“He became allergic to pollen, dust, damp, smoke, odours of all sorts, especially perfumes and the scents of his favourite flowers; he was easily chilled, easily fatigued, easily offended, thinking often of duels; he frequently gave way to weeping, or had tantrums in which he broke things or crushed his friends’ hats; he suffered prolonged spells of melancholy, grew pale, lost weight, and went into mourning the way, ideally, one ought to put on plays; attacks of anxiety made him sweat, gave him cramps; he complained of indigestion, later of dizziness and a paralysis which disturbingly resembled the sort which seized his mother just before her death: it required him to wobble when he walked—to bump most awkwardly into things—and, what was worse, made it difficult to talk, to pronounce well and clearly his sacred French.”
“Who knew better his baseness, his guilt, the crimes he had contrived? He was, after all, a useless idler, ill half the time and a fake for a fourth of that; he was a jealous whiner and a faithless sycophant, a purchaser of favours and a false friend, a social trifler and a snob. He had a dilettante’s interest in music and painting, a brat’s love of mama, a fairy’s fondness for furbelows, finery, and female life, and a love of gossip”
These two quotes are about a man who was planted upside down. The first speaks about his body and shows how his bad health brutally expelled him from life. Ailments fell up on him with their harsh anxieties. They stole his initiative, initiative to move, initiative to stand on. He was like a man who lived on poison. His body could not let his effort to cling on something. He barely existed.
The second speaks about his mind, the psychological man. His mind was full of chaos. His mind was in disarray and it could work only in obsessions and excess. He carried within him an unholy mess as mind.
But this mind absorbed everything of a human consciousness. It descended into the primeval chaos of man and came back and spoke about it. This mind’s deep penetration unravelled all our mysteries. What he wrote will remain as long as man remains. Reading his books is both torturous and exhilarating. Sometimes we have to suffer the boredom of fifteen pages to reach an ecstasy of one sentence. Being uprooted, he sought himself constantly in something else. Existing barely, he collected all transient experiences and made them eternal and he became an eponym of remembrance.
How could it happen? I should make an another quote from George Steiner:
“How did the great call come? It came, of course, in those celebrated moments when the past rushed back open-armed, contrite, forgiving, like a lover who has quarrelled and wishes to make amends; when, in the novel, the narrator tastes the madeleine dipped in tea; when he studies the steeples of Martinville or catches sight of those three trees; when he stumbles on a pair of paving stones or touches a shoe button, feels a napkin on his lips, smells a mouldy odour, hears the sound of water in a pipe or a spoon rung by a servant against a plate. Taste, touch, sound, sight, smell: through each of the senses at one point or other the past is recaptured, but noticeably without the anxieties and disappointments of the original occasion, so that even the most shameful times, in these remembrances of them, lack that threatening immersion in immediate emotion they first had; now they can be held like a blossom; they can actually—even the most trivial, the most fearful of them—be transformed, not by the Marcel who experienced them originally, but by another, the Marcel who holds a poet’s pen and can contrive a line so beautiful its author can claim a virtue for every vice”.
And he is Marcel Proust.