On the centenary of the death of Marcel Proust (and III)

The huge building of memory
Last Friday, November 18, the important bookstores of all the cities and towns of France, exhibited in their windows, glowing as embers, the works of Marcel Proust, who died just a hundred years before, and those of the new ‘boom’ of the French letters Annie Ernaux. Paired by that captious chance, both geniuses; but with a resounding difference, and that is that while Madame Ernaux had just won the highest award for letters, the Nobel Prize for Literature, Proust, like Joyce, like Kafka, like Tolstoy, like Galdós and like Borges, died without him.
Marcel Proust is, without any doubt, the greatest novelist of the 20th century. Since the publication of À la recherche du temps perdu his reputation has not stopped growing. In less than a hundred years, his life and his work have been the subject of hundreds of essays and thousands of articles, and he is today, along with Cervantes, Shakespeare and Joyce, the most studied and commented author in the world. His influence on literature after the publication of his work has been and continues to be considerable, in such a way that most authors define themselves, in one way or another, in relation to him. the search It has been translated and retranslated into dozens of languages ​​and has been and is the subject of hundreds of adaptations in all genres: films, various shows, radio and television programs, plays, ballets, comics and even a musical comedy in New York. Its importance in French and international culture is such that it has become a kind of universally recognized myth that, even among the least educated, evokes a worldly person, a snob, an asthmatic, or even suggests a cupcake soaked in tea or even in a cork upholstered room.
If Proust stands at the pinnacle of the literary and cultural world, it is essentially due to the search, which is the unavoidable monument of modern French letters. Although his entire life was permeated by the nineteenth-century novel, Proust grew up at a time when realism was experiencing its last avatar, naturalism, and he was one of the first writers to understand that the new century – the twentieth – had to inaugurate a new fictional literature, a literature that In Search of Lost Time He was going to embody perfectly. Before James Joyce, who is generally considered the other great pillar of 20th century literature and who he published Ulysses the same year of Proust’s death, it was he who brought the novel into the modern era. The search, in effect, radically advanced the limits of literature and revolutionized the novel genre. Based on the knowledge provided by modern science and psychology, it is the first novel that, instead of presenting the story of some characters in a specific society, refers to the adventure of a conscience. But it is also the sumptuous reconstruction of an era, a treatise on psychology, specifically love psychology, more penetrating and insightful than any other manual on the subject, a humorous masterpiece, a brilliant philosophical study, and a masterly reflection on time. and about the art, all admirably fused thanks to a superb and unique vision and style.
And for those who persist in repeating that he is a difficult, tedious writer and essentially read by an intellectual elite, I conclude this cycle-tribute with a phrase that cannot but make us enter ecstasy when it appears before our eyes: «When nothing subsists Already from an ancient past, when beings have died and things have collapsed, alone, more fragile, more alive, more immaterial, more persistent and more faithful than ever, the smell and the taste still last a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, waiting, on the ruins of all the rest, and supporting, without bowing, in its almost impalpable little ball, the enormous building of memory». Or that other, simply brilliant that comes to say that “the true paradises are those that we have lost.”

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On the centenary of the death of Marcel Proust (and III)