Proust and the Truth of the Novel

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Real life, life finally uncovered and clarified, the only life in consequence lived to the full, is literature. Life in this sense dwells within all ordinary people as much as in the artist.

-Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again


The Approach to Proust

I approach the great novel, as I approach all great novels, simply as a lover of literature and a philosopher, that is, as a lover of wisdom. I lay great stress upon the word “lover,” and I pretend neither to finality nor comprehensiveness in what I have to say about any novel, but especially about À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time).1

I assume this stance intentionally from the conviction that all great literature can be read, understood, and enjoyed by ordinary human beings who love stories because the stories that have been vouchsafed us by the great writers arise from that “place” and timelessly dwell in that “place” where we all live: the embodied consciousness of a human being. In a letter to Robert B. Heilman, Eric Voegelin, identify­ing the reason why we read and study great works of literature as well as the basis for historical interpretation, said:

“The occupation with works of art, poetry, philosophy, mythical imagination, and so forth, makes sense only if it is conducted as an inquiry into the nature of man. That sentence, while it excludes historicism, does not exclude history, for it is peculiar to the nature of man that it unfolds its potentialities historically. Not that historically anything ‘new’ comes up–human nature is always wholly present–but there are modes of clarity and degrees of comprehensive­ness in man’s understanding of his self and his position in the world . . . .”

“History [then] is the unfolding of the human Psyche; historiography is the reconstruction of the unfolding through the psyche of the historian. The basis of historical interpretation is the identity of substance (the psyche) in the object and the subject of interpretation; and its purpose is partici­pation in the great dialogue that goes through the centuries among men about their nature and destiny.”2

If we reread that passage and substitute “Literature” for “History,” “literary criticism” for “historiography,” and “reader” for “historian,” we will begin to understand an approach to literature from within a Voegelinian philosophical framework.

In Search of Lost Time: An Overview

Writing about À la recherche du temps perdu, one is obliged to acknowl­edge those things that one commonly reads about in the vast Proust criti­cism, as well as in the Internet sites devoted to Proust and his novel, sites that have been mounted by an enormous number of Proustophiles.3 These discussions include topics such as length (of course), breadth of time, the famous petite madeleine incident, the cast of characters, Proust’s work habits (his cork-lined bedroom, reclusiveness, and revisions and extensive rewritings of page proofs) during the last years of his life, his illnesses and sickliness, the shortness of his originally planned three volumes of approximately 500,000 words and the length of the final version of seven volumes and approximately 1.25 million words, and finally the fact that Proust died before the last three volumes–published posthumously–could benefit from his inveterate habit of revising his text.

Commenting on the length of the novel, as well as the length of indi­vidual sentences, Alain de Botton writes:

“Whatever the merits of Proust’s work, even a fervent admirer would be hard pressed to deny one of its awkward features: length. As Proust’s brother, Robert, put it, ‘The sad thing is that people have to be very ill or have broken a leg in order to have the opportunity to read In Search of Lost Time.'”

“And as they lie in bed with their limb newly en­cased in plaster or a tubercle bacillus diagnosed in their lungs, they face another challenge in the length of individual Proustian sentences, snakelike construction, the very longest of which, located in the fifth volume, would, if arranged along a single line in standard-sized text, run on for a little short of four meters and stretch around the around the base of a bottle of wine seventeen times.”4

Lydia Davis, the translator of Swann’s Way in the Penguin Proust, also writes about the length of Proust’s sentences:

“Proust felt, however, that a long sentence contained a whole, com­plex thought, a thought that should not be fragmented or broken. The shape of the sentence was the shape of the thought, and every word was necessary to the thought: “I really have to weave these long silks as I spin them,” he said. “If I shortened my sentences, it would make little pieces of sentences, not sentences.” He wished to “encircle the truth with a single–even if long and sinuous–stroke.”5

By summarizing “A Guide to Proust” by Terence Kilmartin (revised by Joanna Kilmartin) that is appended to the Modern Library edition, I hope to supply a sense of the enormity of the novel as well as its complexity. The Kilmartins, who acknowledge their debt to P. A. Spalding’s Reader’s Handbook to Proust and to the detailed index to the 1954 Pleiade edition of À la recherche du temps perdu, write in their foreword that it is:

“intended as a guide through the 4,300-page labyrinth of In Search of Lost Time not only for readers who are embarking on Proust’s mas­terpiece for the first time but for those too who, already under way, find themselves daunted or bewildered by the profusion of charac­ters, themes and allusions.”

It also aims to provide those who have completed the journey with the means of refreshing their memories, tracking down a character or an incident, tracing a recurrent theme or favourite passage, or identifying a literary or historical reference. Perhaps, too, the book may serve as a sort of Proustian anthology or bedside companion.6

The “Guide” is presented in four indexes to include characters, persons (historical), places, and themes; each entry is keyed to the Modern Library volume and page number. In order to provide a quick overview of the almost overwhelming length and complexity of the novel, I reduced the guide to the following quantitative summary.

The guide itself covers 205 pages appended to the 4,363 pages of text and includes 360 characters, 682 persons, 152 places, and 73 themes. Of the 360 characters, I have ad­judged 22 as principal.7 Other readers designate many more characters as principal.8 In general, persons included may be generally categorized as artists, hereditary aristocrats, military persons, musicians, philosophers, politicians, and writers.

Representative samples of these include: Vermeer, Rembrandt, Botticelli, and Whistler among the artists;9 Louis XIV, as well as Louis VI, XI, XIII, XV, XVI, XVII, and XVIII, among hereditary aristo­crats; Dreyfuss and Foch among the military men; Wagner, Debussy, Bach, and Beethoven among the musicians; Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Bergson, and Pascal among the philosophers; Napoleon Bonaparte, Bismarck, and William II (Kaiser) among the politician-statesmen; and Homer, Shake­speare, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, and Hugo among the writers. Places include both fictional (Combray) and geographical (Paris and Venice) locations. Themes are as diverse as Aeroplanes and Railways, Flowers and Food, In­version (homosexuality) and Marriage, Memory and Time, Literature and Music, and Habit and Belief.

A Short Summary of the Novel

I had thought when I began writing this short piece that I would have to supply a summary of the novel for those who have not read it in its en­tirety. But as the Monty Python spoof “The All-England Summarise Proust Competition” demonstrates, such a short summary of Proust’s master­piece is impossible. Many attempts at this have been made, but ultimately, it seems to me, they fail.10 The following will have to serve as that short, if insufficient, summary.

À la recherche du temps perdu tells the story of Marcel’s life–not Marcel Proust, but the central character, whose name happens to be the same as the author’s.11 The story is told in retrospect–remembered with the aid of involuntary memory, but told with the help of voluntary memory and the intellect. It begins in Marcel’s childhood bedroom in Combray, where his family often visits, and ends with Marcel’s epiphany–many years later–and recovery of his “belief in the world and in people” while attending an afternoon reception. This epiphany enables him to accept his vocation as a writer and to begin writing the novel that the reader has almost–by that point–finished reading.

In order to experience the full impact of the novel, one must read the whole work. Without this whole reading one will not experience the exis­tential impact that the novel can exercise on its readers. The entire reading initiates an imaginative-participatory reenactment in one’s self to embrace Marcel’s life of suffering, divertissement, and guilt from his early experi­ences in Combray; his misguided, pathological, and failed attempts at love (first with Gilberte, Swann’s daughter, and then with Albertine); his love for the Duchesse de Guermantes, Oriane, a member of the hereditary aristocracy and his successful attempts to be invited to parties given by the Duc de Guermantes, Basin, and the Duchesse and thus be included in high society; the pathos of his acquaintance the Baron de Charlus and his cruel treatment at the hands of his lover, Morel, and the Verdurins, who have established themselves in society with the salon of their “little clan”; his friendship with the Marquis de Saint-Loup-en-Bray, Robert, and later the husband of Gilberte; his love for his grandmother and later his suffer­ing and guilt over his treatment of her; and, in the final volume, his joyful recognition and acceptance of his vocation as a writer.

What Exactly is Lost?

As the title indicates, Marcel’s story is the search for lost Time. The primary question that the reader must ask upon approaching the novel is, What exactly is lost? Yes, we know that Time is lost, but we want a better answer. Crucial to understanding Marcel’s search–what he experienced in childhood, who he was as a child, what he lost as he grew into young adulthood, and the various activities, “love affairs” and “socializing,” in which he engaged as divertissements–are what he calls, in Le temps retrouve, diverses impressions bienheureuses (various happy or blessed impressions).12

The most famous of these “happy impressions”–also referred to as resur­rections of the past, remembrances, reminiscences, and moments–is, of course, the resurrection of the “whole of Combray” from the petite madeleine dipped in a cup of tea. Eleven to thirteen of these resurrections, depending on how one reckons the avalanche of impressions that come to Marcel before he enters the Princesse de Guermantes’s afternoon re­ception, reappear to him.

It is through the reappearances of those blessed (or happy) impressions that he comes to understand his life and to recog­nize his vocation as a novelist. This understanding comes to Marcel after he has spent a long time in a sanitarium–following years of socializing–and after his decision to reenter society by attending the party where all of his friends of the past will be present. He has not seen these social acquaintances in a long time, and he fails to recognize them because age has so changed them.

Thus, we conclude that Marcel himself is at least middle-aged and probably late middle-aged when he recovers his “time­less” self and accepts his vocation. The key to understanding both what Marcel lost and what he recovered is to be found in the diverses impressions bienheureuses, and his meditations on these chance occurrences. This concludes my summary-sketch of the novel, but before I proceed to my reflections on Time lost and regained, I will briefly survey several philosophical symbols apropos the reading of literature that are central to Voegelin’s work.

Voegelinian Symbols, Principles, and Insights

Voegelin’s late philosophical work with its meditative-anamnetic style and focus provides an excellent backdrop against which to read À la re­cherche du temps perdu.13 Even though it will be apparent to readers of both Voegelin and Proust that the meditative-anamnetic style of Voegelin’s late philosophy supplies an excellent philosophical complement to Proust’s novelistic-artistic style, it will be helpful for the reader if I briefly discuss several of Voegelin’s more important symbol-insights.

Voegelin’s philoso­phy centers around his historical discovery, or rather recovery, of the truth that reality–explored by man in search of the truth of his existence–has a quaternarian structure constituted of God, man, world, and society. This discovery resulted from his researches into the history of humankind, first reported in Israel and Revelation, the first volume of his Order and History. The introduction to this volume, entitled “The Symbolization of Order,” opens with the following paragraph:

God, man, world and society form a primordial community of be­ing. The community with its quaternarian structure is, and is not, a datum of human experience. It is a datum of experience insofar as it is known to man by virtue of his participation in the mystery of its being. It is not a datum of experience insofar as it is not given in the manner of an object of the external world but is knowable only from the perspective of participation in it.14

These historical findings were reinforced through the exploration of his own historical biography in a series of anamnetic experiments first conducted in 1943 during the time he was working on the first volumes of Order and His­tory. The exploration of the historical-biographical dimensions of his own consciousness operationalized and deepened the insights of earlier phi­losophers like Heraclitus (“I searched into myself”) and Socrates (“Know thyself”).

It is not surprising then that anamnesis became one of the central principles of his philosophy. In his book Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics, he writes that “A philosophy of order is the process through which we find the order of our existence as human beings in the order of consciousness. Plato has let this philosophy be dominated by the symbol of ‘Anamnesis,’ remembrance.”

“Remembering,” he writes, “is the activity of consciousness by which the forgotten, i.e., the latent knowledge in con­sciousness, is raised from unconsciousness into the presence of conscious­ness.”15 In the process, then, of searching for the truth of our existence and the order of our souls, we must remember what has been forgotten–both horizontally, back into the history of mankind, and vertically, down into the depths of our own souls. This is an arduous task; Voegelin, as we have seen above, even thought that Proust’s monumental novel was an expression of the penalty that must be paid for forgetting what should not be forgotten (and indeed never really was).

In 1970, Voegelin published an essay entitled “Equivalences of Experi­ence and Symbolization in History,” in which he clarified his earlier and continuing work on his search of order with special reference to the con­stants in the historical experiences of human beings who search for the truth of their existence, the experiences that they undergo in this search, and the symbols that these experiences engender. He writes that:

“the flux of existence does not have the structure of order or, for that matter, of disorder, but the structure of a tension between truth and deformation of reality. Not the possession of his humanity but the concern about its full realization is the lot of man. Existence has the structure of the In-Between, of the Platonic metaxy, and if anything is constant in the history of mankind it is the language of tension be­tween life and death, immortality and mortality, perfection and im­perfection, time and timelessness.”16

In the same essay, Voegelin asserts:

“To gain the understanding of his own humanity, and to order his life in the light of the insight gained, has been the written concern of man in history as far back as the written records go . . . . This field of experiences and symbols is neither an object to be observed from the outside, nor does it present the same appearance to everybody. It rather is the time dimension of existence, accessible only through participation in its reality.”17

Following and amplifying Plato’s work, Voegelin “locates” human con­sciousness in the metaxy; consciousness, paradoxically, is neither here (in the body) nor there (in physical reality outside the body), but instead is both here and there by virtue of its participation in both the inner spiri­tual world and the outer world of physical reality. It is in the metaxy that consciousness becomes conscious of itself as it experiences and thus par­ticipates in the spiritual dimension of reality, which he sometimes calls nonexistent or nonobjective reality, the invisible order that suffuses the visible-physical reality.

Knowledge in the Mode of Oblivion

The human, who lives in the metaxy, participates–methexis (in Plato) and metalepsis (in Aristotle)–in all the dimensions of reality with his body, soul, intellect, spirit, and imagination. In The New Science of Politics, we read that “Science [the philosophical science of order] starts from the pre­scientific existence of man, from his participation in the world with his body, soul, intellect, and spirit, from his primary grip on all the realms of being that is assured to him because his own nature is their epitome.”18

It is through his consciousness that man experiences himself as a mem­ber of and a participant in the community of being: God, man, world, and society. As a partner in the community of being, man participates in reality through his consciousness. This consciousness is cognitive-meditative (reflective) as well as imaginative, and the presupposition for this participation is the Consubstantiality of all being and the interrelatedness of all levels of reality.

Ellis Sandoz, in a clarification that furthers our understanding of the experience of participation, writes that “The participatory (metaleptic) experiences of human beings in the In-Between (metaxy), which are the constitutive core of human reality, are transac­tions conducted within consciousness itself and not externally in time and space; hence Voegelin sometimes calls the realm in which they occur non­existent reality . . . , or the realm of spirit.”19

When the symbols of the tensions of existence in the metaxy are not rec­ognized as articulations of experience, the symbols lose their meanings and, as Voegelin says, become opaque to the experiences that engendered them. It is at this point that the difficult process of remembrance, anamne­sis, must be initiated in order to recover that which has been forgotten– historically and individually–but which is not entirely beyond reach. In the foreword to Anamnesis, Voegelin writes:

“The culpably forgotten will be brought to the presence of knowledge through remembrance, and in the tension to knowledge oblivion re­veals itself as the state of non-knowledge, of the agnoia of the soul in the Platonic sense. Knowledge and non-knowledge are states of exis­tential order and disorder.”

“What has been forgotten, however, can be remembered only because it is a knowledge in the mode of oblivion that through its presence in oblivion arouses the existential unrest that will urge toward its raising into the mode of knowledge.”20

In his later work–volume 4 (The Ecumenic Age) and the posthumously published volume 5 (In Search of Order) of Order and History–Voegelin rec­ognized, like Aristotle late in his life,21 the importance of myth and the foundational experience symbolized by myth and designated by Voege­lin as “the primary experience of the cosmos.”22

The primary experience of the cosmos manifests itself immediately in the experiences of wonder and awe found in Aristotle’s Metaphysics and in Kant’s Critique of Practi­cal Reason.23 Early on, Voegelin was guided in his anamnetic experiments to “recall those experiences that . . . opened sources of excitation,” those “experiences that impel toward reflection and do so because they have excited consciousness to the ‘awe’ of existence.”24 In his late work Voege­lin argued that both philosophy and revelation as symbolic complexes are dependent upon the primary experience of the cosmos, and that instead of supplanting myth, philosophy and revelation must subsume myth into their own symbolic linguistic structures.

In the essay “Eternal Being in Time,” Voegelin classifies Plato’s Timaeus as “a myth,” and later he writes that “Plato [in the Timaeus] is struggling for a language that will optimally express the analytical movements of existential consciousness within the limits of a fides of the Cosmos.”25 The “fides of the Cosmos,” is a linguistic equivalent to the term “primary experience of the cosmos. “26

In a late essay, “The Beginning and the Beyond,” Voegelin comments that the “adequacy of the symbolism to the experi­ence points to the miracle of a mythical imagination that can produce the adequate Tale.”27 While this remark was focused on the analogical symbol of “the creational Beginning” and “the cosmogonic myth,” it nevertheless points us to the problem of the symbolization of the timeless, that is of a Time out of time, that may be symbolized in what Voegelin called “the Time of the Tale.”

In a passage from the same essay, a passage that could easily function as a description of In Search of Lost Time, he writes:

“I shall begin . . . from the cosmos as it impresses itself on man by the splendor of its existence, by the movements of the starry heavens, by the intelligibility of its order, and by its lasting as the habitat of man. The man who receives the impression, in his turn, is endowed with an intellect both questioning and imaginative. . . .”

“In this experience of the cosmos, neither the impression nor the reception of reality is dully factual. It rather is alive with the meaning of a spiritual event, for the impres­sion is revelatory of the divine mystery, while the reception responds to the revelatory component by cognition of faith.”28

The impact of the diverses impressions bienheureuses left upon Marcel’s/Proust’s consciousness by the primary experience of cosmos (and its forget­ting) lead to a Search for Lost Time in which Time has become (in Voegelin’s lexicon) Proust’s symbol for the experiences of meaning that happened to Marcel and that are resurrected with the impressions evoked by objects-fetishes. Time is capitalized in order to distinguish it from the time that passes and leaves its residue of age; it is Time in its true nature that is last­ing, for it is timeless. This Time of Proust appears analogous to Plato’s time as the eikon of eternity.29

In addition to the symbols–metalepsis (participation), metaxy (the In-between), anamnesis (remembrance), and the primary experience of the cosmos–and the experiences that they articulate, two assertions by Voege­lin have also guided my reading not only of Proust’s novels, but of great novels in general. These two assertions are: “All art, if it is any good, is some sort of myth in the sense that it becomes what I call a cosmion, a reflection of the unity of the cosmos as a whole”; and “The truth of the symbols is not informative; it is evocative.”30

The Evocation of Lost Time

Time–both uppercase and lowercase–as the controlling metaphor of À la recherche du temps perdu, symbolizes simultaneously Time that is timeless and time that passes. In particular moments, scattered through­out the novel and collected into an agglomeration for meditation in the final volume, Time as the timeless intersects with the episodes of time passing that are being filled up by the many and varied activities that divert Marcel from the moments of the intersection of the two. Until the avalanche of remembrances and resurrections in the last volume, these activities have constituted the sum total of Marcel’s life or what he thinks of as his life.

I contend that Time regained is equivalent to what Voegelin calls “the primary experience of the cosmos.” The proof of Proust is in the reading, and you, my reader, in order to be persuaded to the truth of my assertion, must commit to following the Socratic method that advises, Let us look and see if this is not the case.

The dialogue, however, must occur internally in the metaxy of the reader’s con­sciousness, as he reads. Proust himself also proffers a guide for reading his novel that complements (if it does not duplicate) the Socratic stance. Near the end of the final volume, he writes:

“I thought more modestly of my book and it would be inaccurate even to say that I thought of those who would read it as ‘my’ readers. For it seemed to me that they would not be “my” readers but the readers of their own selves, my book being merely a sort of magnifying glass like those which the optician at Combray used to offer his customers–it would be my book, but with its help I would furnish them with the means of reading what lay inside themselves. So that I should not ask them to praise me or to censure me, but simply to tell me whether ‘it really is like that,’ I should ask them whether the words that they read within themselves are the same as those which I have written.”31

Looking to see if this is not the case, or asking oneself “is it really like that?” is not an easy task–especially in regard to such a long novel. Neverthe­less, some guidance may be given for those who are inclined to ask “is it really like that?” of themselves.

In À la recherche du temps perdu, Time is regained through the process of evocation of the blessed impressions supplemented by Marcel’s medi­tation, that is, by his attempts (mostly unsuccessful until the final flow of impressions) to understand their appearance and their meaning. He knows very early–even in Swann’s Way, volume 1–that the meaning he seeks is to be found through his exploration of himself.

Evocation Through Illumination of Material Objects

In most instances, he does not get very far because he is easily distracted by other people and other desires. He does, however, understand that the meaning of the im­pressions bienheureuses lies in his searching into the depths within himself. In Swann’s Way, reflecting upon the remembrance of Combray evoked by the taste of his madeleine dipped in tea, Marcel asserts:

“I put down the cup and examine my own mind. It alone can discover the truth. But how? What an abyss of uncertainty, whenever the mind feels overtaken by itself; when it, the seeker, is at the same time the dark region through which it must go seeking and where all its equip­ment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not yet exist, which it alone can make actual, which it alone can bring into the light of day.”32

This passage calls to mind both Heraclitus’s Fragment B 101: “I searched into myself” and Voegelin’s description of reflection–the processes of generation–in consciousness. In “The Theory of Consciousness,” he writes:

“Consciousness seems to have an energy center whose force can be turned to the different dimensions of consciousness and thus initiate processes of generation . . . . This center of energy, whatever its nature may be, is engaged in a process, a process that cannot be observed from without, like the movement of a planet or the decomposition of a crystal. Rather, it has the character of an inner ‘illumination.'”33

Both Voegelin and Proust were interested in evocation as a process in the expression, articulation, and communication of experience via sym­bolic repositories of spiritual experience; their focus, however, varied. For Voegelin, the evocative dimension of the symbol enables the reader to ac­cess the experience expressed in the symbolization.  

Access is perhaps a misleading word here, because the symbol can only work its evocation under certain existential conditions, foremost of which is the existential openness of the reader to the reality symbolized. Without this openness to the reality symbolized and the imaginative-cognitive participation of the reader simultaneously in both the reality symbolized and the reality of the symbolic complex–novel, poem, drama–evocation cannot occur.

Proust is interested, on the other hand, in exploring how an “object” of physical reality evokes in Marcel–through Marcel’s involuntary memory–”the timeless man within.” This involuntary memory is dependent upon the participation of Marcel’s consciousness in the physical reality that lays down meaning, as it was experienced, in the object itself. The object, in its evocative power, embodies the experience of meaning–joy, certainty, evocation, elimination of the fear of death, and so on–an embodiment that presents itself in the presence of the object at a later date. (The mecha­nism of this self-presentation by the object is fortuitous and mysterious for Marcel.)

The Remembered Object is Tied to the World of Myth

In À la recherche du temps perdu, these components of material reality be­come the repositories of Marcel’s lost Time, and as such they are potential evocateurs for the recovery and remembrance of lost Time. Samuel Beckett, in his little book Proust, says that “the source and point of departure of this ‘sacred action’ [the recovery of lost Time], the elements of communion, are provided by the physical world, by some immediate and fortuitous act of perception. The process is almost one of intellectualised animism.”34 Beck­ett then proceeds to name the “things” that are “provided by the physical world” “fetishes.”

In naming these elements of the material world “fetish­es,” Beckett has discerned the linkage in Proust between the modern world and the world of myth, as well as the integral and intertwined relationship between Time and myth. It is the fetish–the taste of a madeleine dipped in tea, the steeples of Martinville seen at sunset, the musty smell in a Champs-Elysees lavatory, the stumble on uneven paving stones in the courtyard at the home of the Prince de Guermantes, the noise of a spoon on a plate–that fortuitously and mysteriously evokes the resurrection of the past and a remembrance of what was lost. The objects of physical reality become more than objects and are thus transformed into symbols.35

Marcel’s view of objects and their relation to time past–”The past,” he says, “is hidden outside the realm of our intelligence and beyond its reach, in some material object (in the sensation that this material object would give us) which we do not expect”36–seems to be rooted in his sympathy with an old Celtic belief:

“I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and thus effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognized them the spell is broken. Delivered by us, they have overcome death and return to share our life.”37

Marcel’s sympathy with this Celtic animism manifests itself not only in his mature view of objects as repositories of our past, but also in his Combray childhood. The various blessed impressions–the avalanche of reminis­cences in the final volume–stimulated by his stumbling resuscitated “the timeless man within me.”38 “I remembered,” he writes:

“with pleasure because it showed me that already in those days I had been the same and that this type of experience sprang from a funda­mental trait in my character, but with sadness also when I thought that since that time I had never progressed–that already at Combray I used to fix before my mind for its attention some image, which had compelled me to look at it, a cloud, a triangle, a church spire, a flower, a stone, because I had the feeling that perhaps beneath these signs there lay something of a quite different kind which I must try to dis­cover, some thought which they translated after the fashion of those hieroglyphic characters which at first one might suppose to represent only material objects.”39

Time as the Controlling Metaphor

The controlling metaphor of the novel–found both in the title of the novel itself as well as the title of the final volume–is, of course, Time. So that we can penetrate the meaning of this controlling metaphor, Time, we must closely scour the novel to collect the evidence that points to its ambient substance. This will involve us with the common characteristics of diverses impressions bienheureuses.

Marcel reflects, as he is being ushered into the party rooms, how the rush of impressions had resuscitated “the timeless man within me,” and, he admits: “It is true that such impressions had been rather rare in my life, but they dominated it, and I could still re­discover in the past some of these peaks which I had unwisely lost sight of (a mistake I would be careful not to make again).”40

Time Regained: In the final volume of À la recherche du temps perdu Proust treats us to the joyous results of his monumental life journey only to launch us once again into that journey. Fetish-objects evoke in Marcel re­membrances and resurrections of moments of Time, which, even though they were few over the course of his lifetime, dominated it.

The two sim­plest questions that any reader of À la recherche du temps perdu may ask are: What is lost, and what is regained? These questions, however, usher us into a plethora of problems–not the least of which is the enormous amount of information that Proust provides for our consideration. If we assay an answer to the second question first, the answer to the first question will become apparent.

Whatever is regained in Time Regained, we know that its recovery by Marcel has certain consequences, the foremost of which is that Marcel recognizes and accepts his vocation as a writer. More importantly he is filled with an inner confidence–”I felt that the impulse given to the intellectual life within me was so vigorous now that I should be able to pursue these thoughts just as well in the drawing-room, in the midst of the guests, as alone in the library”–and believes that the only thing that could deter him from finishing the novel he is about to begin is whether or not he will be granted enough time to complete his work.

As I stated above, I am persuaded that the idea of Time regained is equivalent to Marcel’s recovery of the primary experience of the cosmos–first experienced in his childhood. It is a primary experience–a transaction in Marcel’s childhood consciousness–that is not only foundational and formative in the biographical-historical development of his conscious­ness, but is also charged with a spontaneous happiness that is expressible only as “jumping for joy” (“as on the day when, crossing the bridge over the Vivonne, the shadow of a cloud on the water had made me exclaim ‘Damn!’ [Zut alors!l] and jump for joy”) or singing.

After writing up one of his blessed impressions–the only one he wrote down at the time of the experience–Marcel records:

“I was so filled with happiness, I felt that it had so entirely relieved my mind of its obsession with the steeples and the mystery which lay behind them, that, as though I myself were a hen and had just laid an egg, I began to sing at the top of my voice.”41

In the pres­ence of the blessed impressions evoked by an in-itself-insignificant materi­al object, Marcel experiences overwhelming feelings of joy and happiness that bring with them a compact sense of wholeness–cosmos–similar to those that engendered the formation of Cosmological myth, which then undergirds the development of philosophy.

The Manifold Dimensions of What is Regained

Marcel’s immediate experiences in the presence of the impressions bienheureuses are just one component in the complex of what is regained through the resurrections that are evoked in him as a consequence of the impressions. There are multiple dimensions in the complex of “what” is regained with Marcel’s recovery of Time. I will list these dimensions and will illustrate them to the extent it is possible with passages from the novel.

Please note here that Proust’s writing defies reduction into pithy, illuminating quotations for a reason that we noted in our “summary”: the length of the sentences that he constructed in such a deliberate and elaborate fashion to embody a controlling idea. It is almost as though the wholeness of the beautiful, meditative sentences is a cosmion within the meditative wholeness of the novel as a cosmion itself, which in turn is a reflection of the wholeness of the cosmos experienced in the primary ex­perience of cosmos that lies at the foundation of Marcel’s consciousness as person. I will therefore enumerate these dimensions of the complex that is regained and illustrate sparsely.

If we examine all of the diverses impressions bienheureuses as a complex–to include the immediate impact upon Marcel as well as his reflection on these experiences and their meaning (in the meditation of the final volume, Marcel clearly thinks of them as various dimensions of a central experience)–we can discern three dimensions: the experience itself, the remembranc­es or resurrections evoked by the experience, and conclusions that Marcel draws about the meaning of the experiences.

In all the major and complete impressions bienheureuses, Marcel express­es his immediate experience in joyful terms such as “all-powerful joy,” “ineffable joy,” “shudder of happiness,” “exquisite pleasure,” “summons to a superterrestrial joy,” or “precious essence.”42 As already noted above, he reacts to a particular impression by shouting “Zut alors!” and jumping for joy (Finding Time Again, Penguin Proust edition, 198-99) or he was so filled with happiness that “I began to sing at the top of my voice.”43 In the meditation that fol­lows in the wake of the evocation of Venice and the remembrance of the petite madeleine and all of Combray by the uneven paving stones, the terms “joy,” “happiness,” “pleasure,” “beauty,” and “truth,” appear too frequently to count.44

Other affective elements also appear–even though less frequently–with these multiple expressions of joy. For example, one of the most important of these is that during several of the experiences Marcel loses his fear of death. This experience of joy and loss of fear is ac­companied by a heightened sense of reality and “certainty.” During “the meditation,”45 Marcel asks himself: “But why had the images of Com­bray and of Venice, at these two different moments, given me a joy which was like a certainty and which sufficed, without any other proof, to make death a matter of indifference to me?”46

The Petite Madeleine Episode as Illustration

To illustrate the foregoing sum­mary assertions, I quote here an edited account of Marcel’s description of the famous petite madeleine episode in Swann’s Way. It is a dreary wintry day in Paris; Marcel is depressed; and his mother offers him tea (which he accepts) and calls for petite madeleines. The scene is set.

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no sug­gestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory–this new sensation having had the effect, which love has, of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature. Where did it come from? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?”

“I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, then a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop: the potion is losing its virtue. It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup but in myself. The drink has called it into being, but does not know it, and can only repeat indefinitely, with a progressive diminution of strength, the same message which I cannot interpret . . . .”

“And I begin to ask myself what it could have been, this unremem-bered state which brought with it no logical proof, but the indisput­able evidence, of its felicity, its reality, and in whose presence other states of consciousness melted and vanished.”47

The emotive-affective essence of Marcel’s evocative experiences can only be named, not described with informational content, for who can say what joy is in itself?

We can certainly try to discern why we are happy or what consequences may flow from our happiness, but we cannot tell another what it is in its essence. This experience of joy or happiness is like Aristotle’s awe and wonder that stimulates our wondering; it leads us to search, to won­der, Why?

And certainly, as we have seen, this is what happens to Marcel when he asks, “Where did it come from? What did it mean?” Proust’s placement of this incident and these questions in Combray I, Swann’s Way (sometimes called the “Overture”), establishes for the reader Marcel’s wondering response.

Marcel, however, breaks off his search here–and in every other instance of an impression bienheureux–until the avalanche of impressions and resurrections that befall him as an old man in the fi­nal volume, and which then stimulate “the meditation.” Thus when we look at all the moments bienheureuses for the substance of the experiences that came to him–that “had been given me”48–they are substantively contentless, empty; there is nothing “there” but an experience of spiritual pleasure or profound happiness and great joy. And yet, it is this emptiness–as we will see–that sustains the literary edifice.

The emptiness is anal­ogous to faith as expressed in Hebrews 11:1–”the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen.” Faith is only experienced from within the faith itself; the joy and happiness of Marcel is experienced only in the joy itself.

I am reminded here of Voegelin’s commentary in Plato and Aristotle on Plato’s Agathon: “What is the Idea of the Agathon? The briefest answer to the question will best bring out the decisive point: Concerning the content of the Agathon nothing can be said at all. That is the fundamental insight of Platonic ethics . . . . The vision of the Agathon does not render a material rule of conduct but forms the soul through an experience of transcendence”49

Although we cannot discuss every remembrance or resurrection in the complex of diverses impressions bienheureuses, it is important to emphasize a remembrance and a resurrection that play significant roles in Marcel’s recovery of Time. First, Marcel remembers that once in the Combray of his childhood, along the Meseglise (Swann’s) and Guermantes ways, he be­lieved in things and in people. After the second impression of the steeples at Martinville, Marcel reflects:

“But it is pre-eminently as the deepest layer of my mental soil, as the firm ground on which I still stand, that I regard the Meseglise and Guermantes ways. It is because I believed in things and in people while I walked along those paths that the things and the people they made known to me are the only ones that I still take seriously and that still bring me joy. Whether it is because the faith which creates has ceased to exist in me, or because the reality takes shape in the memory alone, the flowers that people show me nowadays for the first time never seem to me to be true flowers . . . so what I want to see again is the Guermantes way as I knew it.”50

The fiduciary element of consciousness is supremely important for experi­encing life as worth living. Without the belief in things and people, with­out the faith that creates, there can be no purpose or meaning in life and hence no possibility of creative activity. Marcel cannot–throughout the novel from the first volume into the parts of the final volume–begin his novel, cannot begin his writing career.

He has lost the “faith that creates” and his belief in things and people. Without that faith and belief, the activ­ities of his life have no meaning and no purpose.51 Without this childhood belief (the primary experience of cosmos?) life is not worth living.

And as Marcel/Marcel Proust demonstrates for the next five volumes, his life consists of a series of social activities and travels that fill up and pass his time in an orgy of Pascalian divertissements. In “the meditation” of Time Regained, Marcel realizes that the avalanche of impressions outside the Guermantes mansion and in the library–stumbling on stones, the tinkle of a spoon on china, the touch of a napkin to the lips, the sound of water running in the pipes, the sight of George Sand’s François le Champi among the prince’s books–have resurrected “the timeless man within me.”

Moved to discover the cause of his happi­ness and the certainty that accompanied it, he writes:

“The truth surely was that the being within me which had enjoyed these impressions had enjoyed them because . . . in some way they were extra-temporal and this being made its appearance only when . . . it was likely to find itself in the one and only medium in which it could exist and enjoy the essence of things, that is to say, outside time. This explained why it was that my anxiety on the subject of my death had ceased at the moment when I had unconsciously recognised the taste of the little madeleine, since the being which at that moment I had been was an extra-temporal being, and therefore unalarmed by the vicissitudes of the future.”52

“The being which had been reborn in me . . . with a sudden shud­der of happiness is nourished only by the essences of things, in these alone does it find its sustenance and delight. In the observation of the present, where the senses cannot feed it with this food, it languishes, as it does in the consideration of a past made arid by the intellect or in the anticipation of a future which the will constructs with frag­ments of the present and the past . . . .”

“But let a noise or a scent, once heard or once smelt, be heard or smelt again in the present and at the same time in the past, real without being actual, ideal without being abstract, and immediately the permanent and habitually concealed essence of things is liberated and our true self, which seemed–had perhaps for long years seemed–to be dead but was not altogether dead, is awakened and reanimated as it receives the celestial nourish­ment that is brought to it.”53

In In Search of Order, Voegelin identifies a dimension of consciousness that he calls “reflective distance” as a thinker’s awareness that his conscious­ness participates in reality. He writes that “A thinker engaged in the quest for truth can . . . become aware of the structure of his quest . . . he can be conscious of his participatory role in the process of experience, imagination, and symbolization.”54

The Primary Experience of the Cosmos and Reflective Distance

When Marcel stumbles on the paving stones, when the blessed impressions rush down upon him, he begins to meditate–moved to do so out of an urgency that has not accompanied previous impressions–upon on the meaning of the impressions:

“After I had dwelt for some little time upon these resurrections of the memory, the thought came to me that in another fashion certain ob­scure impressions, already even in Combray on Guermantes way, had solicited my attention in a fashion somewhat similar to these reminis­cences, except that they concealed within them not a sensation dating from an earlier time, but a new truth, a precious image which I had sought to uncover by efforts of the same kind as those that we make to recall something that we have forgotten, as if our finest ideas were like tunes which, as it were, come back to us although we have never heard them before and which we have to make an effort to hear and to transcribe.”55

In this passage Marcel reveals the biographical-historical experiential foundation of his consciousness that is rooted in a primary experience of the cosmos. This experience appears in childhood and embodies a new truth that does not date from an earlier time; it is primary. This new truth is sought by Marcel in the same way that we try to recall what we have forgotten.

This is the original primary experience of the cosmos, and when Marcel later experiences his blessed impressions, he remembers the new truth of his Combray childhood. In Combray, in contradistinction to the present resurrections, the truth did not date from an earlier time, and yet it con­cealed a new truth. Later impressions recall and resurrect the earlier “new truth” that is now changed (a new air is breathed), except that it is not changed because it would not be recognizable as new air had it not been breathed before.

Marcel understands this upon reflection–the reflective distance of a life grown tall in time. In the final meditation on aging in the last volume, he comes to understand that age adds a temporal dimension to a man’s bodily-spatial stature. From the height of age a man can see far and understand much. Thus age–in Marcel’s case–supplies the distance, “the reflective distance,” that enables him to understand his life and life that is worth living. As a result of this apperception/understanding, Mar­cel can begin the novel that the reader has just finished reading. Marcel reflects:

“If, owing to the work of oblivion, the returning memory can throw no bridge, form no connecting link between itself and the present min­ute, if it remains in the context of its own place and date, . . . for this very reason it causes us suddenly to breathe a new air, an air which is new precisely because we have breathed it in the past, that purer air which the poets have vainly tried to situate in paradise and which could induce so profound a sensation of renewal only if it had been breathed before, since the true paradises are the paradises that we have lost.”56

In a truly Platonic fashion, we can only know what we have known before, and we can only experience what we have experienced before.

The True Task of the Artist

In his meditation, Marcel comes to understand that the true task of the artist is:

“to interpret the given sensations as signs of so many laws and ideas, by trying to think–that is to say, to draw forth from the shadow–what I had merely felt, by trying to convert it into its spiritual equivalent. And this method, which seemed to me the sole method, what was it but the creation of a work of art?”

“Already the consequences came flooding into my mind: first, whether I considered reminiscences of the kind evoked by the noise of the spoon or the taste of the madeleine, or those truths written with the aid of shapes for whose meaning I searched in my brain, where–church steeples or wild grass growing in a wall–they composed a magical scrawl, complex and elaborated, their essential character was that I was not free to choose them, that such as they were they were given to me. And I realized that this must be the mark of their authenticity.”

“I had not gone in search of the two uneven paving-stones of the courtyard upon which I had stumbled. But it was precisely the fortuitous and inevitable fashion in which this and the other sensations had been encountered that proved the true-ness of the past which they brought back to life, of the images which they released, since we feel, with these sensations, the effort that they make to climb back towards the light, feel in ourselves the joy of rediscovering what is real.”

“And hereto was the proof of the trueness of the whole picture formed out of those contemporaneous impressions which the first sensation brings back in its train, with those unerring proportions of light and shade, emphasis and omission, memory and forgetfulness to which conscious recollection and conscious observa­tion will never know how to attain.”57

In this remarkable passage we are treated to the core of Proust’s under­standing of art and its purpose, and of the processes of consciousness that supply the artist with the reality that it is his vocation to decipher. With the addition of the artist’s reflection to the impressions evoked through the body’s sensations, Marcel comes to understand what it means to be an artist. In essence, the role of the artist is to recapture Time, to recapture the reality of the primary experience. Marcel thinks:

“it is precisely this essence that an art worthy of the name must seek to express; then at least, if it fails, there is a lesson to be drawn from its impotence (whereas from the successes of realism there is nothing to be learnt), the lesson that this essence is, in part, subjective and incommunicable.”58

The lesson is only partially subjective and incommunicable. If it were otherwise Proust would not have written his novel. The novel is the only place in which an author can write a meditation–the proper form for the articulation of philosophical-spiritual insights in an anamnetic-participatory mode located in the metaxy of consciousness–without being subjected to the dissolving effects of rational criticism.

Indeed, the medita­tions in which Marcel/Narrator/Proust engages become communicable because of Proust’s imaginative-ratiocinative skill, the story of Marcel losing and finding Time again becomes a tale, and the novel becomes the mythical-symbolic form called by Voegelin “the Time of the Tale.” This occurs when Proust causes the Tale to bend back upon itself–the reader has just finished reading the novel that Marcel is now going to begin to write–and thereby creates a cosmion to symbolize the primary experi­ence of the cosmos that Marcel experienced as a child, resurrected in diverses impressions bienheureuses!

The project of the artist is to understand those rare and dispersed-over-a-lifetime moments that dominate our lives–that communicate to us that life is worth living. The artist, Proust, is relying upon his reflective distance–that dimension of consciousness which permits consciousness to reflect upon itself.

Even though the intellect and voluntary memory are incapable of recapturing the essence of the past, they constitute a cru­cial part of the artist’s (and of everyman’s) consciousness and thus play acrucial role in the symbolization that is art. Until the mind–imagination, voluntary memory, and intellect–supplements unbidden involuntary memory, there can be no art, no artistic symbolization, and the joy expe­rienced in the remembrance and resurrection is perfected and purified by artistic creation. Marcel asserts:

“Only the impression, however trivial its material may seem to be, however faint its traces, is a criterion of truth and deserves for that reason to be apprehended by the mind, for the mind, if it succeeds in extracting this truth, can by the impression and by nothing else be brought to a state of greater perfection and given a pure joy. The im­pression is for the writer what experiment is for the scientist, with the difference that in the scientist the work of the intelligence precedes the experiment and in the writer it comes after the impression.”59

The Reader’s Participation

Above all a Voegelinian reading of literature depends upon participa­tion, the participation of the human being in reality and in the symbolic constellation of the novel, and it aims at reenactment. In his introduction to Voegelin’s The World of the Polis, Athanasios Moulakis argues that Voegelin “invites his reader to a pia interpretatio of the decisive documents, which does not mean the recognition of external authority or verities to be ac­cepted on faith, but an inner preparation, a participatory disposition of the interpreter.”

Ellis Sandoz also stresses participation by the reader of litera­ture in his epilogue to the second edition of his study of Dostoevsky. He writes that “the readers enter into the work itself as participants, and they do not emerge from it the same as they were before.” The reader must be prepared, then, to participate in the novel, and this participation requires full engagement of the reader’s nature as a human being–body, soul, in­tellect, imagination, and spirit.60

Just as the object of physical reality metamorphoses into the fetish sym­bol that evokes the impression bienheureux, the novel must now be taken as an elaborate symbolic complex that can potentially evoke in the reader the joy of the impression bienheureux. Optimally, in order for a novel to be­come the vehicle for the evocation of experience, it should be read mul­tiple times; three readings, if possible, would be good. In the case of À la recherche du temps perdu, however, this may not be possible–because of its length, because of the lack of time that a person has available, and because of an absence of commitment to read such a long and complex novel, due to the conditions under which we live in the modern world.61

At any rate, Proust’s novel, I think, must be read through one time de novo without the benefit of reading aids such as “A Guide to Proust” that I have discussed above. Such a “virgin” reading of À la recherche du temps perdu will permit the reader to fulfill the first principle of Voegelinian literary criticism: “sub­mit to the master.”62 Submitting to the master, to the novel in this case, is similar to Henri Bergson’s “dilation of the mind” that makes metaphysics possible. In his “Introduction to Metaphysics,” Bergson writes: “if meta­physics is possible it can only be an effort to re-ascend the slope natural to the work of thought, to place oneself immediately through a dilation of the mind, in the thing one is studying.”63

This “dilation of the mind” requires that the reader suspend his acceptance of the popular belief that novels are simply creations of their authors’ imaginations, creations that are uncon­nected to the common reality of human existence and thus solely subjec­tive portrayals of one person’s experience. The reader then must believe that the novelist is engaged in the same search as all human beings, that is, the search for the truth of our existence as human beings–for meaning in our lives–and that the novel is a symbolic expression of the novelist’s own search for meaning. This is a tricky process, because, at least in the case of a masterpiece like À la recherche du temps perdu, if the novel is permitted by the reader to evoke the underlying experience of the search for lost Time, the novel itself can evoke in the reader this dilation of mind.

Advice to the Reader

To let the nov­el work its magic, to weave its spell, the reader must also assume that the novelist knew what he was doing (not such a difficult thing when we come to Proust–given what we know about his work habits and especially his extensive rewriting). Then, most importantly, the reader must turn off his critical-analytical reason and experience the events of the story through a participative-imaginative reading of the novel. Proust, himself, supplies us with a model of such an imaginative-participative reading in Swann’s Way, the first volume of the novel.

There he supplies a description of his own reading as a child, and even though the passage covers six or seven pages of text, I will reduce the description to two elements: belief in potentiality of a book to teach him philosophic truths, and the capacity that the novel has for presenting to our imaginations and minds “all the joys and sorrows in the world.”

“On the sort of screen dappled with different states and impressions which my consciousness would simultaneously unfold while I was reading, and which ranged from the deepest hidden aspirations of my being to the wholly external view of the horizon spread out be­fore my eyes at the bottom of the garden, what was my primary, my innermost impulse, the lever whose incessant movements controlled everything else, was my belief in the philosophic richness and beautyof the book I was reading, and my desire to appropriate them for my­self, whatever the book might be.”64

The novel has the potential for evoking in us, the readers, of revealing to us through imagery, the joys and sorrows of the world and for the confir­mation of which Marcel asks us to tell him “whether ‘it really is like that.'” Marcel believes that:

“none of the feelings which the joys or misfortunes of a real person arouse in us can be awakened except through a mental picture of those joys or misfortunes; and the ingenuity of the first novelist lay in this understanding that, as the image was the one essential ele­ment in the complicated structure of our emotions, so that simplifica­tion of it which consisted in the suppression, pure and simple, of real people would be a decided improvement. A real person, profoundly as we may sympathise with him, is in a great measure perceptible only through our senses, that is to say, remains opaque, presents a dead weight which our sensibilities have not the strength to lift . . . .”

“The novelist’s happy discovery was to think of substituting for those opaque sections, impenetrable to the human soul, their equivalent in immaterial sections, things, that is, which one’s soul can assimilate . . . .”

“And once the novelist has brought us to this state . . . why then, for the space of an hour he sets free within us all the joys and sor­rows in the world, a few of which only we should have to spend years of our actual life in getting to know, and the most intense of which would never be revealed to us because the slow course of their de­velopment prevents us from perceiving them. It is the same in life; the heart changes, and it is our worst sorrow; but we know it only through reading, through our imagination.”65

The Impulse to Read

Reading À la recherche du temps perdu set free within me “all the joys and sorrows in the world” of the Proustian cosmion and my immediate desire–palpable and almost irresistible–upon finishing it, was to begin reading it again, immediately, from the start. This impulse to begin re­reading the novel is not unique to me. The only other two people whom I know personally to have read it all the way through both had the same impulse. Moreover, people who have never read the entire novel have re­ported to me that they know people who have read and reread the novel and also that this rereading is widespread. Proust’s critics have also noted this phenomenon.

Why is there in Proust’s readers the impulse to reread? Is it simply a manifestation of obsession in response to Proust’s powerful creative skills? Is it an urge to understand the writing tricks that Proust used to seduce the reader?

I believe this impulse to reread the novel lies, rather, in the nature of what it is that the Marcel who becomes a novelist in Time Regained discov­ers and recovers: the primary experience of cosmos, of joy in meaning, of recognition that life is indeed worth living, and that, yes, a life can be real­ized in a book. Marcel muses upon his discovery:

“The idea of Time was of value to me for yet another reason: it was a spur, it told me that it was time to begin if I wished to attain to what I had sometimes perceived in the course of my life, in brief lightning-flashes, on the Guermantes way and in my drives in the carriage of Mme de Villeparisis, at those moments of perception which had made me think that life was worth living. How much more worth living did it appear to me now, now that I seemed to see that this life that we live in half-darkness can be illumined, this life that at every moment we distort can be restored to its true pristine shape, that a life, in short, can be realised within the confines of a book! How happy would he be, I thought, the man who had the power to write such a book! What a task awaited him!”66

The motivation for wanting to begin rereading emerges from a visceral and affective core of experience in which the novel (not the book, but the novel that exists only in the metaxy of the consciousness of embodied hu­man beings–the writer and the reader) has become the fetish that evokes the primary experience of cosmos (now the cosmion of the novel) in the reader.

There is an almost ecstatic joy of opening and of being opened up to meaning, to the cosmos from which one has been excluded (either by dominant social and academic authorities or even by one’s own self) and held in thrall by the cosmos of objectivity, materiality, or Eleatic rational­ity; we discover that we have indeed been living in the cosmion that sym­bolizes the primary experience of cosmos all along. This experience is an instantaneous experience–both perceptively and apperceptively–of an ordered whole.



1. I have used in this essay the Modern Library edition In Search of Lost Time, translated by Andreas Mayor and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D. J. Enright (New York: Modern Library, 1999). All references to InSearch of Lost Time will be from this edition unless otherwise noted. Kilmartin, in his 1981 note on transla­tion, writes that this translation is a reworking, on the basis of the [1954] Pleiade [Gallimard’s Bibliotheque de la Pleiade] of Scott Moncrieff’s version of the first six sections of À la recherche dn temps perdu. . . . A post-Pleiade version of the final volume, Le temps retrouve (originally translated by Stephen Hudson after Scott Moncrieff’s death in 1930), was produced by the late Andreas Mayor and pub­lished in 1970; with some minor emendations, it is incorporated in this edition.

In my work I have compared the Modern Library translation with a later translation (known as the Penguin Proust) by seven different translators under the general editorship of Christopher Prendergast also entitled In Search of Lost Time. Lydia Davis, translator of volume 1, Swann’s Way, wrote in “A Note on the Translation” that the translation was conceived by the Penguin UK Modern Classics series in which the whole of In Search of Lost Time would be translated freshly on the basis of the latest and most authoritative French text, À la recherche du temps perdu, ed. Jean-Yves Tadie ([Paris]: Gallimard, 1987). The translation would be done by a group of translators, each of whom would take on one of the seven volumes.

I chose to translate the first volume, Du Cote du chez Swann. The other translators are James Grieve, for In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower; Mark Treharne, for The Guermantes Way; John Sturrock, for Sodom and Gomorrah; Carol Clark, for The Prisoner; Peter Collier, for The Fugitive; and lan Patterson, for Finding Time Again.  Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, translated with introduction and notes by Lydia Davis, New York: Viking Penguin, 2003, xxi.

The Penguin translations are a bit leaner and include some texts that were not translated in Moncrieff’s original. Moreover, for important passages I also juxtaposed the two translations to the latest and gener­ally agreed most authoritative French edition under the general direction of Jean-Yves Tadie, À la recherche du temps perdu ([Paris]: Editions Gallimard, 1999).

2. Charles R. Embry, ed., Robert B. Heilman and Eric Voegelin: A Friendship in Letters, 1944-1984,157.

3. When I Googled “Marcel Proust and In Search of Lost Time” I got 90,600 hits. Googling just “Proust,” I got approximately (so designated by the search engine) 2,000,000 hits. Of course, there are limitations to this type of survey, but neverthe­less one sees from these figures the enormous interest that Proust and his novel has generated in the century since the publication of the first volume in 1908. Also, when I searched Proust as a subject in the Modern Language Association Bibli­ography, I got 3,873 entries that are presumably scholarly treatments of Proust in some fashion or other.

4. Alain de Botton, How Proust Can Change Your Life (New York: Vintage, 1998), 31-32.

5. Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking Penguin, 2003), xvii.

6. Terence Kilmartin, revised by Joanna Kilmartin, “A Guide to Proust” in Time Regained, trans. Andreas Mayor and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D. J. Enright, volume 6, In Search of Lost Time (New York: Modern Library), 543. Perhaps it is a good guide for beginning readers of Proust, but as I indicate below, I did not choose to take the route of prepping myself before I began to read (or even during the reading) of the novel.

7. These numbers should not be considered absolutely accurate, for when deal­ing with the length of the text and the large numbers of characters, persons, places, and themes, there are sure to be inevitable and inadvertent omissions. The num­ber of principal characters is based upon my own reading. One might note for comparison that Heimito von Doderer’s The Demons includes 142 characters with 31 designated as principal, in a two-volume, 1,329-page novel set in Vienna.

8. For example, Patrick Alexander, in Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time: A Read­er’s Guide (self-published), thinks that there are fifty main characters. Incidentally, this work is an excellent book-length overview and summary of the novel itself.

9. A book entitled Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time (London: Thames and Hudson, 2008), has just recently been published.

10. At, under “Summarize Proust,” I found the follow­ing: “Monty Python paid homage to Proust’s novel in a sketch first broadcast on November 16th, 1972, called The All-England Summarize Proust Competition. The winner was the contestant who could best summarize À la recherche du temps perdu in fifteen seconds, ‘once in a swimsuit and once in evening dress.’

Other ‘ac­ademic’ attempts have been made to summarize the novel in as few words as pos­sible. Here are the winners (thus far): Gerard Genette in Figures HI: ‘Marcel devient ecrivain’ (‘Marcel becomes a writer’) [and tied for second] Vincent Descombes in Proust: philosophie du romain: ‘Marcel deviant un grand ecrivain’ (‘Marcel becomes a great writer’).” Thanks to the Internet, one can now watch the Monty Python spoof in its entirety.

11. Only on two occasions in volume 5 of the Modern Library edition does Proust supply the name of the narrator. In The Captive, we read: “Then she would find her tongue and say: ‘My __’ or ‘My darling ___’ followed by my Christian name, which, if we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book, would be ‘My Marcel’ or ‘My darling Marcel'” (5:91). In a letter from Albertine, also in The Captive: “What a Marcel! What a Marcel! Always and ever your Albertine” (5:203).

12. Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu (Gallimard, 1999), 2266. While “diverses impressions bienheureuses” is generally and widely translated as “various happy impressions,” I prefer the more metaphysical or spiritual translation of “various blessed impressions,” for these impressions are more than just happy. This trans­lation, I think, is closer to both the nature of the experiences themselves and to the spirit of Proust’s meditation in the final volume.

13.1 would even go so far as to surmise that Proust’s novel had a significant, if unspecifiable (as in Michael Polanyi’s “unspecifiable particulars of perception”), impact upon the development of Voegelin’s work. That Voegelin was familiar with Proust’s novel we know from multiple references to him in various places in The Collected Works.

In Autobiographical Reflections, he remembers that while he was in France during his Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, the final volumes of À la recherche du temps perdu were being published (Albertine Disparue was pub­lished in 1925 and Le Temps Retrouve in 1927), that he acquired a complete set, and that “Proust, like Flaubert, was an inestimable source for enriching my French vo­cabulary.” Eric Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections: Revised Edition, with a Voegelin Glossary and Cumulative Index, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006), in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin (hereinafter cited as CW) 34:63.

References to Proust also occur in a 1928 essay entitled “The Meaning of the Dec­laration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789,” in Voegelin, Published Essays, 1922-1928, ed. Thomas W. Heilke and John von Heyking (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003), CW 7:323; in a 1930 lecture entitled “Max Weber,” in Voege­lin, Published Essays, 1929-1933, ed. Thomas W. Heilke and John von Heyking (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003), CW 8:131; and in his 1967 Walter Turner Candler Lectures, “The Drama of Humanity,” delivered at Emory Univer­sity, in Voegelin, The Drama of Humanity and other Miscellaneous Papers, 1939-1985, ed. William Petropulos and Gilbert Weiss (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004), CW 33:183.

In a 1964 letter to his friend Robert Heilman, he drew a connection between Proust’s symbols and myth. There he wrote: “Think for instance of Proust’s temps perdu and temps retrouve as times which correspond to the loss and rediscovery of self, the action of rediscovery through a monumental literary work of remem­brance being the atonement for the loss of time through personal guilt–very simi­lar to Cosmological rituals of restoring order that has been lost through lapse of time.” See Embry, Robert B. Heilman and Eric Voegelin, 223.

Moreover, in 1977 he entitled a specially written chapter 1 for Gerhart Niemey­er’s translation of Anamnesis. Zur Theorie der Geschichte und Politik, “In Remem­brance of Things Past.” See Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis, translated and edited by Gerhart Niemeyer (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1978, 1990), 3-13. In that introductory essay, he writes that his “own horizon was strongly formed, and informed … by the impact of Marcel Proust, Paul Valéry, and James Joyce” (5).

14. Eric Voegelin, Order and History, Volume I, Israel and Revelation, ed. Maurice P. Hogan (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001), CW 14:39.

15. Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis: On the Theory of History and Politics, ed. David Walsh (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002), CW 6:37. This was first pub­lished in 1966 as Anamnesis. Zur Theorie der Geschichte und Politik.

16. “Equivalences of Experience and Symbolization in History,” in Published Es­says, 1966-1985, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), CW 12:119.

17. Hannah Arendt, writing about the twentieth-century novels, asserts that the modern novel “confronts . . . [the reader] with problems and perplexities in which the reader must be prepared to engage himself if he is to understand it at all.” Ar­endt, introduction to Hermann Broch, The Sleepwalkers (New York: Grosset and Dunlap [1965]), v-vi.

18. Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, in Modernity without Restraint: The Political Religions; The New Science of Politics; and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, ed. Manfred Henningsen (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), CW 5:91-92.

19. Sandoz, introduction to Published Essays, 1966-1985, CW 12:xx.

20. Voegelin, CW 6:37

21. Ibid., 356.

22. Insofar as I can discern, he first uses the expression “primary experience of the cosmos” in The Ecumenic Age in the section on Existent and Nonexistent Real­ity. He also uses the phrase in two late essays, “What Is History?” and “Anxiety and Reason,” which are found in What Is History? And Other Late Unpublished Writ­ings, ed. Thomas A. Hollweck and Paul Caringella (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), CW 28.

23. Aristotle, Metaphysics 982bll-982bl4, 692: “It is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered original­ly at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters . . . . And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth [philomythos] is in a sense a lover of Wisdom [philosophos], for the myth is composed of wonders).” Immanuel Kant: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” Quoted in William Barrett, Death of the Soul (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor/Doubleday, 1986), 90.

24. Voegelin, Anamnesis, 85, 84.

25. Ibid., 328; Voegelin, Order and History, Volume V, In Search of Order, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), CW 18:108.

26. This “fides of the Cosmos” is especially important in understanding Proust and points toward what Marcel lost when he lost Time. Marcel remembers: “I had lost my belief in the world and in people” and “the faith that creates.”

27. Voegelin, “The Beginning and the Beyond,” in What Is History? And Other Late Unpublished Writings, ed. Thomas A. Hollweck and Paul Caringella (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), CW 28:175.

28. Ibid., 177. Emphasis added.

29. Plato, Timaeus, 37d.

30. Voegelin, “In Search of the Ground,” in Published Essays, 1953-1965, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), CW 11:240; Voegelin, “Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme,” in CW 12:344.

31. Time Regained, 508.

32. Swann’s Way, 60; see also 91.

33. Voegelin, Anamnesis, 68.

34. Samuel Beckett, Proust (New York: Grove Press, 1931), 23.

35. Proust, however, retains the term objet or objet materiel throughout; see the Gallimard edition of À la recherche du temps perdu, 44.

36. Penguin Proust, Swann’s Way, 44-45.

37. Swann’s Way (Modern Library edition), 59.

38. Time Regained (Modern Library edition), 332.

39. Ibid., 272-73.

40. Ibid., 334.

41. Finding Time Again, Penguin Proust edition, 198; Swann’s Way, 257.

42. Ibid., 60; The Prisoner, 347; Time Regained, 264; Swann’s Way, 60; The Prisoner, 347; Swann’s Way, 60.

43. Finding Time Again, Penguin Proust edition, 198-99; Swann’s Way (Modern Library edition), 257.

44.I list here the eleven accounts of the impressions bienheureiises and their refer­ences in the Modern Library edition of In Search of Lost Time for the reader who wishes to read all the accounts of the impressions for themselves. Please note that Number 11 includes multiple impressions and an extended meditation that inter­weaves the various impressions from Marcel’s life. At least one impression appears in each volume of the Modern Library (and Penguin) edition. If we look at the French edition, at least one impression appears in six of the seven volumes; no im­pression appears in Albertine Disparue (volume 6) or The Fugitive that is paired with The Prisoner in volume 5 of the Modern Library edition. Numbers 1 (petite madeleine), 2 (church steeples at Martinville), 8 (“Intermittences of the heart,” in which the impression resurrects Marcel’s dead grandmother), 9 (performance of a musical septet), and 11 (what I call the avalanche evoked by uneven paving-stones) are the most significant and complete. The references are (1) Swann’s Way, 1:60-64; (2) Swann’s Way, 1:252-57; (3) Within a Budding Grove, 2:87-91; (4) Within a Budding Grove, 2:404-7; (5) Within a Budding Grove, 2:684-86; (6) Guermantes Way, 3:542-45; (7) Guermantes Way, 3:750 (an abortive impression); (8) Sodom and Gomor­rah, 4:210-19; (9) The Captive and The Fugitive, 5:331-53; (10) Time Regained, 6:253f. (a negative impression or no affective remembrance evoked); and (11) Time Re­gained, 6:253-332.

45. Hereinafter I will refer to the long meditation of the final volume as “the meditation.”

46. Time Regained, 256-57.

47. Swann’s Way, 60-61.

48. Within a Budding Grove, 404.

49. Voegelin, Order and History, Volume III, Plato and Aristotle, ed. Dante Germino (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), CW 16:166-67.

50. Swann’s Way, 259-61

51. One is reminded here of the crucial role of the fiduciary element in both sci­ence and philosophy as discerned and developed by the English philosopher of science Michael Polanyi.

52. Time Regained, 262.

53. Ibid., 264.

54. Voegelin, CW 18:54.

55. Time Regained, 272.

56. Ibid., 261; emphasis added.

57. Ibid., 273-74.

58. Ibid., 284-85.

59. Ibid., 275-76.

60. Athanasios Moulakis, introduction to Voegelin, Order and History, Volume II, The World of the Polis, ed. Moulakis (Columbia:University of Missouri Press, 2000), CW 15:24; Ellis Sandoz, Political Apocalypse: A Study of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisi­tor, 276. See also Charles R. Embry, The Philosopher and the Storyteller: Eric Voegelin and Twentieth-Century Literature (Columbia: University of Missouri Press,2008), 57-58.

61. Alexis de Tocqueville, in the early nineteenth century, laments the lack of time for reflection in a modern democratic societylike ours: “The higher sciences or the higher parts of all sciencesr equire meditation above everything else. But nothing is less conducive to meditation than the setup of democratic society . . . . Everyone is on the move,some in quest of power, others of gain. In the midst of this universal tumult,this incessant conflict of jarring interests, this endless chase for wealth,where is one to find the calm for the profound researches of the intel­lect? How can the mind dwell on any single subject when all around is on the move and when one is himself swept and buffeted along by the whirling current which carries all before it?” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. George Lawrence, ed. J. P. Mayer (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books / Doubleday,1969), 460.

62. For “Voegelin’s Principles of Literary Criticism,” see Embry, The Philosopher and the Storyteller, 16-21; for a discussion of participative-imaginative reading, see 50-60. ”

63. Henri Bergson, “Introduction toMetaphysics,” in A Study in Metaphysics: The Creative Mind (1946; reprint, Totowa, N.J.: Littlefield, Adams, 1965), 183.

64. Swann’s Way, 115.

65. Ibid., 116-17.

66. Time Regained, 507.


This excerpt is from Voegelinian Readings of Modern Literature (University of Missouri Press, 2011)

Charles R. Embry

Written by

Charles Embry is Professor Emeritus at Texas A&M University at Commerce. He is author of several books, including The Philosopher and the Storyteller (Missouri, 2008); Voegelinian Readings of Modern Literature (Press, 2011); and, with Glenn Hughes, co-editor of The Eric Voegelin Reader: Politics, History, Consciousness (Missouri, 2017).