Saturday, December 06, 2008

Proust on Reading

Yesterday I attended the First Friday Lecture of The Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults. Joel Rich, Basic Program Instructor, gave a talk titled "Proust on Reading (and On Reading Proust)". The introductory handout for the lecture commented that:

"Towards the end of In Search of Lost Time, the narrator observes that "reading teaches us to take a more exalted view of the value of life, which at the time we didn't know how to appreciate and of whose magnitude we've only become aware through the book.""

In his lecture Joel shared an appreciation of this view and brought us into Proust's text in a way that made this "exalted view" more clear. He opened with the observation that reading was "redolent" in Proust's work and he reiterated this as he progressed through his talk. It is this redolence and the abundance of references to reading in Proust that made this lecture especially interesting (at least to this reader). Several themes impressed me including, passion and reading, time and reading, and the importance of books. Proust described a book as "magic as potent as the deepest slumber", and if you have read Proust you know he was somewhat an expert on slumber. Proust comments on the experience of reading while referring to it as a "strange adventure". Joel went on to discuss Proust's use of reading and the use of metaphors and analogy in this regard. One would think that Proust's novel was merely about reading until you remember that it has more than three thousand pages and covers many other themes as well. The talk was insightful and detailed in its presentation of reading in Proust (I would also encourage you to visit Joel's Proustian website).
Near the end of his lecture Joel asked the question, "Who are Proust's readers", and gave us the answer, "Readers of their own selves." It is with this thought that I certainly concurred and was encouraged to return again to
In Search of Lost Time; to remember, rediscover and inspire my own self.


candyschultz said...

I have had a set of Proust sitting on my shelf for about thirty years and it keeps getting pushed back in the wake of so many new books and old favorites. If I was able to take a class I am sure I could zoom through it. I appear to have lost my discipline of late.

I am also afraid I will want to consume vast quantities of madelines(sp) once I start reading. Oh I make myself laugh.

James said...

Reading Proust is a big committment, but like so many truly great books it is worth the time (and the investment in madeleines).