It happened today - November 16, 2015
Oh well then. Nov. 16 is the anniversary of the publication of volume one of Marcel Proust’s alleged masterpiece À la recherche du temps perdu in 1913. Six more volumes followed over 14 years and, according to Wikipedia, “He is considered by many to be one of the greatest authors of all time.” Not by me.
Now I should certainly mention here that I have never read Proust. It is, to quote Danny Bhoy, kind of important to the story. I have never had any desire to read Proust and reading a synopsis of Proust reinforces the feeling that it would be temps perdu to do so.
Proust himself never really seems to have lived. He was sickly, withdrawn and melancholy, and as far as I can see so is his massive oeuvre. What for? As novelist George Moore, who I also haven’t read and don’t plan to, once commented about Proust, “If a man chooses to dig up a field with a pair of knitting needles, is there any reason I should watch him doing it?”
No. And there is good reason not to.
Life is a tremendous gift. It is denied to many, who die young and do not get a fair shot at the adventure. But it is refused by many, not because they kill themselves but because they let it pass them by.
I know, I know. Life is hard for some people. They are born in grinding poverty; have cruel parents; suffer handicaps. But if you look around you at the people who have seized life, they were not all born with the advantages that can make life easy or, paradoxically, hard. I just saw a feature on the news about a guy with severely stunted arms and legs who plays competitive football.
So what’s Proust’s excuse for mooning around and then writing an endless, elegant book about same? And why, even if he was a talented stylist, would people go gaga about it? (André Gide, who initially advised a publisher against the novel, later called it “one of the most stinging and remorseful regrets of my life”.) Are they looking for an excuse not to embrace life’s adventure?
Look. If you’re alive, you’re enjoying a privilege denied a great many people. If you’re alive and past 21, you’re enjoying a privilege denied many of Canada’s soldiers. So grab it. Live it. Don’t waste time reading Proust.
I certainly don’t plan to. In fact, on Nov. 16 I think I’ll read a book that’s actually entertaining and instructive just to be contrary. It’s not as though there’s any shortage of those.