Thursday, October 26, 2017

Proust: “To love life today”

A question posed in the Paris newspaper L’Intransigeant, summer 1922:

An American scientist announces that the world will end, or at least that such a huge part of the continent will be destroyed, and in such a sudden way, that death will be the certain fate of hundreds of millions of people. If this prediction were confirmed, what do you think would be its effect on people between the time when they acquired the aforementioned certainty and the moment of cataclysm? Finally, as far as you’re concerned, what would you do in this last hour?
Marcel Proust responded in a letter:
I think that life would suddenly seem wonderful to us if we were threatened to die as you say. Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies, it — our life — hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly.

But let all this threaten to become impossible for ever, how beautiful it would become again! Ah! If only the cataclysm doesn’t happen this time, we won't miss visiting the new galleries of the Louvre, throwing ourselves at the feet of Miss X, making a trip to India.

The cataclysm doesn’t happen, we don’t do any of it, because we find ourselves back in the heart of normal life, where negligence deadens desire. And yet we shouldn’t have needed the cataclysm to love life today. It would have been enough to think that we are humans, and that death may come this evening.
The question and Proust’s answer are quoted in Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life (New York: Vintage, 1997). I’ve had these passages typed and waiting to be posted for — ahem — years.

What I would do if the world were to end in an hour: call my children, my mom, my brother, a few friends, and sit with Elaine and listen to music, if she’s agreeable. Maybe Bach? But Elaine just told that she’d rather play than listen. So we could play together. I’m assuming we’d be together.

What would you do?

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[By the time I read de Botton, Proust had already changed my life. In other words, I read In Search of Lost Time first. I’m taking “this last hour” literally, as did at least some of those who responded in 1922.]

comments: 4

Fresca said...

An hour.
I think I would brew some coffee, and, I don't know but it occurs to me it might be calming and helpful to blog! To write into the weirdness.
And then sit with my coffee and my Turkish amber prayer beads and look out the window and try to breathe and pay attention in a calm way: "This is happening."

Michael Leddy said...

I thought about making a post and then wondered — though I don’t care much about hits and page views — who’s gonna read it? :)

Frex said...

Well, who knows, eh?
If all humans don't die (it's uncertain), perhaps "someone in some future time will think of us."
It could be an act of faith in that possibility that might be nice to make. Of course it might be better to "blog" on clay or something durable. :)

But mostly I thought blogging might help me get my thoughts in order, and I'd like to say good-bye in the same I-have-no-idea-who-might-read-this way that I blog now.

[Gee, writing this is making me sad...]

Michael Leddy said...

It makes me sad too, and then I think of what Proust says: “Love life today.” Something like the advice Siduri gives Gilgamesh. Take nothing for granted, which I try not to, sometimes successfully.