How Proust Can Save Your Life
by M Sinclair Stevens. December 05, 2004.

In How Proust Can Save Your Life Alain de Botton turns literary biography into self-help manual full of useful advice gleaned from Proust's life and works. What does Botton think we can learn from Proust? Chapters include: How to Take Your Time. (Useful advice for anyone thinking about reading Proust.) How to Suffer Successfully. How to Open Your Eyes. How to Put Books Down.

"...we don't do any of it, because we find ourselves back in the heart of normal life, where negligence deadens desire." -- Marcel Proust. p. 6

"In reality, every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. The writer's work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never experienced himself. And the recognition by the reader in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its veracity." -- Marcel Proust. p. 25

"When two people part it is the one who is not in love who makes the tender speeches." -- Marcel Proust. p. 28

"An effect of reading a book which has devoted attention to noticing such faint yet vital tremors is that once we've put the volume down and resumed our own life, we may attend to precisely the things the author would have responded to had he or she been in our company. Our mind will be like a radar newly attuned to pick up certain objects floating through consciousness; the effect will be like bringing a radio into a room that we had thought silent, and realizing that the silence only existed at a particular frequency and that all along we in fact shared the room with waves of sound coming in from a Ukrainian station or the nighttime chatter of a minicab firm." -- Alain de Botton. p. 29

" must never miss an opportunity of quoting things by others which are always more interesting than those one thinks up oneself." -- Marcel Proust p. 40.

"My only consolation when I am really sad is to love and to be loved," he declared, and defined his principal character trait as: "The need to be loved; more precisely, a need to be petted and spoilt more than a need to be admired." p. 54.

"Those who love and those who are happy are not the same." -- Marcel Proust p. 55

"...feeling things (which usually means feeling them painfully) is at some level linked to the acquisition of knowledge." -- Alain de Botton. p. 65.

"Though philosophers have traditionally been concerned with the pursuit of happiness, far greater wisdom would seem to lie in pursuing ways to be properly and productively unhappy. The stubborn recurrence of misery means that the development of a workable approach to it must surely outstrip the value of any utopian quest for happiness. Proust, a veteran of grief, knew as much." -- Alain de Botton. p. 71.

"And a personal imprint is not only more beautiful, it is also a good deal more authentic. [Trying to sound fashionable, speaking in cliches] involves flattening your identity to fit a constrained social envelope. If, as Proust suggests, we are obliged to creat our own language, it is because there are dimensions to ourselves absent from cliches, which require us to flout etiquette in order to convey with greater accuracy the distinctive timber of our thought." -- Alain de Botton. p. 95.

"However, the First World War radically altered his plans by delaying the publication of the succeeding volume by four years, during which time Proust discovered a host of new things he wanted to say, and realized that he would require a further four volumes to say it. The original five hundred thousand words expanded to more than a million and a quarter." -- Alain de Botton. p. 114.

"For instance, it is often assumed, usually by people who don't have many friends, that friendship is a hallowed sphere in which what we wish to talk about effortlessly coincides with others' interests. Proust, less optimistic than this, recognized the likelihood of discrepancy, and concluded that he should always be the one to ask questions and address himself to what was on your mind rather than risk boring you with what was on his." -- Alain de Botton. p. 120.

"Whatever the efforts of certain great artists to open our eyes to our world, they cannot prevent us from being surrounded by numerous less helpful images that, with no sinister intentions and often with great artistry, nevertheless have the effect of suggesting to us that there is a depressing gap between our own life and the realm of beauty." -- Alain de Botton. p 145.

"Because of the speed of technological and architectual change, the world is liable to be full of scenes and objects that have not yet been trasformed into appropriate images and may therefore make us nostalgic for another, now lost world, which is not inherently more beautiful but might seem so because it has already been widely depicted by those who open our eyes. There is a danger of developing a blanket distaste for modern life, which could have its attractions but lack the all-important images to help us identify them." -- Alain de Botton. p 148.

"...having something physically present sets up far from ideal circumstances in which to notice it. Presence may in fact be the very element that encourages us to ignore or neglect it..." -- Alain de Botton. p. 164.

"(The rich) therefore have no opportunity to suffer the interval between desire and gratification which the less priveleged endure, and which, for all its apparent unpleasantness, has the incalculable benefit of allowing people to know and fall deeply in love with paintings in Dresden, dressing gowns, and someone who isn't free this evening." -- Alain de Botton. p. 166.

"We should read other people's books in order to learn what we feel; it is our own thoughts we should be developing, even if it is another writer's thoughts that help us do so. A fulfilled academic life would therefore require us to judge that the writers we were studying articulated in their books a sufficient range of our own concerns, and that in the act of understanding them through translation or commentary, we would simultaneously be understanding and developing the spiritually significant parts of ourselves." -- Alain de Botton. pp. 178-179.

"We feel very strongly that our own wisdom begins where that of the author leaves off, and we would like him to provide us with answers when all he is able to do is provide us with desires...That is the value of reading, and also its inadequacy. To make it into a discipline is to give too large a role to what is only an incitement. Reading is on the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it." -- Marcel Proust. p. 180.

"...a genuine homage to Proust would be to look at our world through his eyes, not to look at his world through our eyes." -- Alain de Botton. p. 196.


Comment by: Margaret on December 8, 2004 01:36 PM

I'm impressed. I found A la recherche du temps perdu the kind of book I should have on a desert island when I would read it "faute de mieux"

Comment by: mss on December 8, 2004 07:07 PM

I suppose it might also relieve the boredom on your long flights to and from Australia.

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How Proust Can Save Your Life: Not a Novel. Alain de Botton. Pantheon Books. New York. 1997. ISBN 0-679-44275-8