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



Rotting away among the Sirens

Epictetus Discourses 2.234 36-41.  An originally Stoic exhortation but one I redirect along the same lines as Robert Burton’s self-conviction of his reading practices – that “like a ranging spaniel, that barks at every bird he sees, leaving his game, I have followed all, saving that which I should.”

What, then, generally takes place? Men act like a traveller on the way to his own country who stops at an excellent inn, and, since the inn pleases him, stays there. Man, you have forgotten your purpose; you were not travelling to this but through it. “But this is a fine inn.” And how many other inns are fine, and how many meadows—yet simply for passing through. But your purpose is the other thing, to return to your country, to relieve the fear of your kinsmen, to do the duties of a citizen yourself, to marry, bring up children, hold the customary offices. For you did not come into the world to select unusually fine places, I ween, but to live and go about your business in the place where you were born and were enrolled as a citizen. Something like this takes place also in the matter which we are considering. Since a man must advance to perfection through the spoken word and such instruction as you receive here, and must purify his own moral purpose and correct the faculty which makes use of external impressions, and since the instruction must necessarily be given by means of certain principles, and in a particular style, and with a certain variety and impressiveness in the form of these principles, some persons are captivated by all these things and stay where they are; one is captivated by style, another by syllogisms, another by arguments with equivocal premisses, another by some other “inn” of that sort, and staying there they rot away as though they were among the Sirens.

Τί οὖν ἐστι τὸ γινόμενον; οἷον εἴ τις ἀπιὼν εἰς τὴν πατρίδα τὴν ἑαυτοῦ καὶ διοδεύων πανδοκεῖον καλὸν ἀρέσαντος αὐτῷ τοῦ πανδοκείου καταμένοι ἐν τῷ πανδοκείῳ. ἄνθρωπε, ἐπελάθου σου τῆς προθέσεως· οὐκ εἰς τοῦτο ὥδευες, ἀλλὰ διὰ τούτου. “ἀλλὰ κομψὸν τοῦτο.” πόσα δ᾿ ἄλλα πανδοκεῖα κομψά, πόσοι δὲ λειμῶνες· ἁπλῶς ὡς δίοδος. τὸ δὲ προκείμενον ἐκεῖνο· εἰς τὴν πατρίδα ἐπανελθεῖν, τοὺς οἰκείους ἀπαλλάξαι δέους, αὐτὸν τὰ τοῦ πολίτου ποιεῖν, γῆμαι, παιδοποιεῖσθαι,ἄρξαι τὰς νομιζομένας ἀρχάς. οὐ γὰρ τοὺς κομψοτέρους ἡμῖν τόπους ἐκλεξόμενος ἐλήλυθας, ἀλλ᾿ ἐν οἷς ἐγένου καὶ ὧν κατατέταξαι πολίτης, ἐν τούτοις ἀναστραφησόμενος. τοιοῦτόν τι καὶ ἐνταῦθά ἐστι τὸ γινόμενον. ἐπεὶ διὰ λόγου καὶ τοιαύτης παραδόσεως ἐλθεῖν ἐπὶ τὸ τέλειον δεῖ καὶ τὴν αὑτοῦ προαίρεσιν ἐκκαθᾶραι καὶ τὴν δύναμιν τὴν χρηστικὴν τῶν φαντασιῶν ὀρθὴν κατασκευάσαι, ἀνάγκη δὲ τὴν παράδοσιν γίνεσθαι διά τινων θεωρημάτων καὶ διὰ λέξεως ποιᾶς καὶ μετά τινος ποικιλίας καὶ δριμύτητος τῶν θεωρημάτων, ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν τινες τούτων ἁλισκόμενοι καταμένουσιν αὐτοῦ, ὁ μὲν ὑπὸ τῆς λέξεως, ὁ δ᾿ ὑπὸ συλλογισμῶν, ὁ δ᾿ ὑπὸ μεταπιπτόντων, ὁ δ᾿ ὑπ᾿ ἄλλου τινὸς τοιούτου πανδοκείου, καὶ προσμείναντες κατασήπονται ὡς παρὰ ταῖς Σειρῆσιν.