There are texts that seem to require a certain craziness of us, a mismeasure of response to match the extravagance of their expression. But can a mismeasure be a match? All we know is that we don’t want to lose or reduce the extravagance but can’t quite fall for it either. An example would be Walter Benjamin’s wonderful remark about missed experiences in Proust: None of us has time to live the true dramas of the life that we are destined for. This is what ages us – this and nothing else. The wrinkles and creases on our faces are the registration of the great passions, vices, insights that called on us; but we, the masters, were not at home. Even without the ‘nothing else’ this is a pretty hyperbolic proposition. With the ‘nothing else’ it turns into a form of madness, a suggestion that we shall not grow old at all unless we keep failing to receive the passions, vices and insights that come to see us. This would be a life governed by new necessities, entirely free from the old ones, exempt from time and biology. The sentences are clear enough but don’t read easily as fantasy or figure of speech. Benjamin is asking us to entertain this magical thought for as long as we can, and not to replace it too swiftly by something more sensible.
more from Michael Wood at the LRB here.