I have another “book that never ends” on my hands: In Search of Lost Time. I first started reading In Search of Lost Time almost ten years ago, during a summer class at the American University of Paris. The book was unrelated to the course, which focused on post-modern philosophy, an interesting college introduction for a naive 16 year old. However, I still managed to weave excerpts from it into a final essay on time and Lyotard.
While I did not finish the book, the iconic scene of the madeleine stuck with me. I remember many rainy mornings, me barefoot in the kitchen, the green of the trees behind the house overly verdant, playing Edith Piaf or Téléphone on the record player to set myself in another place. I’d then put on an apron, begin melting the butter and sifting the flour for those delicate madeleines.
In the first part of the book, which I’ve read and stopped and re-read more than once, Proust talks a lot about that moment when you wake up and you’re not sure where you are anymore.
However that may be, when I woke thus, my mind restlessly attempting, without success, to discover where I was, everything revolved around me in the darkness, things, countries, years.
For the first time in years, since I got back from that summer class in Paris, I had this feeling. It’s a feeling I love, likely because I assume it’s the emotional territory of the world traveler. To wake up and wonder, “What state am I in? What country? Is this my home, is this a hotel? Is it morning or night?” Slowly, the walls turn until they’re recognizable, they twist into an expected position and everything sits in place.
When I read In Search of Lost Time, I get frustrated at the endless lists of vicomte’s and de‘s and so on. It’s hard to see the story through the details, but then there are these little nuggets that explain why this is such a revered book. And I like to think of my professor from that first class of mine, who told me that each time you read the book as you grow older, it takes on an entirely new meaning.
Now, for a new meaning to take hold, I’ll have to finish it at least once.
Photo of the Ukrainian translation of “In Search of Lost Time” from Wikimedia Commons