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04/03/2014

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Sheri

A few thoughts. I'm all caught up with the group, with 200 pages to go…

1. There is no question in my mind that in this volume he is very preoccupied with death's breath. Of course this would prompt him to find "meaning" or mission. It seems obvious now that he began writing the 4000 pages in his cork-lined room when he had reached the conclusions of these last pages...and then he set to work.

2. As we discussed, we see in his words in this volume a "spinning of myth," a very personal myth which feels like a departure from the earlier Marcel in which he touted non-judgement. Recall his largesse and forgiveness of the Verdurins after Madame had so deliberately injured M. Charlus. The myth that we think he is spinning seems so sudden -- and an abrupt departure from his previous perspective on humanity.

3. And yet I keep wondering about this. I am not so sure. I read an article in our latest NYRB which provoked me to reconsider. It's a review of two books dealing with the question of "how humans differ from animals." One book deals with DNA research that points to a true separation of homo sapiens and Neanderthal about 50 million years ago. The second book makes the point that, unlike animals, human beings have memories and can reflect… Interesting. What is even more interesting to me is the possibility that what Proust would, I think, refer to as "material" is a succession of very closely noted and observed details that occur in one's life and become filed as memories. Without memories, there would be no connexion between past and present experience to create both an epiphany and something very, very personal and particular of one's life and worthy of recording. I certainly do find in my own experience that the humans I know who do not record details, do not pay attention, and do not remember much, are not much for self reflection and not artists by Proust's definition. What if there is a biological, neurological capacity to be an "artist" in the Proustian way?

This thought offers more heft to Proust's conclusion as to what makes writing or art worthy of doing. Check out page 304 and you will see that even he discredits his own myth. This passage does, i think, redeem the Iron Man triathlete or the stockbroker -- but not the one who never pays attention to detail. The peal of the bell in Combray, the act of noticing it, he claims set his consciousness to detail.

So it is perhaps the attention to details, not the mere status of being an artist, that makes the difference.

4. His discussion of happiness being necessary to appreciate unhappiness and suffering being the true grist for reaching the deep pools of one's experience is debatable, I think. Though I did like his "suffering and silence" in addition to living in grief is what the seeker of truth must exist in.

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