In Search of Lost Time


The action of In Search of Lost Time is essentially intellectual.

The action is in watching Proust’s thoughts spool out in long columns, conjuring the details of people and places that constitute his reality. And in doing so, Proust offers a profound meditation on the nature of reality itself, and the way it arises like a phenomenon between the poles of memory and experience.

He makes numerous observations about both phenomena, and seems to be able to do so because he can reduce his thought process to its quantum detail and then present every element for inspection and consideration. The novel is brimming with amazing observations that you, as a thinking and perceiving entity, will recognise. And the fact they’ve never occurred to you is an utterly amazing experience in itself.

The other astonishing feature of his prose is the manner in which he examines the actual process of thinking. We’re all used to reading thoughts on a page, laid down in sequential order.

However, the phenomenon of thinking is actually more constellated; many thoughts occur simultaneously, and are experienced more like sensations. Proust spends a great deal of time disentangling these constellations and mapping them out on the page like diagrams of thought.

The other thing about the book is that he not only appears to remember everything that has ever happened to him, but seems to be able to remember everything he has thought and can effectively relate every single detail in chronological order.

Proust is a guru. He understands the very fabric of life and the machinery that generates it.

War and Peace is, in my opinion, a book that everyone should read. It is a brilliant meditation on life, the universe and everything in the form of a novel, one of the great human artefacts. It effectively defines what a novel can do, and opens your own experience of life, and the lives of others, like a complex flower of origami.

In Search of Lost Time is something quite different. It’s almost three times the size, and vastly more difficult to read. Tolstoy’s novel is difficult in terms of its exacting detail. Proust is even more detailed, and requires even greater patience to untangle the Byzantine complexities of its prose.

This is a novel for people who love novels. All ‘great’ novels are singular, definitive iterations of their form and I think Proust’s novel effectively demonstrates what reality is, and how we conjure it like a hologram between the terminals of experience and memory.

In this sense, his novel is one of the ‘greatest’; it is a manual for both why and how reality arises, and how that can only be communicated through the form of his gorgeous, monumental novel.        

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