Kohelet and Proust


J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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6 Responses

  1. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I think that’s a good description of him- the narrative freezes these moments of time into more perfect little jewels than they really were- part of his point about escaping the flow of time through art- while nearly off-stage he’s engaging in this sort of horrible relationship with Albertine. What’s really brilliant, in my opinion, about the middle section there is that, in spite of Our Hero narrating the whole thing in a somewhat idealized form, you nevertheless realize that he was a pretty horrible person to be with. And then, later on (and I hope I’m not giving anything away here), you realize that throughout the whole relationship, his jealousy was actually based in his being a cuckold. So that flips your understanding around again. Reading the books the second time, the whole tone of them changes.

    Anyway, I think of those crystalized moments- 200 pages to describe a lunch- as being when he does philosophy. The fin de siecle world, the vestigial remains of the aristocracy, has nearly calcified, encouraging a life that is examined and examined and examined, but barely lived. It’s like Socrates standing around in a trance for hours on end.Report

    • Avatar Dan says:

      I am slowly, slowly making my way through “In Search of Lost Time,” and I can only make it through about ten pages before I need a break. That it may take several readings and re-readings before I finally suss out that Our Hero is talking about, say, a chair is both its beauty and its curse. On the one hand, I learn all kinds of surpassingly glorious things about how one might love a chair and how it is placed in a sitting room, and on the other, it creates a turgid, sometimes stifling sense of stasis in the narrative.

      I enjoy it most when Our Hero is deftly and humorously dissecting the social rules and inner lives of fashionable Parisians. Nobody seems to have such a fine understanding of human nature as Proust.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        I find with Proust that, if I give myself an evening just to read him and get through that feeling of stasis, I settle into his tone and speed and start to enjoy it. But it usually takes that first evening and I have to remove all other distractions.

        Something I will say though- a professor once pointed out to me that you can open Moby Dick at any page and find some striking insight there. I’ve actually been able to do the same with Proust, which is fairly amazing considering the length.Report

  2. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I would say though that everything there is being analyzed and over-analyzed years after the fact. At the time, things were perhaps over-discussed, but they do seem to have been over-experienced as well. I can’t imagine having the sensitivity to experience that these people have- I think that’s what I mean by living philosophicallly. The other thing that comes to mind is something Buber wrote (damned if I can remember where or exactly what he said) about prophets being people who are just extraodinarily sensitive. I think one of the points in the novel is that none of these extraordinarily sensitive men have any sense of the women in their lives. Now, I have no idea if Proust was making a commentary on heterosexual culture there.Report

  3. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    “The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the life too closely examined may not be lived at all” -Mark TwainReport

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    A little gloss on Kohelet: There’s a wonderful bit by Rabbi Akiva on Kohelet, that it must have been written by an old man, for only an old man could have come full circle, to find at the end of all that striving that the fear of God remained the essence of duty.

    The quoted English translation of Ecclesiastes is wretched. The word is not Vanity but Breath, hebel is vapor.

    Though Gilles DeLeuze has become unfashionable and the paragon of obscurity, he wrote Proust and Signs, to my mind the best interpretation of what Proust was trying to say.

    “If time has a great importance to the Search, it is because every truth is a truth of time. But the Search is first of all a search for Truth. Thereby is manifested the “philosophical” bearing of Proust’s work: it vies with philosophy. Proust sets up an image of thought in opposition to that of philosophy. He attacks what is most essential in a classical philosophy of the rationalist type: the presuppositions of this philosophy. The philosopher readily presupposes the mind is the mind and the thinker is a thinker, that he wants the truth, loves or desires the truth, naturally seeks the truth…

    It may be that Proust’s critique of philosophy is eminently philosophical. What philosopher would not hope to set up an image of thought that no longer depends on the goodwill of the thinker and on a premeditated decision? Each time we propose a concrete and dangerous thought, we know that it does not depend on an explicit decision or method but on an encountered, refracted violence that leads us in spite of ourselves to Essences. For the essences dwell in dark regions, not in the temperate zones of the clear and distinct. They are involved in what forces us to think; they do not answer to our voluntary effort; they let themselves be conceived only if we are forced to do so.”

    Long before Proust would go in search of Lost Time, the Preacher would say

    Do not say, “How was it that the former days were better than these?” For not out of wisdom have you asked concerning this. Wisdom is good with a heritage, and it is a profit to those who see the sun. For whoever is in the shade of wisdom is in the shade of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to its possessor.Report