It was the attachment to those objects

From part 1 of Within a Budding Grove

“The most I was capable of was astonishment, when my visit was at all prolonged, at the nullity of achievement, at the utter inconclusiveness of those hours spent in the enchanted dwelling. But my disappointment arose neither from the inadequacy of the works of art that were shown to me nor from the impossibility of fixing upon them my distracted gaze. For it was not the intrinsic beauty of the objects themselves that made it miraculous for me to be sitting in Swann’s library, it was the attachment to those objects—which might have been the ugliest in the world—of the particular feeling, melancholy and voluptuous, which I had for so many years located in that room and which still impregnated it”

Tout au plus m’étonnais-je quand la visite se prolongeait, à quel néant de réalisation, à quelle absence de conclusion heureuse, conduisaient ces heures vécues dans la demeure enchantée. Mais ma déception ne tenait ni à l’insuffisance des chefs-d’oeuvre montrés, ni à l’impossibilité d’arrêter sur eux un regard distrait. Car ce n’était pas la beauté intrinsèque des choses qui me rendait miraculeux d’être dans le cabinet de Swann, c’était l’adhérence à ces choses—qui eussent pu être les plus laides du monde—du sentiment particulier, triste et voluptueux que j’y localisais depuis tant d’années et qui l’imprégnait encore;

The bolded phrase is probably the closest Proust comes to summing up what I find to be the core uniting theme of the social/emotional psychology his novel posits.  Whether it be the sentimental and aesthetic value of the narrator’s memories, Swann’s (externally) inexplicable passion for Odette, the narrator’s fixation on Gilberte/the Swanns and later Albertine, the Verdurins’ cultivation of a salon, etc. etc. it all comes together in this idea that is – by independent evolution or direct inspiration? – so close to the opening of section 5 of Epictetus’ Enchiridion:

ταράσσει τοὺς ἀνθρώπους οὐ τὰ πράγματα, ἀλλὰ τὰ περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων δόγματα

What disturbs men are the things themselves, but their beliefs about those things

Which – for another hint at the many unappreciated links between Proust and Sterne – is also the epigraph to the first volume of Tristram Shandy



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s