_____A copy of George Sand's François le Champi in the Prince's library reminds the narrator of the night his mother spent in his room, reading the book to him, and "a thousand insignificant details from Combray, unglimpsed for a very long time, came tumbling helter-skelter of their own accord."
[T]hings -- a book in its red binding, like the rest -- at the moment we notice them, turn within us into something immaterial, akin to all the preoccupations or sensations we have at that particular time, and mingle indissolubly with them. Some name, read long ago in a book, contains among its syllables the strong wind and bright sunlight of the day when we were reading it. Thus the sort of literature which is content to "describe things," to provide nothing more of them than a miserable list of lines and surfaces, despite calling itself realist, is the furthest away from reality, the most impoverishing and depressing, because it unceremoniously cuts all communication between or present self and the past, the essence of which is is retained in things, and the future, where things prompt us to enjoy it afresh.This takes us back to the beginning of this volume and the Goncourt parody, when he berated himself for his inability to see and hear as the Goncourts did, to record the minute details of a scene. Now such minutiae are dismissed as "a miserable list of lines and surfaces."
He recalls the night his mother read François le Champi to him as "perhaps the loveliest and saddest night of my life, when I had alas! ... obtained from my parents their first surrendering of authority, from which I would later come to date the decline of my health and my will." On the other hand, he regards this one as a "most glorious day" on which the discovery of the book in the Guermantes' library "illuminated not only the old fumblings of my thoughts, but even the purpose of my life and perhaps of art."
What we call reality is a certain relationship between these sensations and the memories which surround us simultaneously -- a relationship which is suppressed in a simple cinematographic vision, which actually moves further away from truth the more it professes to be confined to it -- a unique relationship which the writer has to rediscover in order to bring its two different terms together permanently in his sentence.What the writer does is "the analogue in the world of art of the unique relation created in the world of science by the laws of causality." The writer's task is to "translate" what "already exists within each of us."
How could a purely descriptive literature have any value at all, when reality lies hidden beneath the surface of little things of the sort it documents (grandeur in the distant sound of an aeroplane, or in the outline of the steeple of Saint-Hilaire, the past in the taste of a madeleine, etc.) so that the things have no meaning in themselves until it is disentangled from them?We run the risk "of dying without having known" the reality "which is quite simply our life." But more than that, art enables us to glimpse the reality that is other people's lives:
It is only through art that we can escape from ourselves and know how another person sees a universe which is not the same as our own and whose landscapes would otherwise have remained as unknown as any there may be on the moon. Thanks to art, ... we ... have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists.Art also undoes the work of the narrator's old nemesis, habit:
The work carried out by our vanity, our passions, our imitative faculties, our abstract intelligence, our habits, is the work that art undoes, making us follow a contrary path, in a return to the depths where whatever has really existed lies unrecognized within us.And he recognizes that this is the path he must follow if he still wants to be an artist: "I needed to restore to even the slightest of the signs which surrounded me (Guermantes, Albertine, Gilberte, Saint-Loup, Balbec, etc.) the meaning which habit had made them lose for me." He realizes that "the work of art was the only means of finding Lost Time again." He resolves to find in his life the materials for his novel, not transcribing the events of his life, but searching through it for the pieces he can assemble into fiction:
The stupidest people manifest by their gestures, their comments, their involuntarily expressed feelings, laws of which they are unaware but which the artist manages to catch in them. Because of observations of this sort, the writer is commonly thought to be malicious, wrongly so, because in an idiosyncrasy the artist sees a beautiful generality and no more holds it against the person observed than a surgeon would dismiss someone for suffering from a common circulation disorder.... In every work of art one can recognize those the artist hated most and also, alas! those whom he loved best. All they have done is to pose for the artist at the moment when, against his will, they were causing him the most suffering.To succeed as an artist he realizes that he needs to be willing to use what life has presented him, and to distance himself from those whom he has loved, including Albertine and his grandmother: "All those people who had revealed truths to me, and who now were no longer living, appeared to me to have lived lives which had profited only myself, and to have died for my benefit."