A la Recherche du Temps Perdu
Remembrance of Things Past
The definitive French Pleiade edition
translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff
and Terrence Kilmartin
Volume III, Part 7: Time Regained,
translated by Andreas Mayor
Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, N.Y.
The edition is important. The translation by C.K. Scott Moncrieff alone was based on an incomplete manuscript and the translation itself is to a great degree a different work. This edition is much 'rougher' (jerky) but presents Proust's ideas much more clearly. By that I mean that in this edition there is much less of an effort to create a smooth narrative and in stead the idea is to show the building-block structure the funcion of which Proust, as narrator, explains at the conclusion of the work.
The work, though fictional, is not a novel so much as a fictional representation of a theory of psychology.
In this work the narrator (not to be blindly associated with Proust) experiences what in Buddhist terminology would be 'Temporary Release' (release relative to things of Time) on one occasion when he is relatively young, and on several other later occasions and again when he is already an old man, but prior to the commencement of this work. The first of these episodes of intense insight and pleasure was the inspiration for the lifelong task of the narrator to recapture and explain to himself and the world the significance of what happened.
Unfortunately for Marcel, he was apparently not acquainted with the Buddhist literature which was beginning to make itself known in the West during his lifetime. The result is a collosal sideways journey skidding along under 'temporary release' into the structure of memory and the nature of existence in Time. Time and time again he bumps up against a point where if he had had the idea that 'There is no thing there that is the self' he could have broken free. He has the entire vision of existence of an individuality in Time in view but because of the lack of this idea is not able to let it go. There is no perception here of anything approaching rebirth, though at certain points the idea that the individual has undergone numerous deaths and rebirths at the point of major changes in direction comes very close to that notion. The idea that pleasure and suffering are bound up together is clearly presented along with the world-weariness that brings, but the conclusion is not reached that this fact makes existence undesirable.
This is a time-consuming read, so the serious student of Buddhism needs to balance it's possible value against the value of further study of the suttas. It is not a difficult work to read. It is full of really intelligent humor and is also jam-packed with knowledge and insight into the psychology of man. It is of interest at the point where the attention to the mind is drawn to the nature of change and where another person's perspective of existence in change (Time) might be helpful for stimulating one's own vision of such.
The reader should be aware that Marcel, the narrator, is brutally honest about himself and that this can cause one to dislike the 'hero' of the book which sometimes makes it an uncomfortable read. For example at a certain point the narrator comes down very hard on some people for telling lies while showing that he himself is telling lies right and left; at first there is no clue that the narrator has insight into himself concerning this and this can cause one to think that the writer is a hypocrite; later however if you stick with it, he shows that this self-deception has been the point. Further, virtually all the other characters in the book are disagreeable people one would not really like to know. But Proust's point was not to entertain and make the reader feel good (though it was to create a work of Art), but to show the way self-delusion propells the individual through his life for the most part never coming into awareness of the reality of that life.
The author/narrator of this work is very much experiencing Pajapati's problem. He sees clearly the nature of experience as being within the mind of the experiencer. He sees the solitary nature of existence and the yearning to be in contact with others and this work is declared by it's author as his effort to reach out and communicate with 'others'.