Proust || The Madeleine Scene

In Search of Lost Time has a famous episode where the narrator’s mother dips a madeleine cookie in her tea and gives it to the narrator to eat. Yep.

I reached the madeleine scene quite early on. It surprised me. Not the scene, but that such a famous scene is so early in the book. The scene itself is simple and rather dull, and after I read it I didn’t have any idea why it was so famous.

So I googled it. This essay, To Express It Is To Explain It (somehow subscriber-only content now, but I was able to read it just fine earlier by finding it first through Google), gives an enlightening explanation about Proust’s philosophy as a whole, and I now consider it required reading. In a nutshell:

  • If someone feels a mysterious attraction to a person or object, the aren’t attracted to the object itself, but rather to the feeling that the object inspired inside of them.
  • The reason why the object inspired the feeling is because it has a sign encoded in it that only the person who feels the attraction can understand.
  • In order to decode the sign, the person needs to explore his feelings about it through art.
  • The process of “translating” the sign, or making art, allows the artist to re-live the initial experience but with an added bonus: seeing what was important about it and seeing it for what it really is (in relation to the artist, at least).
  • The result of creating art about your own particular experience with something is a contribution to the world that you alone can give. If you don’t decode the sign, with your unique set of memories and associations, then the universe misses out on the ability to see things in a new perspective—yours.

This is why even suffering is beneficial. Suffering is rich with signs, and when those signs are explained, the end result is beautiful.

I feel inspired and encouraged when I think about that. The thought makes everything feel special, it turns everyone into an artist bursting with creativity, and turns mundanity into a portal of magical communication. It brings purpose to life.

Besides this revelation, Proust’s philosophy is utterly modern. Big Magic, Daring Greatly, Wreck This Journal, basically everything by Miranda July; aren’t these books encouraging us to see the world through this lens?

So, readers, I took on a lot more with this project than I had originally anticipated. My worldview has shifted so much after just a couple weeks. I believe that creative self-expression is incredibly important for mental health, for being able to organize your thoughts and communicating more effectively with others, for processing and understanding, for preventing feelings from rotting inside of your mid-conscious. Proust absolutely solidified this belief. With belief comes the responsibility of walking the talk. So I suppose that means it’s time to clean up my desk and take out my watercolor supplies.

The Proust Questionnaire

Before I actually start reading In Search of Lost Time, I thought it would be fun to do a Proustylicious activity: answering the Proust Questionnaire about myself! I got this questionnaire from this blog, but it’s derived from the magazine Vanity Fair (which interviews famous people with it). Vanity Fair got the basis of the questions from two separate questionnaires that Proust completed, but he actually didn’t create them. He just made them famous.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Living without worry or fear.

What is your greatest fear?
Seeing loved ones too depressed to live with joy.

What I'm Reading in 2016

I like lists because I like collections. I like collections because they bring order to the world, draw connections between things you might not of realized before, help you remember things, and they look pretty. I have countless lists of books saved in my bookmarks list, random word docs, and journals. I really do want to read them all, and Goodreads community lists are a very dangerous area for me.

I had a goal of reading all the Man Booker Prize winners, and I was making progress on it before the prize was opened up to be international. Now that it’s international, I’m less interested… what’s the special connecting theme about that collection?

I watched a TED Talk by Ann Morgan about her year of reading a book from every country in the world. And though for the past year I have been thinking about intentionally choosing books that were written a diversity of authors, her project and subsequent list was very inspiring.

I also became interested in reading the books on Wikipedia’s list of banned books. This list is inherently diverse because it includes authors from around the world, many of them writing from a minority’s perspective, and many of them expose political or religious abuses. Yes, some of the books really are hate speech or similarly unhelpful to the world, but that’s the nature of the collection. I think I want to stretch it out and read one book a month, starting this year.

Take a look at the following list of books or films and try to guess what they have in common.
  • Monty Python’s Flying Circus
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • On the Road (2012 film)
  • Vanity Fair (magazine)

They all make Proust references! Proust references flourish, as many a smug article comments, but it makes me wonder: Have all of these people who casually throw around the word Proust actually read In Search of Lost Time in its entirety? Do I know anyone in real life who has read it? Will I understand many other books better if I read it?

I’m guessing the answers are: No, no, and yes.

But the fact that so many books who reference Proust have stayed with me makes me think that I need to push past my fear of not understanding big books (2015 was a year of conquering that fear! What with Anna Karenina and The Fountainhead) and give him a solid try.

It takes about 60 pages per week to read the whole of In Search of Lost Time in a year, which really is not much for me. I’ve also read that he makes a ton of references to visual art and music, so I want to Google that sort of thing while I’m reading. I’d like to give updates throughout the year on this blog: reflections, pop culture stuff, anything interesting that turns up in the course of my reading and internetting. I promise nothing too dense or scholarly, but I am still a nerd at heart.

Proust, banned books, and the Bible will be my 2016. So, my blog's tagline of "snippy reviews of mostly YA lit" is deff going to have to go. Onward!