“One cannot change, that is to say become a different person, while continuing to acquiesce to the feelings of the person one has ceased to be.”
A Proustian moment is when, by smell, touch, sound, or taste, time ceases to exist. You’re carried into the recesses of memory tucked in by the remnants of who you once were, seeing both your Being, then, and your Becoming, now, by just that one sensation which triggered it all.
For Proust in Swann’s Way, it was the act of eating a madeleine dipped in tea that transported Marcel to a sensuous childhood memory of his aunt, the contours of familial melancholia, more persistent, more impenetrable, than the yearnings of his adult life. Proust carries this portrait of melancholia throughout the book. And it prefaces so much of that transition for Marcel, his quest for a Being of love, art, and desire which finally crystallizes for him the final acceptance of the paradox of his own Becoming.
The book will bestow many inquiries about life, love, art, and longing. Swann’s Way being the first of 7 volumes that Proust authored which was to become his quixotic undertaking to defeat time’s impenetrability between the past and present.
You’ll run your fingers over the pages, seeking to find some tangible evidence of the aliveness of the text. But the book is, in the deepest sense, throbbing as though it would burst through the confines of its seams. It is in the delicate but relentless explorations of “the bareness of life” that Proust lessens the burden of the habitual humdrum of living.
There will never be a universal way of reading Proust. What appears, retrospectively, to have survived the clutches of time, or perhaps to have outlived it, an endeavor so profound, poetic, and unparalleled in literature, will now scatter like pollen, resembling, to the reader, the ephemerality of one’s desires, the inspirations of youth, this meager attachment to shapes, scents, and colors and everything else that one confines oneself to, in the pursuit of life.