Alain de Botton: How Proust Can Change Your Life

“It is unfortunately easier to lose a lover than complete In Search of Lost Time.” How funny but true!

Devoting the year 2009 to Proust’s In Search of Lost Time was one of my most rewarding undertakings as a reader. It is, indeed, easier to lose a lover, but basking in Proust is what I imagine having synesthesia would be like. The first volume alone led to an artistic rebirth; but by the end of all seven volumes I realized that it had instilled something so delicately through its entirety — empathy.

De Botton does not mention empathy but touches on how “experiences of fictional characters afford us a hugely expanded picture of human behavior” and nods toward artists “by whom our eyes are opened.” This is De Botton’s dissection of Proust, the colossal work, and its effects on the reader. For those who have not read Proust, it can serve as an introduction; and for those who have read Proust, a confirmation of the common reader’s exact thoughts, albeit expressed meticulously in a superior and delightful way.

There are two main things that stood out out for me:

The ending. It sings about the strength of the written word right from the beginning; and this makes the closing of the book unanticipated because it transitions into a gentle admonition for readers: “It is our own thoughts we should be developing even if it is another writer’s thoughts which help us do so.” It warns against artistic idolatry and adds this Proustian reminder: “Reading is on the threshold of spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it.”

The view on escapism. Perhaps it is mainly the term that bothers me that I have always been uneasy with the idea of literature or any art form as a means of escapism. So when de Botton points out that escapism was not Proust’s way of handling the novel, it spoke to me and I felt understood without having to explain myself.  He does not say escapism is a bad thing, but elucidates how Proust’s opinion is more attuned to art’s potential to affect our lives rather than distract us from it.

Although it is easier said than done, I think this is also a beautiful and subtle nudge for us to try our utmost to live lives we do not feel the need to escape from.

8 thoughts on “Alain de Botton: How Proust Can Change Your Life”

  1. Hello dearest M! My daughter and I are both home sick with flu and bored on the couch, so I thought I’d look at some of your older posts! You’ve actually read all of In Search Of Lost Time? Damn girl! I have the complete box set but couldnt get through the first book! To be fair, this was like over 15 years ago when I was younger… maybe I should try it again now?

    Anyway random story (hey im bored and sick, let me babble 🤣). I had a friend online, a guy, who years ago was so witty and funny and academic and I thought he was amazing. He was american. He would post about Proust and other literary gems and I thought he was amazing and intelligent and i guess i had an online crush on him lol. So i looked for ISOLT here in Perth but couldnt find it. I ended up in NYC and visited this huge book shop and found it! The box set was massive, and heavy! Like over 1kg in my already overweight luggage. But i bought it, carried it all the way home via San Fran, Hawaii and Auckland. It was so big and heavy, lol. So got home, tried reading it, thought it was rubbish but bought Alain de Botton’s book instead, read that, and pretended I loved Proust to this guy! Hahaha. The things we do when we are young and dumb! So anyway yes… maybe as an older more mature person I should try again. Sorry for the rant! No need to reply as im sure youre busy and have a life! 🤣🤣🤣

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    1. 🤣 Thank you for sharing this entertaining story, Anna. It was the laugh I needed. Quite relatable. Hahaha I had a goal to read the giants before I turned 30, and admittedly, a lot of them were also fueled by some need to impress certain crushes. In hindsight, I think I actually survived Proust because I was young and dumb!!! Hahaha 🤣

      I hope you and your daughter feel better soon! ❤

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      1. I am secretly pleased that I’m not the only one who purchased a book to impress a crush! Hahahaha! If thats the worst we did then we are pretty good chicks! Lol. Most girls do way worse to impress a guy, yet we bought books. We must be nerds! Hahahaha.

        Another day on the couch for me and mini-me. We’ve just been to docs and got prescribed antibiotics for chest infection! Nightmare! We will be fine…. Nice to laze on couch and read!

        You all good? You said it was a laugh you needed? Hope all ok with you! Xxx

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You can say that again! A crush got me reading Immanuel Kant! It was only after a while when I realized… I just Kant. 🤣

        Aww… I hope you guys will be up and about again soon. I was just at your blog and realized that I missed a recent post of yours about the Porongorups (? not sure if I spelled that right haha)! You are so adventurous and the place looks incredible! Looking forward to more of your adventures! For the time being, enjoy your readings!

        And thanks for asking about me. It’s just life being life. Haha ❤

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      3. I just Kant! Looool I coughed up half a lung with laughter at that! Good one!

        Glad you’re ok… yeh life can be crazy sometimes! Just pick up a good book, read, and let your troubles melt away!

        Speaking of adventures in my sickly misery I just booked myself a holiday! (Checked with husband first of course lol!). Going to Siem Reap with a friend from Singapore end of September. I need a break! Can’t wait!

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Thats why I’m going here…. Close enough to fly for a quick getaway and cheap! Haha. Hi btw! I see we are both online now. Being nerda no doubt 🤣🤣🤣

        Liked by 1 person

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