Daily, I attach less value to the intellect. Daily, I realize more clearly that only away from it can the writer repossess something of our past impressions, that is attain to something of himself and to the one subject-matter of art. … Compared with the past, the intimate essence of ourselves, the truths of the intellect seem quite unreal. … But it is to the intellect we must look all the same to establish the inferiority of the intellect. The intellect may not deserve the supreme accolade, but it alone is capable of bestowing it. It may hold only second place in the hierarchy of virtues but only it is capable of proclaiming that instinct has to occupy the first.
-Preface to Contre Sainte-Beuve (pp. 1, 7, 8), Marcel Proust
But in art there are no initiators or precursors (at least in the scientific sense). Everything is in the individual, each individual starts the artistic or literary endeavour over again, on his own account; the works of his predecessors do not constitute, unlike in science, an acquired truth from which he who follows after may profit. A writer of genius today has everything to do. He is not much further advanced than Homer.
-‘The Method of Saint-Beuve’ (p. 11)
If we want to try and understand this self, it is deep inside us, by trying to recreate it within us, that we may succeed. … It is a truth every bit of which we have to create…
– (p. 12)
… what one gives to the public is what one has written when alone, for oneself, it is very much the work of one’s self… And not having seen the gulf which separates the writer from the society man, not having understood that the writer’s self shows itself only in his books, that he only shows society men… a society man like themselves, [Sainte-Beuve] was to launch that famous method which… consists, in order to understand a poet or writer, in questioning avidly those who knew him,… who may be able to tell us how he behaved in the matter of women, etc., that is, on all those very points where the poet’s true self is not involved.
– (pp. 15, 16)
If we follow the guidelines given in this preliminary work, a puzzling combination of fiction and criticism, the first fitful attempts at a style which would eventually come to be the style of Proust’s epic, we are directed in how to approach the narrator(s), both the embryonic form it takes in Contre Sainte-Beuve and its full-fledged form in A la recherche... Even here, in a piece which is almost automatically assumed autobiographical, we cannot call our narrator Marcel Proust. Read the rest of this entry »