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How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain De…

How Proust Can Change Your Life (original 1997; edition 1998)

by Alain De Botton

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2,867483,333 (3.67)88
The starting point of How Proust can change your Life is that a great novel can be nothing less than life-transforming. This is an unusual claim: our education system, while stressing that novels are highly worthwhile, rarely investigates why this is so. How Proust can change your Life takes Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time as the basis for a sustained investigation into the power and significance of literature. Proust's novel, almost a byword for obscurity and irrelevance, emerges as an invaluable source of insight into the workings of love, society, art and the meaning of existence.The book reveals Proust's thoughts on how to revive a relationship, choose a good doctor, enjoy a holiday, make friends and respond to insult. A vivid portrait of the eccentric yet deeply sympathetic author is built up out of extracts from his letters, essays and fiction and is combined with a commentary on the power of literature to change our lives. A self-help book like few others.… (more)
Title:How Proust Can Change Your Life
Authors:Alain De Botton
Info:Vintage (1998), Paperback, 208 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:philosophy, non-fiction, pb

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How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton (1997)



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Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
This is a very slim volume about a very thick book. In fact, the longest novel so far written apparently. I worked my way through "Remembrance of things Past" when I was about 40 and it took me several years. Was it worth it? Hmm....boasting rights I guess for having read it......being profoundly bored through Sodom and Gomorrah but then a flash of recognition...a connection with a character from one of the early parts..."Swan's Way"? It certainly left an impression on me ...as it has on most others, I guess, who have made the pilgrimage. And what has Alain Boton done here but tossed off a few thoughts about Proust which he (Boton) suggests can change our lives.
Initially, I was not impressed. I thought it was superficial. Boton doesn't even mention the idea that Albertine's model in real life was the chauffeur Alfredo Agostinelli.....but as I got deeper into the book....I became much more engrossed and impressed. Boton has managed to tease out some of the real essence there. A dangerous move because he suggests the there are certain limitations to reading that Proust highlights: "what can it matter to you what Ruskin feels: feel it for yourself"........."Reading is on the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it". So we have Boton ...with his own book ....trying to skirt around these sentiments. In fact he warns us aginst a range of symptoms identified in the over-reverent, over-reliant reader:
1. That we mistake writers for oracles....Proust was asked for advice on all sorts of topics which he was totally unqualified to speak about: "Why would an ability to write "In Search of Lost time" in any way indicate an aptitude for advising recently dismissed white-collar workers on their career?"
2. That we will be unable to write after reading a good book: Proust might have expressed many things well , but independent thought and the history of the novel had not come to a halt with him. His book did not have to be followed by silence"....and of course, it was not. (Though Virginia Woolf had trouble overcoming her writer's block after reading Proust....it was too good too complete. Still, she did write again. and wrote well).
3. That we become artistic idolaters. .......combining a literal reverence for object depicted in art with a neglect of the spirit of the art. Becoming attached to a part of the countryside depicted by a great painter, and mistake this for an appreciation of the painter.
4. That we will be tempted to invest in a copy of La Cuisine Retrouve......and think by eating the food described by Proust ...we have discovered the spirit in which the food was considered. (It's like point 3, above).
5. That we will be tempted to visit Illiers-Combray. In fact the village of Illiers has cashed in on Proust by adding Combray to their name. Yes, Proust did stay there for a few years and clearly modelled Combray on this village. but ....same point as in 3, above....if you concentrate on Villiers-Combray....you lose Proust's manner of treating it. Combray could be any one of many villages. The beauty which Proust revealed there could be present, latent. in almost any town , if only we made the effort to consider it in a Proustian way". A genuine homage to Proust would be to look at OUR world through HIS eyes, not to look at HIS world through OUR eyes.."
And what is this Proustian way?......"It's devoting attention to noticing the faint yet vital tremors" in people...in life..."with an ability to describe these far better than we would have been able .....to put a finger on perceptions that we recognise as our own , yet coud not have formatted on our own." Putting it more bluntly it's noticing the details.
And it is to: "respond to the unexpected and hurtful behaviour of others ..with something more than a wipe of the glasses, to see it as a chance to expand our understanding".
Proust contends the good writing cuts new channels: ..they begin to write well only on condition that they are original , that they create their own language."
Boton can't help himself: he reflects the philosophical conundrum elaborated by Bertram Russell in his theory of descriptions: "the the morning star is the evening star" or , more apposite: "Scott is the author of Waverly" ..when he talks about using one word for the author of "In search of lost time" (Proust) and the author of "the Strong Virgins" (Prevost)......the public frequently confused the two writers but it seems to really be a sly reference to the theory of descriptions. (It doesn't quite work because, I guess, the one word he is referring to is "author".
With impressionist painting Proust argues that in every successful work of art there is an ability to restore to our sight a distorted or neglected aspect of reality.
Apparently Proust had many good friends ....friends who wrote powerful tributes to him after his death yet there was clearly an ability in Proust to see through friendships to the insincerity apparent in every friendship. "Though it had the power to make him both a better more loyal, more charming friend, AND a more honest, profound and unsentimental thinker".
And on opening one's eyes...we should not deny the bread on the sideboard a place in our conception of beauty and we should restrain our expectations when introduced to great aristocrats.
And Proust on love. He seems to think that the supreme feeling of love is when the loved one is just out of reach...unattainable. And once attained, the desire recedes or is eliminated. I'm not sure that Marcel was really the best person to write about love.Sure he had lots of intense feelings ...and most of Sodom and Gommorah is consumed with these feelings (mainly jealousy) but he never really sustained a loving relationship. Yet others seem to have been able to do this. Are they all wrong/misguided? Or is Marcel missing something from his experience. of life? I think the latter.
I liked a few of the illustrations...the reproduction...winding around and around of a single sentence from Proust which would run for 4 meters in standard text...reproduced here in micro text...snaking around and around. And that delightful reproduction of a printers proof overwhelmed by marcel's corrections and amendments to the text....as Boton says..."it might have enraged the publisher but it served to make a better book".
Overall, quite a fascinating book and well worth re-reading. I give it 4.5 stars. ( )
  booktsunami | Feb 27, 2020 |
Since this book was published back in 1997, I have sold many copies of this book in my bookstores, but now all these years later, it took a dear friend sending me a CARE package of Alain de Botton books to get me reading it.
It is always hard for a book to live up to years of hype and praise. And while I appreciated reading suggestions, I always find myself physically cringing when I’m told I have to read something … my anti-authority streak runs very deep.
As to the book itself, it’s a very curious mix of a self-help manual and literary biography. Proust’s fiction, essays, letters, and his life are incorporated, to yield advice on living, dating, being a good host, vacationing, even including advice to never sleep with someone on the first date. Yes, it is a little of everything—including much humor and reading between the lines—as de Botton mines Marcel Proust extensive writings to find his relevance to our modern times.
I was amused, edified, educated, and entertained, but by the book’s end—while I appreciate the originality and effort, overall—I was not a good audience. After reading the book, I thought motivation and inspiration might visit me, but still Volume One of In Search of Lost Time sits unread on my overcrowded shelf of unread books. Between this book and another of his titles, The News: A User’s Manual, I was motivated to pick up a de Botton’s novel, The Course of Love, which I found to be a clever combination of a love story and a self-help manual. While that combination sounds like a bad joke, it worked, but I refuse to tell you that you have to read it.
In the end, my motto remains, No book before its time. ( )
1 vote jphamilton | Sep 21, 2019 |
A small, concise book on what to learn from Proust and his work. Digestible for us without formal philosophical training, yet deep enough to give a few answers and, in accordance with the last chapter, deep enough to show the reader just how many questions are out there for one to figure out. ( )
  andycyca | Aug 6, 2019 |
I loved "The Art of Travel", but de Botton's "How Proust Can Change Your Life" left me cold. I think, sometimes, knowing too much about the author can negatively affect one's reading of his work. I have read the Swann's Way section of ISOLT (will read the rest someday, when I have time to reread the beginning), so I do find Proust's writing wonderful, but this book didn't do anything for me or my reading of Proust. ( )
  Marse | Jul 28, 2018 |
Philosophy of Marcel
  stevholt | Nov 19, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
One doesn't usually think of Marcel Proust as the author of a great self-help book. Unless of course what you admire most about ''Remembrance of Things Past'' is its usefulness for killing huge amounts of time.

Alain de Botton, a novelist, doesn't take quite such a crassly utilitarian view in his delightfully original work of literary criticism, ''How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel.'' But he does come close in places. For instance, in Chapter 3, called ''How to Take Your Time,'' he points out that one reaction to the great length of Proust's famous novel was the ''All-England Summarize Proust Competition,'' once presented by the Monty Python troupe in the belief, as Mr. de Botton puts it, that ''what had originally taken seven volumes to express could reasonably be condensed into 15 seconds or less, without too great a loss of integrity or meaning, if only an appropriate candidate could be found.'' . . .
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