Saturday, March 25, 2006

N'allez pas trop vite

Perhaps the most obvious -- and difficult -- lesson Proust offers today's readers can be summed up in a few words: slow down, or, in Proust's original French, "N'allez pas trop vite." When the young British diplomat Harold Nicolson met Proust at a party in 1919, Proust ("white, unshaven, grubby," Nicolson wrote in his diary) asked Nicolson how the post-World War I peace conference worked. Nicolson began with a dull summary -- "we meet at 10:00, there are secretaries…" Proust stopped him: "Vous allez trop vite." So Nicolson began again: "The sham cordiality of it all; the handshakes; the maps; the rustle of papers; the tea in the next room; the macaroons."

The advantage of not going too fast, Mr. de Botton points out, is that the world has a better chance of becoming more interesting in the process. And more interesting is almost always more fun. "The happiness that may emerge from taking a second look is central to Proust's therapeutic conception," he says. "It reveals the extent to which our dissatisfactions may be the result of failing to look properly at our lives rather than the result of anything inherently deficient about them."
From a Wall Street Journal piece by Cynthia Crossen, on Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life.

Literary Self-Help: Alain de Botton Finds Modern Wisdom
in the Prose of a Long-Dead Writer
(WSJ, subscription required)

Harold Nicolson meets Proust (passage from Peacekeeping, 1919)

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

That's one of my favorite books. As a French major who never actually read Proust, this assuages some of the guilt, sure, but it's also just a fine book.

Michael Leddy said...

I've been telling people that I'm going to read Proust (in translation) as a summer project. I'm hoping that telling people about it will help me keep to it, so that when I'm asked "How's Proust?" I'll have something to say.