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.

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