How Proust Can Change Your Life (Anglais) Broché – Version coupée, 19 janvier 2000
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Q: Did Proust have any relevant thoughts on dating? What should one talk about on a first date?
A: Advice is scant. A more fundamental doubt is whether one should accept dinner in the first place.
There is no doubt that a person's charms are less frequently a cause of love than a remark such as: "No, this evening I shan't be free."
If this response proves bewitching, it is because of the connection made...between appreciation and absence. Though a person may be filled with attributes, an incentive is nevertheless required to ensure that a seducer will focus wholeheartedly on these, an incentive which finds perfect form in
a dinner rebuff.
Q: Was he against sex before marriage?
A: No, just before love. And not for any starchy reasons, simply because he felt it wasn't a good idea to sleep together when encouraging someone to fall in love was a consideration.
Women who are to some extent resistant, whom one cannot possess at once, whom one does not even know at first whether one will ever possess, are the only interesting ones.
Q: Surely not?
A: Other women may of course be fascinating, the problem is that they risk not seeming so...
Q: Are there any secrets to long-lasting relationships?
A: Infidelity. Not the act itself, but the threat of it. For Proust, an injection of jealousy is the only thing capable of rescuing a relationship ruined by habit...The threat of losing their partner
may lead them to realize that they have not appreciated this person adequately...If someone threatens the relationship, they get jealous, wake up for a moment, have another kiss with the horny tusk, and get bored once more. Condensed into a male heterosexual version, the situation runs
Afraid of losing her, we forget all the others. Sure of keeping her, we compare her with the those others whom at once we prefer to her. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .
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Who would have thought that Marcel Proust, one of the most important writers of our century, could provide us with such a rich source of insight into how best to live life? Proust understood that the essence and value of life was the sum of its everyday parts. As relevant today as they were at the turn of the century, Proust's life and work are transformed here into a no-nonsense guide to, among other things, enjoying your vacation, reviving a relationship, achieving original and unclichéd articulation, being a good host, recognizing love, and understanding why you should never sleep with someone on a first date. It took de Botton to find the inspirational in Proust's essays, letters and fiction and, perhaps even more surprising, to draw out a vivid and clarifying portrait of the master from between the lines of his work.
Here is Proust as we have never seen or read him before: witty, intelligent, pragmatic. He might well change your life. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .
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Consider the chapter titles. The fourth is "How to Suffer Successfully." The seventh is "How to Open Your Eyes." The eighth is "How to be Happy in Love." The last, and my favorite, is "How to Put Books Down." The author draws on the ideas and characters found in Proust's masterpiece and renders Proust's response to these issues. All of this is very wittily done. The whole thing is leavened with fascinating biographical tidbits concerning this strange, brilliant man, Marcel Proust. In that last chapter Mr. de Botton (apparently a Brit) presents us with Proust's view of books and their proper place in life:
"It is one of the great and wonderful characteristics of good books (which allows us to see the role at once essential yet limited that reading may play in our spiritual lives) that for the author they may be called "Conclusions" but for the reader "Incitements." We feel very strongly that our own wisdom begins where that of the author leaves off, and we would like him to provide us with answers when all he is able to do is provide us with desires . . . . That is the value of reading, and also its inadequacy. To make it into a discipline is to give too large a role to what is only an incitement. Reading is on the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it."
On the other hand should we expect any lesser eloquence from a man who on a different subject said this:
"People who are not in love fail to understand how an intelligent man can suffer because of a very ordinary woman. This is like being surprised that anyone should be stricken with cholera because of a creature so insignificant as the comma bacillus."
I loved this book. It was indeed a tonic, and I think you might find it so, too.
One tiny gripe. De Botton does not always identify the works he is quoting from. We don't need to know specific page numbers, but it would be nice to know if a quotation is from one of the volumes of IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME, or from an essay or letter. In one case, I wasn't sure if the quote was Proust's or Ruskin's.
Instead, de Botton accomplishes several things. He parodies self-help books, he undertakes a humorous and highly personal exploration of Proust, and he makes a witty argument about how literature can aid us in our daily lives. The heart of de Botton's message is actually paradoxical. From one perspective he is saying, "don't take literature too seriously" and from another he is saying, "literature is a critical tool in everyone's life".
I believe that all of us essentially reinvent what we read and use it to interpret our lives and the world around us. De Botton simply provides a humorous and intelligent blue print of this natural process.
De Botton manages this with ease. His book is an excellent precis of Proustian concerns - time, love, friendship, literature - told in deceptively simple language masking thoroughness and complexity. His aren't the last words on these subjects, they are starting points which allow the virgin reader a map when starting on the vast terrain of A La Recherche.
His own prose is elegant, suggestive and sometimes very funny, while his emphasis on the personal is at the same time endearing, a way into the book, and true to Proust. He fills in his narrative with much biographical, historical and anecdotal matter, drawing on letters, newspapers, memoires, which are both illuminating and entertaining.
His own method is seemingly the opposite of Proust's, immediately lucid and precise, but the form of his book follows the Proustian pattern, whereby the book heading in one direction turns in on itself, becomes a book about itself, its own creation, even negating itself as it tells us to abandon Proust if we want to be true to the spirit of Proust.
The book isn't perfect - sometimes the prose is a little TOO easy; both Proust and De Botton come across as near-saintly figures, full of understanding and kindness, when the truth (with Proust at any rate) is much messier; and the last two chapters are a little rushed. But few books outside the thriller genre have delighted me and kept me reading feverishly to the end like this little trinket.
I was given a dog-eared copy of How Proust Can Change Your Life by a friend whom I'd told I was considering giving Proust a go. I read maybe half of it, found it amusing, and found the portrayal of Proust amusing as well. The book seemed to fizzle out after that, but what I'd read was enough to get me started on Swann's Way. I had not expected Proust to be comical in any way, but I credit Alain de Botton for illuminating Proust's self-deprecating sense of humor. Had it not been for that, I might never have made it past the famous and seemingly interminable description of juvenile insomnia that opens Swann's Way, much less enjoyed it.
Five years later, I have just finished The Captive and plan to begin The Fugitive within the next month or so. Has Proust changed my life? Well, yes. His work has attuned me to the importance of paying attention, resisting the dulling effects of habit, slowing down, finding meaning in the ordinary rhythms of life, accepting the painful inevitabilities of existence, laughing at my own foibles. There's more, but I won't bore you with it.
Proust is not everyone's cup of tea. But he might be yours. And if he is, you're in for what can, in fact, be a life-changing experience. (At the rate I'm reading him, it could also be a lifelong experience.) You may not be happier, handsomer, thinner, richer, or smarter, but you just might have a better understanding of why being who, what, and where you are is worthy of your attention.
If you're thinking about diving into Proust and not sure that it will be worth the effort, I'd recommend spending a few bucks on this primer first. If it inspires you to move on to the real thing, that's great. If it doesn't, you will have saved yourself hundreds of hours of what could be, for some, utter tedium. And if happiness, beauty, and wealth are what you really want, and you want them now, there's always Dr. Phil.