From Within a Budding Grove
And it is, after all, as good a way as any of solving the problem of existence to get near enough to the things and people that have appeared to us beautiful and mysterious from a distance to be able to satisfy ourselves that they have neither mystery nor beauty. It is one of the systems of mental hygiene among which we are at liberty to choose our own, a system which is perhaps not to be recommended too strongly, but gives us a certain tranquility with which to spend what remains of life, and also—since it enables us to regret nothing, by assuring us that we have attained to the best, and that the best was nothing out of the ordinary—with which to resign ourselves to death.
Et c’est en somme une façon comme une autre de résoudre le problème de l’existence, qu’approcher suffisamment les choses et les personnes qui nous ont paru de loin belles et mystérieuses, pour nous rendre compte qu’elles sont sans mystère et sans beauté; c’est une des hygiènes entre lesquelles on peut opter, une hygiène qui n’est peut-être pas très recommandable, mais elle nous donne un certain calme pour passer la vie, et aussi comme elle permet de ne rien regretter, en nous persuadant que nous avons atteint le meilleur, et que le meilleur n’était pas grand-chose — pour nous résigner à la mort.
I don’t like Moncrieff/his revisers using ‘not to be recommended too strongly’ for ‘n’est peut-être pas très recommandable’. I think the sense is closer to ‘perhaps not very commendable.’
But I also have a hard time with a couple of points of the original. It is unclear what tone to give this observation since while it seems to match the system the narrator himself adopts (or, not to suggest a conscious policy guiding his path through life, discovers) it is outlined here with ambivalence. Then it is also unclear what to do with the reasoning sequence of ‘ it enables us to regret nothing, by assuring us that we have attained to the best, and that the best was nothing out of the ordinary.’ There comes to mind the passage in Time Regained where the narrator talks of how he would like to be a collector of first editions but first not in the sense of first printings but of the first he himself encountered, the precise copy through which he first came to know a work. The perspective underlying this reorientation of value – from monetary/aesthetic to personal – requires rejecting external criteria for assessing what is best/most desirable and instead referring the judgment to inner fermentation, to what most enriches our inner-looking mental selves. In that sense, both ‘best’ and ‘ordinary’ lose their meaning and the above program of ‘hygiene’ derives its worth not from offering the tranquilizing disillusionment of a vague nihilism but from freeing us – in that disillusionment – to transfer the imagination’s focus from the external to the internal.