Looks Like Carelessness

Okay, this morning I found out that I’m a complete fool, that I’ve wasted my life, that I’ve been walking around with blinders on, that I’ve done what amounts to going to a five-star French restaurant and eating a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich on Wonder bread, or going to the Grand Canyon or the Monterey Peninsula or the Lake District or the Bernese Oberland or the fjords or Umbria and spending the whole time indoors doing crossword puzzles.

I haven’t read Proust.

Think of it. I could have been run over by a skateboard at any moment and died without ever reading Proust. I’m a fool, I tell you, a fool, a fool, a fool! This kind of thing shouldn’t be allowed. A well-governed state ought to prevent it. Someone should have told me – and by ‘told’ I don’t mean just mentioned it in passing, I mean grabbed me by the throat and shaken until I swore to drop everything and begin. I did that to myself with Shakespeare back in the late ’80s, and a good thing too. I also did it with a good many other people, but somehow I didn’t get to Proust. Until this morning. I was re-reading* a section of Martha Nussbaum’s Upheavals of Thought, which gives extended quotations from Proust which I liked so much I went and found the first volume of the three-volume version, which I’ve had for awhile, in preparation for that vague day when I would get around to it. Found it and found the right page and read and

and was struck all of a heap. Why didn’t you tell me?! You bastards! You’ve all read Proust, right? I know you have. Of course you have; you’re all more sensible than I am, and you’ve read Proust, and yet you didn’t bother to make sure that I had. Well really! Some friends you are.

I knew, though, actually. Hitchens was going on about it last summer, at the Hay festival and other places he talked about the new book (Love, Poverty and War), and the fact that Proust is someone you need to be somewhat old to appreciate but that once you are, you’re staggered. I should have gotten busy then. I did think of it. And in fact people have done the grabbing by the throat thing. People have sat me down, and put a hand on each shoulder, and looked fiercely into my face, and said very slowly and distinctly, you have to read Proust. But I just pushed their hands off and jumped up and ran outside to play with my hoop. I’m a fool.

I’ve never read anything like it. It’s the most amazing stuff…

Here’s part of one bit that Nussbaum quoted and that I typed out earlier today…

If we thought that the eyes of such a girl were merely two glittering
sequins of mica, we should not be athirst to know her and to unite her life
to ours. But we sense that what shines in those reflecting discs is not due
solely to their material composition; that it is, unknown to us, the dark
shadows of ideas that that person cherishes about the people and places she
knows [..] and above all that it is she, with her desires, her sympathies,
her revulsions, her obscure and incessant will. I knew that I should never
possess this young cyclist if I did not possess also what was in her eyes.
And it was consequently her whole life that filled me with desire; a
sorrowful desire because I felt that it was not to be fulfilled, but
exhilarating because, what had hitherto been my life having ceased of a
sudden to be my whole life, being no more now than a small part of the space
stretching out before me which I was burning to cover and which was composed
of the lives of these girls, it offered me that prolongation, that possible
multiplication of oneself which is happiness.

Isn’t that amazing?

I get to read more. Life is good.

*So, in fact, I had been told, since I’d read that section before.

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