Thursday, October 18, 2007

Philip Kolb on Proust

Philip Kolb (1907-1992), professor of French at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, edited the 21-volume edition of Proust's correspondence. He was working on the final volume when he died. Kolb's answer to the question of how he could have spent his lifetime "working on a single man":

[T]he answer to the question is that, when the subject of one's inquiry is Proust, a lifetime would scarcely suffice to permit exploration in depth of the innumerable facets of his universe. Nothing could be more captivating than to explore the mind of such a genius — an intellect of such capacity, an artist of such prodigious sweep and power, whose ability to move us, to make us feel the beauties of nature, and the warmth of human affection was so great — or to observe how he reacted when confronted with current events, how he judged his contemporaries, how his own ideas evolved with the passage of time, or simply to observe what inspired him, how he created his characters and episodes. In editing the correspondence of such a man, one should, of course, bear in mind that so modest an endeavor cannot constitute one's sole aim, but rather it should be a means of attaining a deeper comprehension of the work of the creative artist. In Proust's case, his correspondence represents a special kind of work, since he never intended its publication. For the reader, it offers a means of gaining a better understanding of his mind, his character, and, consequently, his great work. And to the editor, delving into his writings has meant an unending enchantment, an enrichment, and a widening of horizons.

Philip Kolb, "The Making of a Proust Scholar," The American Scholar 53 (1984): 512-13

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