HOW PROUST CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE

I love this book - although digitalising my notes for it made me realise just how much one's perspective can change when re-reading something (also discussed in the book, and also a reason I love it - such a good example of this). Although Proust was a bit too cynical and definitely romanticised suffering (something a younger me greatly resonated with) I sadly somehow feel as though I've lost one of my philosophy idols today, at least in the sense that I adored him previously.


My Actionable Takeaways:

  • Reading books and realising just how similar we are to everyone who has ever existed (at least for the last 20,000 years) can make you feel home everywhere, and more connected to the world

  • Fictional characters can help normalise those rarely talked about, but not rare feelings and thoughts

  • Art and books can help put a finger on feelings and thoughts we struggle to understand within ourselves

  • Be weary of consuming information, we tend to attribute importance to how long/detailed a story is. This can be used both ways: to reduce 'important' things and 'the bigger picture' to trivial matters, or to inflate issues that cannot be justified in the grand scheme of things to hold the importance attributed to them

  • Stop and smell the roses, there is beauty we take for granted and don't consider, perhaps disperse small seconds of meditation-like-practices, noticing the smells, sensations around you to extend your experience of the world

  • It is foolish to think you're too busy for the things you're already doing, get over yourself and enjoy life

  • Without goals, life is miserable, to stop yourself heading for a mid-life crisis, do not design your life in a way that you soon get to a point where you know pretty much how everything will play out

  • Some form and extent of suffering is inevitable - try to use it to learn something, it will divert your attention, give you the motive to explore yourself and those around you

  • When you transform grief into an idea or plan, it becomes less painful

  • Do not reinvent the value of your level of interest on something based on how it feels towards you (or someone), stop being bitter and look for the third door

  • There's little shame in not knowing something, own up to it, don't try to appear as though you've already heard everything before

  • Do not try to justify your mistakes for your disdain of the 'right' thing to have been done, own up to it and move on

  • Realise that we all have 'bad' things to say about literally everyone else (that we generally don't) therefore, when someone says something negative about us, do not take it to mean that they must hate us (although that can be the case) but realise that others, just as us, fully have the capacity to love and hate things about our person

  • Try to avoid cliches, use art to give the vocabulary, perspective, colours that you cannot find to understand and see the world

  • Someone who scorns friendship just as you do, and proceeds despite that to be your friend, is a great one

  • Be cautious of irrational things you do when you are not fully convinced, just because other's are doing it (going on holiday, social media is a big one here)

  • Passion is greatly fueled by desire for something we are unsure we may have/do not yet have - use this to get what you want truly, do not fulfil your every small desire immediately, you are missing out on a lot of productive work with the energy of desire

  • Beware of the risk of thinking that you cannot do something just because other's have done it better - Proust almost stopped Virginia Woolf from ever writing


How to Love Your Life

Feeling suddenly attached to life when we realise the imminence of death suggests that it was perhaps not life itself which we had lost the taste for so long as there was no end in sight, but our quotidian version of it, that our dissatisfactions were more the result of a certain way of living than of anything irrevocably morose about human experience. Having surrendered the customary belief in our own immortality, we would then be reminded of a host of untried possibilities lurking beneath the surface of an apparently undesirable, apparently eternal existence


How to Read for Yourself

“Aesthetically, the number of human types is so restricted that we must constantly, wherever we may be, have the pleasure of seeing people we know.”


“one cannot read a novel without ascribing to the heroine the traits of the one we love.”


“In reality, every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have experienced in himself. And the recognition by the reader in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its veracity.”


“People of bygone ages seem infinitely remote from us. We do not feel justified in ascribing to them any underlying intentions beyond those they formally express; we are amazed when we come across an emotion more or less like what we feel today in a Homeric hero.… It is as though we imagined the epic poet … to be as remote from ourselves as an animal seen in a zoo.”


"worlds that had seemed threateningly alien reveal themselves to be essentially much like our own, expanding the range of places in which we feel at home"


“What is considered normal for a person to feel in any place at any point is liable to be an abbreviated version of what is in fact normal, so that the experiences of fictional characters afford us a hugely expanded picture of human behaviour, and thereby a confirmation of the essential normality of thoughts or feelings unmentioned in our immediate environment.”


“When two people part it is the one who is not in love who makes the tender speeches.”

“an ability to describe these far better than we would have been able, to put a finger on perceptions that we recognise as our own, but could not have formulated on our own.”


“An effect of reading a book which has devoted attention to noticing such faint yet vital tremors is that once we’ve put the volume down and resumed our own life, we may attend to precisely the things the author would have responded to had he or she been in our company. Our mind will be like a radar newly attuned to pick up certain objects floating through consciousness; the effect will be like bringing a radio into a room that we had thought silent, and realizing that the silence only existed at a particular frequency and that all along we in fact shared the room with waves of sound coming in ”


“The book will have sensitized us, stimulated our dormant antennae by evidence of its own developed sensitivity.”


How to Take Your Time

“The more an account is compressed, the more it seems that it deserves no more space than it has been allocated”

“It shows how vulnerable much of human experience is to abbreviation, how easily it can be stripped of the more obvious signposts by which we guide ourselves when ascribing importance.”


“Lear embracing the body of Cordelia and crying out: “She’s gone for ever. She’s dead as earth. No, no, no life! Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, And thou no breath at all?”


“Even if we had only forgotten to send Mother a birthday card, we would have to recognize a trace of our guilt in the death cries of Madame van Blarenberghe. “‘What have you done to me! What have you done to me!’ If we wanted to think about it,” wrote Proust, “perhaps there is no really loving mother who could not, on her dying day, and often long before, address this reproach to her son. The truth is that as we grow older, we kill all those who love us by the cares we give them, by the anxious tenderness we inspire in them and constantly arouse.”


“the greatness of works of art has nothing to do with the apparent quality of their subject matter, and everything to do with the subsequent treatment of that matter. And hence his associated claim that everything is potentially a fertile subject for art and that we can make discoveries as valuable in an advertisement for soap as in Pascal’s Pensées.”


“If we were unlikely to have had deep thoughts inspired by toilet soaps before, it could merely have been out of adherence to conventional notions about where to have such thoughts, a resistance to the spirit that had guided Flaubert in turning a newspaper story about the suicide of a young wife into Madame Bovary, or the spirit that had guided Proust in taking on the initially unprepossessing topic of falling asleep and devoting thirty pages to it.”


“It might be a Proustian slogan: n’allez pas trop vite. And an advantage of not going by too fast is that the world has a chance of becoming more interesting in the process.”


“It can be soothing to identify with a description of a problem which makes a previous assessment look needlessly complicated.”


"And if there is no time, at least to resist the approach of Alfred Humblot at Ollendorf and Jacques Madeleine at Fasquelle, which Proust defined as “the self-satisfaction felt by ‘busy’ men—however idiotic their business—at ‘not having time’ to do what you are doing.”


How to Suffer Successfully

“A good way of evaluating the wisdom of someone’s ideas might be to undertake a careful examination of the state of their own mind and health.”


“While it is clear why someone might be interested in developing a Proustian approach to life, the sane would never harbor a desire to lead a life like Proust’s.”


“The truth is that as soon as I am better, because the life which makes me get better annoys you, you ruin everything until I am ill again”


“It is sad not to be able to have at the same time affection and health”

“Love is an incurable disease.”

“In love, there is permanent suffering.”

“Those who love and those who are happy are not the same.”


“Without pleasures, objectives, activities or ambitions, with the life ahead of me finished and with an awareness of the grief I cause my parents, I have little happiness.”


“To ask pity of our body is like discoursing in front of an octopus, for which our words can have no more meaning than the sound of the tides”


“One thinks that people who are always ill don’t also have the illnesses of other people,” Proust tells Lucien Daudet, “but they do.”


“We suffer, therefore we think, and we do so because thinking helps us to place pain in context. It helps us to understand its origins, plot its dimensions, and reconcile ourselves to its presence.”


“because he cannot be certain that he has indeed become a wise man—so far as any of us can be wise—unless he has passed through all the fatuous or unwholesome incarnations by which that ultimate stage must be reached”


“We cannot be taught wisdom, we have to discover it for ourselves by a journey which no one can undertake for us, an effort which no one can spare us”


“A woman whom we need and who makes us suffer elicits from us a whole gamut of feelings far more profound and more vital than does a man of genius who interests us.”


“for they are people who profess to understand the workings of the body, even though their knowledge has not primarily emerged from any pain in their own body”


“To believe in medicine would be the height of folly, if not to believe in it were not a greater folly still.”

“It is not the contented or the glowing who have left many of the profound testimonies of what it means to be alive. It seems that such knowledge has usually been the privileged preserve of, and the only blessing granted to, the violently miserable.”


“Though philosophers have traditionally been concerned with the pursuit of happiness, far greater wisdom would seem to lie in pursuing ways to be properly and productively unhappy.”


“Griefs, at the moment when they change into ideas, lose some of their power to injure our heart.”

“Because we always lack more than we have, and because there are always more people who don’t invite us than who do. Our sense of what is valuable will hence be radically distorted if we must perpetually condemn as tedious everything we lack, simply because we lack it.”


Bad sufferer 1:

Madam Verdurin (wants to party with the aristocrats, isn't invited, and then says that they are boring anyway)

“Because we always lack more than we have, and because there are always more people who don’t invite us than who do. Our sense of what is valuable will hence be radically distorted if we must perpetually condemn as tedious everything we lack, simply because we lack it.”

Why should we reinvent the value or our level of interest in something just because of how it feels towards us?

Solution:

“she could learn to make light of her frustration, confess to it directly, even throw out a teasing remark to Swann asking him to return with a signed menu, and in the process might become so charming that an invitation to the Elysee would make its way to her after all."


Bad Sufferer 2:

Francoise (refused to appear surprised and acted as though she knew everything being said to her, even though she was an uneducated maid and knew nothing of the arts)

“and because she could not, needed to flee her unbearable ignorance by surrounding herself with a less knowledge-laden environment.”

“However, the know-it-all has lost faith in acquiring knowledge by legitimate means”

Solution:

“A precondition of becoming knowledgeable may be a resignation and accommodation to the extent of one’s ignorance, an accommodation which requires a sense that this ignorance need not be permanent, or indeed need not be taken personally, as a reflection of one’s inherent capacities.”


Bad Sufferer 3:

Alfred Bloch (is prone to making gaffes and embarrassing himself) - comes super late to a family dinner and speaks of his disdain for watches and conventions rather than just saying sorry.

“Bloch acts with extreme self-assurance where lesser mortals would offer humble apologies, experiencing no apparent shame or embarrassment.”