Proust’s Panmnemonicon

Justin E. H. Smith in his Substack Newsletter:

Marcel Proust represents many things. Chief among these perhaps, especially for non-French readers, is quantity, and therefore the marathon-like endurance of anyone who actually reads all seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time, and can prove it. A 2016 cartoon in the New Yorker features a middle-aged couple sitting up in bed when one of them realises he and his partner are exactly the age at which they must start the opus if they hope to finish it before death. In a classic Looney Tunes episode Bugs Bunny has sent Elmer Fudd into a dustcloud of St. Vitus-like commotion from which he cannot escape; the sheer temporal extension of Fudd’s state is marked by Bugs sitting down next to him and patiently opening the cover of Remembrance of Things Past (as it used to be called in English).

Corollary to the length and weight of Proust’s work is the idea that to take it on amounts to a form of world-renunciation, and potentially an abnegation of our “real” moral connections and political duties. I recall shortly after September 11, 2001, Christopher Hitchens wrote that he had recently been on the cusp of giving up on politics altogether and devoting himself to a sustained critical work on the French novelist, only to be awoken and drawn back into the world by “Islamofascism”, and to the calling of militant atheism that would occupy him for the rest of his life.

More here.