The world is on fire; authoritarianism threatens multiple countries; racism and xenophobia are rampant; women’s and LGBTQ rights are under threat—why would anyone spend time reading a novel by a man who’s been dead a hundred years?
What Is It
Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time challenges us to think hard about what we can know, who we really are, why memory matters, and how we can find enchantment in a world without God. But some might wonder why we need a 3,000 page novel to do that. Are there things a novel can do that a philosophy book can’t? Does it take a great person to produce great art? And why read Proust in the twenty-first century? Ray and guest-host Blakey Vermeule find a spot on the guestlist for Josh and his new book, The World According to Proust.
Ray and Blakey open the show with a brief discussion on Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time. Whether it be love, grief, or parenting, the novel appears to offer insight for any stage of life while ultimately rooting itself in the idea of one’s real self. With this in mind, the hosts question what it means to find and know one’s authentic self beneath the more temporary, shallow markers.
Ray and Blakey welcome the show’s regular host Josh—this episode’s guest—in connection to his new book The World According to Proust. First, Josh raises the point of illusion in Proust’s novel, to which Proust may respond that self-deceit is achievable because the self is divided and often conflicting. Secondly, the world appears to have become disenchanted; as secularity increases, the lacking mystic charm from traditional figures must be found elsewhere. Finally, they discuss the nature of social and interpersonal interaction through mediums like art, love, and self-reflection.
In the last segment of the show, Josh expands on Proust’s stylistic choices, including a straight narrator. Josh additionally suggests that the fragmented, confusing, sometimes contradictory narration beckons the reader to create one’s own conclusions while finding some sense of self-identification or greater understanding of others in between.
- Roving Philosophical Report (4:25): Holly J. McDede reports on Proust’s striking impact on his diverse readers ranging from ice cream makers to academics. While some illuminate and recreate his connection between food and memory, others more broadly revere his unique stylistic choices as a writer.
- Sixty-Second Philosopher (45:50): Ian Shoales reports on the amusing knowledge we have of books we have never read. Whether it be once-acclaimed authors lost to history or writers whose works are often only known as thrilling movies, there exists an ever-increasing distance between literature and its audience.
Could a novel change your life?
Is art a way to re-enchant the world?
What does Proust tell us about our true selves?