Friday, April 18, 2008

From The Proust Project

One of the many Proust-related readings I have been imbibing is The Proust Project. Edited by Andre Aciman, it's a collection by different writers (among the contributors: Alain de Botton, Lydia Davis, Richard Howard, Susan Minot, Colm Tóibín and Edmund White) on their favourite moments from the Proustian epic, and commentaries on their passage of choice. The essays are arranged chronologically, so my progress through The Proust Project follows my personal journey through In Search of Lost Time.

Recently I revisited some of the earlier essays, and I like what Judith Thurman had to say about Proust and desire. Coincidentally, I had just finished reading Judith Thurman's Cleopatra's Nose - and it only enhances my respect for Ms Thurman.

When I was younger and green, I read the Search for what it would teach me about refinement. Now that I am seasoned, I read it for what it teaches me about voracity. Proust is the model of a great writer: a tenacious soul weak with hunger for experience and sensation, but above all for the milk of meaning to be sucked from them. Hunger, he suggests, not only exercises the faculty of imagination but generates it. The starving, like confectioners of fiction, gorge voluptuously on nothing. They are connoisseurs of all that has been promised, lost, witheld, cherished, discredited, and expended; of what lies beyond reach, in the past, may not exist, or is yet to come. In the form of hunger, a human infant waiting for the breast first experiences life-and-death suspense: narrative at its most primal. And narrative at its worldiest, like Proust's – a banquet that would be decadent and cloying in its excess of richness of it didn't appeal to our appetitie for the sublime – teaches us not only to understand, and helps us not only to endure and to accept, but to savour the insatiable longing that defines.

~ Judith Thurman, from The Proust Project


Melwyk said...

I have a copy of this one, and now I feel like going back to it and rereading some of the great essays in it.

darkorpheus said...

You have the book? How envious. Last I checked it seems to be out of print -- at least for the hardcover. So I have to go down to the library everytime I want to re-read the essays.