As a fan of Marcel Proust’s fiction, I’d like to write today about this timeless writer who reflects upon the nature of time. With the centennial of A La Recherche approaching, it’s interesting to reflect why–despite the arcane nature (and length!) of his sentences, his philosophical, speculative inclinations and his controversial lifestyle–Proust continues to remain so popular today. I believe that his writing is kept current partly by the process of canonization itself. Influenced by the great nineteenth century writers–Stendhal, Flaubert, George Eliot, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy—Proust became one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. However, his novels are also kept alive thanks to the biographies, books and blogs written by literary critics who straddle perfectly the divide between intellectual/scholarly publications and writing for the general public.
I’m thinking, first of all, of Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life, which discusses Proust’s life in an engaging and witty manner that grabs the readers’ attention (whether or not they were, originally, Proust fans). You can see his writings both on his personal website (below) and, more recently, on the art, literature and culture Romanian blog started by Miheala Carlan, Catchy.ro.
Rather than putting Proust on a pedestal, De Botton humanizes this legendary figure, alluding to his many challenges and neuroses (his asthma, ambiguous relationship to his mother, and fear of mice) that makes a bridge between contemporary readers and Proust. Botton’s “philosophy of everyday life” in general takes somewhat arcane philosophical and literary subjects that are usually relegated to the scholarly sphere and brings them to the general public. Isn’t that what being an intellectual is–or should be–about?
The well-known American biographer of Proust (and my good friend), Professor William C. Carter, also makes Proust and his life more accessible to a general audience in his biographies, Marcel Proust: A Life and Proust in Love. Accurate, clear, engaging and without sparing us any details—including details about Proust’s sexual obsession with rats, his hypochondria as well as, of course, his various paramours—these two biographies are essential reading for anyone interested in Proust the man. Recently Professor Carter has launched an online course about Marcel Proust and his fiction, which, like his biographies, are aimed at a general audience as well as students and scholars.
This online course is a high-tech enterprise that includes comments from subscribers, live webcams, filmed posts of 30 lectures on Proust and monthly short films of the life and work of this timeless writer.
Furthermore, if you’re interested in engaging discussions of each of the seven novels that form A La Recherche, I’d suggest that you take a look at Michael Norris’ series of articles about Proust and his work on one of my favorite literary blogs, litkicks.com.
Last but certainly not least, for the main image (above) I chose a digital photograph called “Proust Gazes Upon Olympia” by my fellow blogger and friend, Alex Bustillo.
Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon