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Quotes from the Masters: Marcel Proust

June 1, 2013


We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.


Marcel Proust, the writer of In search of Lost Time, the remembrance of things past. Knowledge can be received, information can be learned, but wisdom must be discovered. I read this work of Proust’s around the time I was at university over a year or two, among taking some breaks to read other books. It is full of psychological insights, and is written by someone who, like Nietzsche, devoted his whole existence to his artistry.

What we are left with is a historically unique piece of literature. What I learned from Proust is hard to say. It certainly has influenced me in many ways, but in ways difficult to quantify or specify. It has given me an appreciation of the need to take time to understand the things around me. To not rush by things without giving them due attention. But I already had this approach to life really, though I think it helped to confirm me in this attitude. I suppose the main influence of it, was that, like good poetry, it was a sheer joy and pleasure to sit and read it. It was a chance to indulge in a world of imagination with a guide on that journey, whilst picking up some thoughtful insights that have colored my experience of the world since then.

A year or two ago I decided by one way or another to trim down my book collection to virtually nothing, other than a few reference books, such as a dictionary. I sold some on ebay, gave some to friends and gave some others to charity shops and books shops. I alternately regret this in the case of some books, and then re-accept it was the right thing to do. The books of Proust, which I sold on, are one such example. But, on the whole, I believe, at that point in my life, it wasn’t just something I did through necessity, but something that was the right thing to do. Another quote from Proust sums up my feeling at this time:

Desire makes everything blossom; possession makes everything wither and fade. (Marcel ProustLes Plaisirs et les Jours (1896)
French novelist (1871 – 1922))

It was serving no purpose to build up books on my shelves to gather up dust. A new perspective was needed. Possession of knowledge and books did not move me closer to wisdom, but in my case, moved me further away from it. I don’t know what other things would be different now if I had kept all my books, including, in search of lost time by Marcel Proust. But one thing I do know is that I would not be sitting here now writing this post about Proust and giving something of what I have learned to other people.

  1. I’ve been meaning to ask, who are your favorite “current’ philosophers?

    • That is difficult to say. Many of the best philosophers are only fully appreciated after their time by posterity. This was the case for Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, for example. I have liked reading some of the books by Colin Wilson. He is quite current. He talks a lot about things such as existentialism, the occult and spirituality. Academic philosophers such as Charles Taylor I quite like and I like how Saul Kripke has provided a new way to look at things and has got analytic philosophy away from the linguistic approach. A lot of the recent emphasis and popularity seems to have come for atheist philosophers such as Dawkins and Dennett, Grayling, Sam Harris. I am not a fan of these thinkers as by starting from a knowledge claim about the unknown, they have straight away closed themselves off from the spiritual dimension, and restricted themselves to a narrow rational and one-sided understanding of the world.

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