proust and presence

Being smack in the center of learning to be more present and aware, practice loving kindness, and stretch my comfort levels, I’m bound to connect with this more in other areas such as reading. About four years ago, it was suggested to me to read Remembrance of Things Past1 by Marcel Proust. I had no opinion about the book(s), but found that many people did and much to the negative. Per the “book(s),” it can be inferred that this is a many volumes long book, and, when I read long books, I tend to take a very long time to read them. It seems exponentially longer, and I take breaks, sometimes months long, from the reading. I don’t know why. This leaves me in book 2 of volume 1, Within a Budding Grove.

The narrator’s name, if it was ever presented, does not come to memory, and we hear the story, firsthand, from him. He is very present in his memories and, in his memories, very present in the moment. The first book describes some very lovely effects of light and flowers and food. The second book, it seems, delves a little into the fragile nature of our emotional selves, but it also sees the narrator develop the idea of how his own actions affect others. In this passage he refers directly to “loving-kindness” as he relates the turmoil he experienced in deciding to go to the theatre

…, I wondered whether it was desirable, whether there were not other reasons than my parents’ prohibition which should have made me abandon it. In the first place, whereas I had hated them for their cruelty, their consent made them now so dear to me that the thought of causing them pain through which the purpose of life now appeared to me as the pursuit not of truth but of loving-kindness, and life itself seemed good or evil only in so far as my parents were happy or sad.

Further along in the story, the narrator observes M. Swann during a lapse into past jealousies.

But this memory was not pleasing to him, and rather than plumbing the depths of shame that he felt in it he preferred to indulge in a little grimace, twisting up the corners of his mouth and adding, if need be, a shake of the head which signified “What do I care about it?”

There arises the concept of sitting with the emotion or being with it from an observational, non-judgmental position. Proust, perhaps, suggests that if M. Swann were to explore the shame, there might be a resolution to it, a reason not to dwell on it. That shame, however, becomes a theme in Swann’s life.

RoTP‘s narrator is an interesting paradox of experiences because he explores the ideas of loving-kindness and mindful presence while he himself becomes embroiled in his own emotions, anxieties, and obsessions, which, in turn, remove him from the experience. I just find it interesting that these minor themes come up and that fiction continues to be a great place to expand our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

1Proust, Marcel. Translated by C.K. Scott Montcrief and Terence Kilmartin. Volume I: Swann’s Way, Within a Budding Grove, Remembrance of Things Past. (I’d have more information, but the terrible binding gave cause to remove the book’s first book as I finished it.)

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