Tag Archives: Proust

Marginalia, no.139

…that Ninevite pastry.

~ Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove

Donuts appear in the office kitchen every Monday morning like a flock of naked prostitutes shouting ‘Repent!’

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Marginalia, no.113

A powerful idea communicates some of its power to the man who contradicts it.

~ Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove

No, it doesn’t!

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More Gushing Enthusiasm

Another exhibit in the Chronicles of Gallic Effusiveness, previously addressed here.  This one comes from Proust’s second volume.  The young narrator has been to see the great Berma performing Racine.  It was the realization of a hotly cherished dream, but he was more impressed with the bit parts played by secondary actresses than by Berma herself.  Until, that is, he reads the following review and revises his memory of the experience accordingly:

The performance of Phedre, given this afternoon before an enthusiastic audience which included the foremost representatives of the artistic and critical world, was for Mme Berma, who played the heroine, the occasion of a triumph as brilliant as any that she has known in the course of her phenomenal career…It constituted the purest and most exalted manifestation of dramatic art which it has been the privilege of our generation to witness.

I was surprised to see that Eric Hoffer in his unpublished notebooks (h/t Patrick Kurp) comments on the phenomenon:

It is the Frenchman’s readiness to exaggerate that is at the root of his intellectual lucidity and also of his capacity for acknowledging merit.  The English were not afraid to exaggerate in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and they were then not far behind the French in the lucidity of their thinking… There is hardly a single instance of cultural vigor marked by moderation of expression.

Precisely what Hoffer meant by ‘lucidity,’ I’m not sure.  But if the French have a greater capacity for acknowledging merit it may be because they were relatively less infected by the leprous touch of Calvin, the idolatrous fandoms of whose English disciples were checked by the assurance that even the most accomplished among them were, after all, totally depraved in flesh and spirit.  Hoffer’s date for the decline in English intellectual vigor coincides well enough with the Puritan Revolution.
A capacity for sustained enthusiasm may also explain why so many of the English-speaking world’s former celebrities retire to France.  They know that among their Gallic admirers they’ll never have to stoop to touring Indian casinos and small-town community centers for rent money and faint echoes of the adulation they enjoyed in their prime.


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Marginalia, no.1

He was one of that class of men who have acquired an entirely different kind of culture, literary or artistic, for which their professional specialization has no use… More lettered than many men of letters…, endowed with greater ’facility’ than many painters, they imagine that the life they are obliged to lead is not that for which they are really fitted, and they bring to their regular occupations either an indifference tinged with fantasy, or a sustained and haughty application, scornful, bitter and conscientious.

~ Proust, Swann’s Way

A description of Legrandin.  I don’t imagine I’m “more lettered than many men of letters” but, though I’ve known once or twice the temptation of “haughty application,” my standard response to the workaday world is precisely “indifference tinged with fantasy.” Legrandin, c’est moi.

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