“Olympian, Philosophical, Seamless, and All-Encompassing”

Edmund White, Marcel Proust
Saturday 29 May 1999

A captivating, informed, discerning, spirited little biography, one could say that it is a bio of the gay Proust, as the author makes frequent reference to this central dimension of the writer’s life.

“[Proust] never practiced [Catholicism] and as an adult could best be described as a mystical atheist, someone imbued with spirituality who nonetheless did not believe in a personal God, much less in a savior.”

“And yet his anti-Semitism is more than curious, given his love for his mother and given, after her death, something very much like a religious cult that he developed around her.”

“As a little boy Marcel could not go to sleep without his mother’s kiss; this necessity would become a major theme of ‘Combray,’ the first section of RTP.”|

“Asthma was one of the great decisive factors in P’s development.”

Proust’s rivals as philosophical novelists: George Eliot, Mann, Broch, Musil.

MP to a friend: “I very much wish to finish the work I’ve begun and to put in it those truths that I know will be nourished by it and that otherwise will be destroyed with me.”

MP “preferred the classics to the decadent writers of his age.”

P’s “chief inspiration as a novelist was the omnivorous Balzac”

“Certainly P may have started out as a snob, but he ended up as the most penetrating critic of snobbism who ever lived. He showed how empty are its victories, how evanescent its conquests. More particularly, he demonstrated the vanity and cruelty and insecurity and affectedness — and snobbishness! — of even the most sought-after members of society.”

MP: “people of action … are always too busy preparing for the next event to remember the past.”

“the confounding of autobiography and fiction”

“he assigned some of his own tyrannical whims, his aestheticizing, and his peevishness to Charlus, for P was always capable of seeing himself in a satirical light and was always the first to get the joke.”

RTP — “Olympian, philosophical, seamless, and all-encompassing”

MP: “Should I call this book a novel?… It is something less, perhaps, and yet much more, the very essence of my life, with nothing extraneous added, a sit developed through a long period of wretchedness. This book of mine has not been manufactured: it has been garnered.”

“he read Balzac constantly, the interlocking novels in which characters keep reappearing”
MP: “The artist who renounces one hour of work for an hour of chatting with a friend knows that he has sacrificed a reality for something that doesn’t exist.”

“he had the necessary drive to write an unprecedentedly long and comprehensive book, since only by doing so could he prove that his endless dithering and fruitless preparation had paid off.”

He was a playboy-monk…. who tipped 200%.

“What is crucial to underline is that at its very inception P thought of his book as several books, mostly essays. Only gradually did he see that he could bind all these diverse subjects together into a single work and that he could call it neither a memoir, nor an essay, nor a pastiche, but rather a novel. Proust had always been drawn to writers who had confused genres: he was thinking admiringly, for instance, of Baudelaire’s prose poems, or of the autobiographical side of Flaubert’s novel A Sentimental Education.”

“his whole method consisted of adding details here and there and of working on all parts of his book at once, like one of those painters who like to keep a whole canvas “in motion” rather than patiently perfecting it section by section, one after another.”

MP: “a book is a great cemetery in which one can no longer read the names on most of the tombs.”

“No one would take the time to see that he’d written the consummate Bildungsroman, the apprenticeship novel in which the hero learns about painting, music, and literature from, respectively, the characters known as Elstir (based partially on Whistler), Vinteuil, and Bergotte.”

“He would fearlessly travel across the city in search of a detail and would think nothing of waking up a family after midnight in order to quiz the members about an ancient anecdote or to visit the headwaiter at the Ritz in order to go over a piece of time-honored gossip.”

“We read Proust because, despite his intelligence, he holds reasoned evaluations in contempt and knows that only the gnarled knowledge that suffering brings us is of any real use.”

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