…who made “learning by suffering” into an effective law

From Proust’s Le temps retrouvé (pg 284 in v.4 of the Pleiade edition, translation from the Modern Library updated Moncrieff):

What is odd, though I cannot here enlarge upon the topic, is the degree to which, at that time, all the people whom Albertine loved, all those who might have been able to persuade her to do what they wanted, asked, entreated, I will even say begged to be allowed to have, if not my friendship, at least some sort of acquaintance with me. No longer should I have had to offer money to Mme Bontemps as an inducement to send Albertine back to me. But this turn of fortune’s wheel, taking place when it was no longer of the slightest use, merely saddened me profoundly, not because of Albertine, whom I would have received without pleasure had she been brought back not from Touraine but from the other world, but because of a young woman with whom I was in love and whom I could not contrive to meet. I told myself that, if she died, or if I no longer loved her, all those who might have brought us together would suddenly be at my feet. Meanwhile, I tried in vain to work upon them, not having been cured by experience, which ought to have taught me—if ever it taught anybody anything—that loving is like an evil spell in a fairy-story against which one is powerless until the enchantment has passed.

Ce qui est curieux et ce sur quoi je ne puis m’étendre, c’est à quel point, vers cette époque-là, toutes les personnes qu’avait aimées Albertine, toutes celles qui auraient pu lui faire faire ce qu’elles auraient voulu, demandèrent, implorèrent, j’oserai dire mendièrent, à défaut de mon amitié, quelques relations avec moi. Il n’y aurait plus eu besoin d’offrir de l’argent à Mme Bontemps pour qu’elle me renvoyât Albertine. Ce retour de la vie, se produisant quand il ne servait plus à rien, m’attristait profondément, non à cause d’Albertine, que j’eusse reçue sans plaisir si elle m’eût été ramenée, non plus de Touraine mais de l’autre monde, mais à cause d’une jeune femme que j’aimais et que je ne pouvais arriver à voir. Je me disais que si elle mourait, ou si je ne l’aimais plus, tous ceux qui eussent pu me rapprocher d’elle tomberaient à mes pieds. En attendant, j’essayais en vain d’agir sur eux, n’étant pas guéri par l’expérience, qui aurait dû m’apprendre–si elle apprenait jamais rien–qu’aimer est un mauvais sort comme ceux qu’il y a dans les contes contre quoi on ne peut rien jusqu’à ce que l’enchantement ait cessé.

The above is no exceptional passage but a sample of why I incline to reading into Proust a 3000 page expansion of vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas that builds on the guiding principle from the Hymn to Zeus in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (160-180):

[Zeus] who set mortals on the road
to understanding, who made
“learning by suffering” into an effective law.
There drips before the heart, instead of sleep,
the misery of pain recalled: good sense comes to men
even against their will.

τὸν φρονεῖν βροτοὺς ὁδώ-
σαντα, τὸν “πάθει μάθος”
θέντα κυρίως ἔχειν.
στάζει δ᾿ ἀνθ᾿ ὕπνου πρὸ καρδίας
μνησιπήμων πόνος· καὶ παρ᾿ ἅ-
κοντας ἦλθε σωφρονεῖν.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s