we supposed that our happiness was dependent upon her person; it depended merely upon the cessation of our anxiety.  Our unconscious was therefore more clairvoyant than ourselves at that moment, when it made the figure of the beloved so minute, a figure which we had even perhaps forgotten, which we might have been comparatively unfamiliar with and thought mediocre, in the terrible drama in which seeing her again in order to cease waiting for her could be a matter of life and death for us.  Minuscule proportions of the woman's form; logical and necessary effect of the manner in which love develops; clear allegory of the subjective nature of that love.
Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, pp. 439-440

This is clearly a "duh" statement, but it's important to keep in mind the tremendous struggle (bordering on the level of Stalingrad) in Proust's mind between the purely intellectual and the intensely emotional.  There are times in Remembrance of Things Past when Proust is so immersed in detailing, even celebrating, his suffering that I feel like I'm reading Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther. (as the intensely suffering Werther shares, "my passions have always bordered on extravagance."). At other times, when Proust is reflecting upon life, dissecting its follies and excesses, trying, and often failing, to think rationally and dispassionately, it feels like I'm reading Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius.  Proust opines, "Before this, when it was still attached to her, we supposed that our happiness was dependent upon her person; it depended merely upon the cessation of our anxiety." Of course, this is not a question of deciding which is the best path to follow because both are an essential part of human nature, and trying to follow either in exclusion would only lead to different varieties of sorrow.

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