The Heart’s Intermittences

I just read a marvelous passage from Roger Shattuck’s book Proust’s Way; it’s on how Proust captures consciousness:

The descriptions of consciousness as rarely whole and beset by impossible desires for otherness show how deeply flawed life is.  [In Search of Lost Time] as a whole seeks not to transcend that condition but to encompass it.  Intermittence is the guiding principle.  The action transpires by lingering seasons and stages.  The book becomes oceanic in scale in order to contain the changing weathers and tides and crosscurrents of a long voyage.  There is no synthesis, no higher calculus to which these manifold cycles can be reduced.  Intermittence describes a sequence of variations without prescribing their course or regularity.  Correspondingly, since we cannot assume all parts of our character at a particular moment or grasp the full significance of our experience as it occurs, it is wise to recognize and tolerate this temporal aspect of our humanity.  To oppose it is folly.

Oceanic indeed.  I love that metaphor — Proust’s book is an ocean large enough to capture his main character’s ever-shifting consciousness without reducing it to patterns or formulas.

I find this comforting.  The older I get the more able I am to recognize that my current mood is temporary and will soon pass and that what I want now I may not want tomorrow, or even the next day or the next moment.  There is a dark side to this — that we can never see ourselves completely, that we can never fully understand who we are, that there is nothing eternal about us — but the comforting side is that everything that troubles us will eventually pass away.


Filed under Books

5 responses to “The Heart’s Intermittences

  1. hepzibah

    What a lovely quote! Very well said dorothy! But, I disagree with you on just one point– there is something eternal about each of us, there has to be.


  2. That is a lovely quote. I do like the idea of a book being oceanic in scale–from what I have heard Proust certainly would fit the bill.


  3. I love it. Our hearts and minds are vast, “oceanic.” And I find what you wrote about the temporary state of our minds – it echoes what the Buddhist teachers have taught us.


  4. Oceanic, I like that. Very fitting.


  5. Hepzibah — I’m glad you liked the quote. Perhaps we can amicably disagree about eternity?? Danielle — big, oceanic books appeal to me too, and I find I’ve been reading a lot of them lately — although nothing quite on the scale of Proust. Dark Orpheus — I haven’t studied Buddhism as much as I’d like, but what I know of it has touched me deeply. I find myself drawn to explanations of experience that are Buddhist or influenced by Buddhism. Stefanie — isn’t it the perfect metaphor?


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