‘Language is the centre of everything and what we do, it’s a fundamental of being human’.
“every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without his book, he would perhaps never have perceived in himself” -M. Proust
You don’t have to read Proust to know what he is describing here, but it probably helps to recognise how reading affects the qualitative experience of being human, because it really does. And some people are missing out. Reading provides a context from which we can better explore the subjective realities we all live in. It takes time to build a human – that’s why artificial intelligence still has a long road to travel. Time, patience and compassion. There is an apparent paradox that the activity of reading brings out the true – in reading fictive lives the reader is learning compassion in their own realities, the exploration from the armchair is as powerful as the journey of long haul flight’s destination – and all readers know this. Proust realises in Time Regained that
“[I]n all perception there exists a barrier as a result of which there is never absolute contact between reality and our intelligence”.
From the time of our first story we learn how our world may look different to others, that we experience through our personal senses and that these differ dependant on who you are born to, where you are in the world, when you live. This is possibly the foundation upon which the human experience is subjectively different to other species. I suspect the foundation has other substantive components to it, but I am discussing the value of language here. When Proust spends his time describing past experiences he is wanting to explore the depth of his imaginings understanding that the subjective experience of everything relies on the layers of memory and associations with it. And so we too can take pleasure in the understanding that our contact with nature or mathematics or love is embedded in the personal narrative we bring to it, we are not having to live in an impersonal world of the rational mind, which only describes the ‘thing’ and not the feeling that the ‘thing’ triggers. We are all looking for those “intermittencies of the heart,” amongst our ‘dog eared maps of desire’, and that’s o.k.! Within ‘ Time Regained’ Proust is seeking to uncover and experience “[f]ragments of existence withdrawn from Time” in order to live more fully. That appears to be his aim – to live more fully. To live more fully, shouldn’t one turn ones attention to living rather than writing? Not if writing is what brings meaning. Proust exhorts us to engage, to dig deep, to immerse in experience. He did.
Proust is a mountaineer and we cannot all follow his individual path up the mountain, but his message is valid and important – we can transform our experiences by what we bring to them, and if we bring to them the values inherent in authentic works of art, we too can recognise our own moments of illumination to be of value. An artist is working in metaphor in order that he gives us easier maps to read our own atlases; the poet, the author treads those maps tirelessly and becomes practised with them in order that we communicate with one another. And the magic is this – the artist communicates that which is beyond language, using language, knowing it is just the tool of something infinitely more complex, more interesting, more mysterious. Thus music moves us when we cannot play a note, and poets sing melodies of solace and yearning beyond meaning. I read Eliot long before I knew a poem even held meaning. That is magic and mystery