Potter’s Field

“A book is a huge cemetery in which on the majority of the tombs the names are effaced and can no longer be read. Sometimes on the other hand we remember a name well enough but do not know whether anything of the individual who bore it survives in our pages. That girl with the very deep-set eyes and the drawling voice, is she here? and if she is, in what part of the ground does she lie? we no longer know, and how are we to find her beneath the flowers?” – Marcel Proust, Time Regained (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Fabricating the impingements

“A man born with sensibility but without imagination might, in spite of this deficiency, be able to write admirable novels. For the suffering inflicted upon him by other people, his own efforts to ward it off, the long conflict between his unhappiness and another person’s cruelty, all this, interpreted by the intellect, might furnish the material for a book not merely as beautiful as one that was imagined, invented, but also in as great a degree exterior to the day-dreams that the author would have had if he had been left to his own devices and happy.” – Marcel Proust, Time Regained (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Pencil envy

“The man of letters envies the painter, he would like to take notes and make sketches, but it is disastrous for him to do so. Yet when he writes, there is not a single gesture of his characters, not a trick of behaviour, not a tone of voice which has not been supplied to his inspiration by his memory; beneath the name of every character of his invention he can put sixty names of characters that he has seen, one of whom has posed for the grimaces, another for the monocle, another for the fits of temper, another for the swaggering movement of the arm, etc. And in the end the writer realises that if his dream of being a sort of painter was not in a conscious and intentional manner capable of fulfillment, it has nevertheless been fulfilled and that he too, for his work as a writer, has unconsciously made use of a sketch-book. For, impelled by the instinct that was in him, the writer, long before he thought that he would one day become one, regularly omitted to look at a great many things which other people notice, with the result that he was accused by others of being absent-minded and by himself of not knowing how to listen or look, but all this time he was instructing his eyes and ears to retain for ever what seemed to others puerile trivialities, the tone of voice in which a certain remark had been made, or the facial expression and the movement of the shoulders which he had seen at a certain moment, years ago, in somebody of whom perhaps he knows nothing else whatsoever, simply because this tone of voice was one that he had heard before or felt that he might hear again, because it was something renewable, durable.” – Marcel Proust, Time Regained (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Look, it’s right there

“We have to rediscover, to reapprehend, to make ourselves fully aware of that reality, remote from our daily preoccupations, from which we separate ourselves by an ever greater gulf as the conventional knowledge which we substitute for it grows thicker and more impermeable, that reality which it is very easy for us to die without ever having known and which is, quite simply, our life. Real life, life at last laid bare and illuminated—the only life in consequences which can be said to be really lived—is literature, and life thus defined is in a sense all the time immanent in ordinary men no less than in the artist. But most men do not see it because they do not seek to shed light upon it. And therefore their past is like a photographic darkroom encumbered with innumerable negatives which remain useless because the intellect has not developed them. But art, if it means awareness of our own life, means also awareness of the lives of other people—for style for the writer, no less than colour for the painter, is a question not of technique but of vision: it is the revelation, which by direct and conscious methods would be impossible, of the qualitative difference, the uniqueness of the fashion in which the world appears to each one of us, a difference which, if there were no art, would remain for ever the secret of each individual. Through art alone are we able to emerge from ourselves, to know what another person sees of a universe which is not the same as our own and of which, without art, the landscapes would remain as unknown to us as those that may exist on the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists, worlds more different one from the other than those which revolve in infinite space, worlds which, centuries after the extinction of the fire from which their light first emanated, whether it is called Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us still each one its special radiance.” – Marcel Proust, Time Regained (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

1 + 1 = story

“An image presented to us by life brings with it, in a single moment, sensations which are in fact multiple and heterogeneous. The sight, for instance, of the binding of a book once read may weave into the characters of its title the moonlight of a distant summer night. The taste of our breakfast coffee brings with it that vague hope of fine weather which so often long ago, as with the day still intact and full before us, we were drinking it out of a bowl of white porcelain, creamy and fluted and itself almost looking like vitrified milk, suddenly smiled upon us in the pale uncertainty of the dawn. An hour is not merely an hour, it is a vase full of scents and sounds and projects and climates, and what we call reality is a certain connexion between these immediate sensations and the memories which envelope us simultaneously with them—a connexion that is suppressed in a simple cinematographic vision, which just because it professes to confine itself to the truth in fact departs widely from it—a unique connexion which the writer has to rediscover in order to link forever in his phrase the two sets of phenomena which reality joins together. He can describe a scene by describing one after another the innumerable objects which at a given moment were present at a particular place, but truth will be attained by him only when he takes two different objects, states the connexion between them—a connexion analogous in the world of art to the unique connexion which in the world of science is provided by the law of causality—and encloses them in the necessary links of a well-wrought style; truth—and life too—can be attained by us only when, by comparing a quality common to two sensations, we succeed in extracting their common essence and in reuniting them to each other, liberated from the contingencies of time, within a metaphor.” – Marcel Proust, Time Regained (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)


“It is perhaps as much by the quality of his language as by the species of aesthetic theory which he advances that one may judge the level to which a writer has attained in the moral and intellectual part of his work. Quality of language, however, is something the critical theorists think that they can do without, and those who admire them are easily persuaded that it is no proof of intellectual merit, for this is a thing which they cannot infer from the beauty of an image but can recognise only when they see it directly expressed. Hence the temptation for the writer to write intellectual works—a gross impropriety. A work in which there are theories is like an object which still has its price-tag on it. (And as to the choice of theme, a frivolous theme will serve as well as a serious one for a study of the laws of character, in the same way that a prosector can study the laws of anatomy as well in the body of an imbecile as in that of a man of talent, since the great moral laws, like the laws of the circulation of the blood or of renal elimination, vary scarcely at all with the intellectual merit of individuals.) A writer reasons, that is to say he goes astray, only when he has not the strength to force himself to make an impression pass through all the successive states which will culminate in its fixation, its expression. The reality that he has to express resides… not in the superficial appearance of his subject but at a depth at which that appearance matters little.” – Marcel Proust, Time Regained (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

That’s a wrap

“Instinct dictates our duty and the intellect supplies us with pretexts for evading it. But excuses have no place in art and intentions count for nothing: at every moment the artist has to listen to his instinct, and it is this that makes art the most real of all things, the most austere school of life, the true last judgment.” – Marcel Proust, Time Regained (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

The eureka moment

“It is sometimes just at the moment when we think that everything is lost that the intimation arrives which may save us; one has knocked at all the doors which lead nowhere, and then one stumbles without knowing it on the only door through which one can enter—which one might have sought in vain for a hundred years—and it opens of its own accord.” – Marcel Proust, Time Regained (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Revolutions are now televised

“When we study certain periods of ancient history, we are astonished to see men and women individually good participate without scruple in mass assassinations or human sacrifices which probably seemed to them natural things. And our own age no doubt, when its history is read two thousand years hence, will seem to an equal degree to have bathed men of pure and tender conscience in a vital element which will strike the future reader as monstrously pernicious, but to which at the time those men adapted themselves without difficulty.” – Marcel Proust, Time Regained (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Gigo was a smooth-talking fellow

“How many letters are actually read into a word by a careless person who knows what to expect, who sets out with the idea that the message is from a certain person? How many words into the sentence? We guess as we read, we create; everything starts from an initial error; those that follow (and this applies not only to the reading of letters and telegrams, not only to all reading), extraordinary as they may appear to a person who has not begun at the same place, are all quite natural. A large part of what we believe to be true (and this applies even to our final conclusions) with an obstinacy equalled only by our good faith, springs from an original mistake in our premises.” – Marcel Proust, The Fugitive (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

And that’s the truth

“Lying is essential to humanity. It plays as large a part perhaps as the quest for pleasure, and is moreover governed by that quest. One lies in order to protect one’s pleasure, or one’s honour if the disclosure of one’s pleasure runs counter to one’s honour. One lies all one’s life long, even, especially, perhaps only, to those who love one. For they alone make us fear for our pleasure and desire their esteem.” – Marcel Proust, The Fugitive (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

What’s love got to do with it

“Certain philosophers assert that the external world does not exist, and that it is within ourselves that we develop our lives. However that may be, love, even in its humblest beginnings, is a striking example of how little reality means to us.” – Marcel Proust, The Fugitive (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Here’s looking at you, kid

“The two chief causes of error in one’s relations with another person are, having oneself a kind heart, or else being in love with that other person. We fall in love for a smile, a look, a shoulder. That is enough; then, in the long hours of hope or sorrow, we fabricate a person, we compose a character.” – Marcel Proust, The Fugitive (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Steadying into the wind

“We believe that we can change things around us in accordance with our desires—we believe it because otherwise we can see no favourable outcome. We do not think of the outcome which generally comes to pass and is also favourable: we do not succeed in changing things in accordance with our desires, but gradually our desires change. The situation that we hoped to change because it was intolerable becomes unimportant to us. We have failed to surmount the obstacle, as we were absolutely determined to do, but life has taken us round it, led us beyond it, and then if we can turn round to gaze into the distance of the past, we can barely see it, so imperceptible has it become.” – Marcel Proust, The Fugitive (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

We’re all guilty from the get-go

”There is hardly ever either a just sentence or a judicial error, but a sort of compromise between the false idea that the judge forms of an innocent act and the culpable deeds of which he is unaware.” – Marcel Proust, The Fugitive (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Praise the ammunition and pass the lord

“Preparations for war, which are recommended by the most misleading of adages as the best way of ensuring peace, on the contrary create first of all the belief in each of the adversaries that the other desires a rupture, a belief which brings the rupture about, and then, when it has occurred, the further belief in each of the two that it is the other that has sought it. Even if the threat was not sincere, its success encourages a repetition. But the exact point up to which a bluff may succeed is difficult to determine; if one party goes too far, the other, which has yielded hitherto, advances in its turn; the first party, no longer capable of changing its methods, accustomed to the idea that to seem not to fear a rupture is the best way of avoiding one…, and moreover driven by pride to prefer death to surrender, perseveres in its threat until the moment when neither can draw back. The bluff may also be blended with sincerity, may alternate with it, and what was yesterday a game may become reality tomorrow. Finally it may also happen that one of the adversaries is really determined upon war.” – Marcel Proust, The Captive (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Who could you be now?

“It is as difficult to present a fixed image of a character as of societies and passions. For a character alters no less than they do, and if one tries to take a snapshot of what is relatively immutable in it, one finds it presenting a succession of different aspects (implying that it is incapable of keeping still but keeps moving) to the disconcerted lens.” – Marcel Proust, The Captive (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Nursing the wound

“The disgraced ambassador, the under-secretary placed suddenly on the retired list, the man about town who finds himself cold-shouldered, the lover who has been shown the door, examine, sometimes for months on end, the event that has shattered their hopes; they turn it over and over like a projectile fired at them they know not from whence or by whom, almost as though it were a meteorite. They long to know the constituent elements of this strange missile which has burst upon them, to learn what animosities may be detected therein. Chemists have at least the means of analysis; sick men suffering from a disease the origin of which they do not know can send for the doctor; criminal mysteries are more or less unravelled by the examining magistrate. But for the disconcerting actions of our fellow-men we rarely discover the motives.” – Marcel Proust, The Captive (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Sing it!

“I wondered whether music might not be the unique example of what might have been—if the invention of language, and the formation of words, the analysis of ideas had not intervened—the means of communications between souls. It is like a possibility that has come to nothing; humanity has developed along other lines, those of spoken and written language.” – Marcel Proust, The Captive (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

It’s out there somewhere, keep looking

“Everything is arranged in this life as though we entered it carrying a burden of obligations contracted in some former life; there is no reason inherent in the conditions of life on this earth that can make us consider ourselves obliged to do good, to be kind and thoughtful, even to be polite, nor for an atheist artist to consider himself obliged to begin over again a score of times a piece of work the admiration aroused by which will matter little to his worm-eaten body…. All these obligations, which have no sanction in our present life, seem to belong to a different world, a world based on kindness, scrupulousness, self-sacrifice, a world entirely different from this one and which we leave in order to be born on this earth, before perhaps returning there to live once again beneath the sway of those unknown laws which we obeyed because we bore their precepts in our hearts, not knowing whose hand had traced them there.” – Marcel Proust, The Captive (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Cheaper by the dozen

“What is more usual than a lie, whether it is a question of masking the daily weaknesses of the constitution which we wish to be thought strong, of concealing a vice, or of going off, without offending other people, to do the thing that we prefer? It is the most necessary means of self-preservation, and the one that is most widely used.” – Marcel Proust, The Captive (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Running in every family

“Humanity is a very old institution. Heredity and cross-breeding have given insuperable strength to bad habits, faulty reflexes. One person sneezes and gasps because he is passing a rosebush, another breaks out in a rash at the smell of wet paint; others get violent stomach-aches if they have to set out on a journey, and grandchildren of thieves who are themselves rich and generous cannot resist the temptation to rob you of fifty francs.”  – Marcel Proust, The Captive (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Does it hurt yet?

“It is often simply from lack of creative imagination that we do not go far enough in suffering. And the most terrible reality brings us, at the same time as suffering, the joy of a great discovery, because it merely gives a new and clear form to what we have long been ruminating without suspecting it.” – Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Not now that we know of those who shall here remain nameless (but they leave tracks as they pass)

“Just as we do not possess that sense of direction with which certain birds are endowed, so we lack the sense of our own visibility as we lack that of distances, imagining as quite close to us the interested attention of people who on the contrary never give us a thought, and not suspecting that we are at the same moment the sole preoccupation of others.” – Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Topsy and the turvies

“The rule among the human race—a rule that naturally admits of exceptions—is that the reputedly hard are the weak whom nobody wanted, and that the strong, caring little whether they are wanted or not, have alone that gentleness which the vulgar herd mistakes for weakness.” – Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)

Morph was my name

“We passionately long for there to be another life in which we shall be similar to what we are here below. But we do not pause to reflect that, even without waiting for that other life, in this life, after a few years, we are unfaithful to what we once were, to what we wished to remain immortally. Even without supposing that death is to alter us more completely than the changes that occur in the course of our lives, if in that other life we were to encounter the self that we have been, we should turn away from ourselves as from those people with whom we were once on friendly terms but whom we have not seen for years.” – Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah (trans. Moncrieff and Kilmartin)