May 17 2016

Commentary on Proust – No. 2

bookbread typewriter

Commentary on Proust – No. 2

“There was no time for memory.”

–Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1947)[1]

For critic Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), Proust’s involuntary memory is not based neither on one’s experiences nor the cues that trigger such involuntary memory. Instead, Proust’s involuntary memory is much closer to the act of forgetting.[2]

Benjamin also maintains that Proust’s asthma contributed to his long, windy sentences:

Proust’s syntax rhythmically, step by step, enacts his fear of suffocating. And his ironic, philosophical, didactic reflections invariably are the deep breath with which he shakes off the crushing weight of memories.[3]

Victor E. Graham (1965):

One of the fundamental aspects of Proust’s style is his use of metaphor or images. He believed that beauty or truth can only be expressed obliquely and this is why he used clusters of images or strings of morphemes to focus on the truth by a sort of stylistic convergence….[4]

Robert Soucey (1967):

Proust felt strongly, however, that books should not be approached as if they provided definitive answers to all life’s questions, as if they were Holy Writ….[5]

Proust believed that reading as a spur to day-dreaming was one of literature’s most vital functions….[6]

There is no glorification of speed-reading in Proust; for one thing, it would allow no time for day-dreaming….[7]

Proust suggests that good reading rather than being an escape from reality is a means of experiencing it more fully, a means of sharpening one’s intellectual and emotional awareness of life. In this, the act of reading is not unlike the act of creating. [8]



[1] Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. NY: Random House. 1953. (1947.) “Chapter 18” 294.

[2] Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. NY: Schocken Books. Edited by Hannah Arendt. Translated by Harry Zohn. 1968. “The Image of Proust” 202.

[3] Benjamin, “The Image of Proust,” 213–14.

[4] Graham, Victor E. “Proust’s Alchemy.” Modern Language Review. Vol. 60, No. 2. (April 1965.) 197–206 at 199.

[5] Soucy, Robert. “Proust’s Aesthetic of Reading.” The French Review. Vol. 41, No. 1. (October 1967.) 48–59 at 49.

[6] Soucy, “Proust’s Aesthetic of Reading” 50.

[7] Soucy, “Proust’s Aesthetic of Reading” 50.

[8] Soucy, “Proust’s Aesthetic of Reading” 59.