Proust’s tome is, quite obviously, a kind of tracking of how the human memory works, certainly a fascinating topic. I’d venture to say that most of us don’t really understand how we as individuals retrieve memories, the function that memories serve in our lives, how our minds process memory, or how our memories are modified over time. As the remake of the film Total Recall has recently been released, these kinds of questions seem maybe even more relevant to popular culture. And yet, I’m led to wonder whether Proust’s (and admittedly, my own) obsession with memory is actually a kind of obstacle to being in the present.
I know that I too often become so caught up in either replaying the past or worrying about the future that I am unable to fully engage in and fully enjoy the present. Proust remembers to the ways that worry about the future can steal the joy of the present in the moment when the narrator’s child self, although longing for mother’s goodnight kiss, find’s her approach for the kiss a “painful moment” because “it announced the moment that would follow it, in which she had left me.” He is unable to embrace the experience he longs for, because it heralds the moment he fears, the moment of loss. Worry about the future removes him from the present.
It seems also that Proust and his narrator and maybe even ourselves as readers experience a similar loss of the present as we delve into the world of memory explored by this novel. We tread the passages of the narrator’s memory, never quite sure where the present is that he inhabits. Memory takes over all, obscuring the present. This is fine for a novel, but it is no way to live our lives. And yet, when we live with loss and emotional hurt, it is easy to slip into living our lives among memory and the fallout of memory, rather than in the present.
Additionally, in pursuing relationships, I think it’s easy to slip into the position that the child takes above. We long for the kiss, long for the emotional connection to another, yet it is easy to fear it, even push it away because we know that connection always already creates the possibility of loss and suffering. How easy, then, to miss out on something lovely and wonderful and fulfilling in the present simply because we fear a potential future, one that may never even come to pass. It’s almost as though we remember something that hasn’t even happened.