I’ve been meaning to post this for some time now. And I freely admit that I’m borrowing the “P(r)o(u)st” designation from my much-loved bff. It seems like, somehow, this is indicative of what this blog is and should be about.
I have spent the last six weeks or so promising myself that I’d start reading my Proust. But the truth is, I’m intimidated. And I feel silly even admitting that. I’m supposed to be someone who can handle Proust, right? I have a PhD, for goodness’ sake, a PhD in literature. Why does Proust scare (scar?) me so? But maybe the other side of the coin is this: why am I wanting to take on Proust, in spite of my feeling intimidated? Wouldn’t it be easier to succumb to merely pursuing what Pendergrast calls the “tea-party image of Jane Austen’s world favoured by a certain class of Janeites” and call it a day? Let’s face it: I happen to like Jane Austen; I happen to like Harry Potter; I happen to like watching BritCom on DVD. Why set all this aside to pursue Proust? I mean, not Prousting is easier than Prousting.
Am I trying to prove myself? In spite of having a silly PhD, do I feel like I need to earn my chops in the world of literature by being able to say that I’ve tackled Proust? I think that, actually, the better approach here is to allow Proust to tackle me. And that’s how I intend to approach this project. I intend to let the words wash over me, to drown in the language without reaching for a lifesaver, to let Proust inhabit my mind. Is this the right approach? I don’t know, but it’s the approach I’m going to take, at least for now.
And yet, I’m also going to think about Prousting my way through the world. I’m fascinated by the ways in which the material world, the world of objects interacts with the imagination and one’s memory, and this is the point of the madeleine episode, right? At the moment, I’m very much aware of the ways that carrying Proust with me, both literally and figuratively, is triggering memory.
Several years ago (nearly eight–where has the time gone?) I was teaching part time, as so many of us have done, at a small college. I recall a creative writing professor talking about once a year spending a long weekend with her writer friends, who were also, it seems, nudists. She went on and on about the glory of sitting around all weekend, drinking, discussing Proust naked. To be honest, I cannot think of a less appealing, less productive way to discuss Proust. But there it is. Naked Prousting. I also recall her talking about her brother, the psychologist, telling her that of all the diagnoses one could receive, the one you really didn’t want was Borderline Personality Disorder. According to her, according to him, a diagnosis of BPD is “intractable.” I’m not at all sure what this means, but it’s somehow wrapped up with my associations with Proust, with naked Prousting. But I want my own experience of Proust to hang on more than just this.
I think that this is what I’m really trying to get at: the experience of Proust, just like the experience of life, isn’t and shouldn’t be just one thing. And I can be intimidated by Proust and embrace Proust at the same time. I can allow Proust to invade me, and I can read my life through the lens of Proust at the same time. I can write about Proust and write about the world and myself at the same time. And this always, already what I desire from this experience.
Pendergrast says, “Multiple selves, multiple worlds, multiple styles: this, paradoxically, is the quintessence of Proust,” and maybe this is just the thing. We are all living with multiple selves, multiple roles that we play, multiple ways that we must think. Humans are never just one thing. This is why I can both fear and embrace the Proust.