Thursday, May 22, 2008

on Proust and travel in Paris

A prompt in a contemporary french newspaper: a scientist announces that the world will end, or at least that such a huge part of the continent will be destroyed, and in such a sudden way, that death will be the certain fate of hundreds of millions of people... what would be its effects on people between the time when they acquired the aforementioned certainty and the moment of cataclysm?

Proust: I think that life would suddenly seem wonderful to us if we were threatened to die as you say. Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies it - our life - hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly.

But let all this threaten to become impossible forever, how beautiful it would become again! Ah! if only the cataclysm doesn't happen this time, we won't miss visiting the new galleries of the Louvre, throwing ourselves at the feet of Mrs. X, or making a trip to India.

The cataclysm doesn't happen, we don't do any of it, because we find ourselves back in the heart of normal life, where negligence deadens desire. And yet we shouldn't have needed the cataclysm to love life today. It would have been enough to think that we are humans, and that death may come this evening.

*an excerpt found in a book on Proust in an english bookstore in Paris

we are humans. finite but far-reaching creatures, we assume our lives will go on forever and as this assumption lies burning in our subconscious, we deaden inside, losing the desire to think and feel deeply, to explore and to love. Travel is the conscious acknowledgement of my finite-ness, the fact that everyday that I live I am one day closer to my death and it oughtn't take a perceived catastrophe to confront this truth. I must constantly move my feet on this trip, move my body through the world, and I am aware of my life's lack of routine and knowing always of my decision to be here now.

By behaving this way I fall into the anti-routine, a place where the catastrophe of death becomes more conscious, and I explore my place in my life on a daily basis. I know almost every hour of every day of this past two months that I am young and I am seeing the beauty and intellect of Europe, of western history, while politics and economics allow it. And I, like Proust, must work to retain this awareness throughout my life - through routine and change, happiness and trauma, good and bad - I must live this day as if it were my last, and to beware of the endlessness and risk of the unconscious routinized life of which Proust speaks.

No comments: