Longtemps, je me suis couche de bonne heure. Parfois, a peine ma bougie eteinte, mes yeux se fermaient si vite que je n’avais pas le temps de me dire: “Je m’endors.” Et, une demi-heure après, la pensee qu’il etait temps de chercher le sommeil m’eveillait; je voulais poser le volume que je croyais avoir encore dans les mains et souffler ma lumiere; je n’avais pas cesse en dormant de faire des refexions sur ce que je venais de lire, mais ces refexions avaient pris un tour un peu particulier; il me semblait que j’etais moi-meme ce dont parlait l’ouvrage: une eglise, un quatuor, la rivalite de Francois Ier et de Charles Quint. Cette croyance survivait pendant quelques secondes a mon reveil; elle ne choquait pas ma raison mas pesait comme des ecailles sur mes yeux et les empechait de se rendre compte que le bougeoir n’etait plus allume.
For a long time, I went to bed early. Sometimes, my candle scarcely out, my eyes would close so quickly that I did not have time to say to myself: “I’m falling asleep.” And, half an hour later, the thought that it was time to sleep would wake me; I wanted to put down the book I thought I still had in my hands and blow out my light; I had not ceased while sleeping to form reflections on what I had just read, but these reflections had taken a rather peculiar turn; it seemed to me that I myself was what the book was talking about: a church, a quartet, a rivalry between Francois I and Charles V. This belief lived on for a few seconds after my waking; it did not shock my reason but lay heavy like scales on my eyes and kept them from realizing that the candlestick was no longer lit.
Whenever I read these opening lines to Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, I marvel at the skill applied to depicting the wholeness and complexity of a single human consciousness. Perhaps our thoughts are just a random running commentary, not a solid statement that gives weight to our existence on earth. (I know, more Buddhist claptrap!) But it is beautiful to follow the meandering nature of Proust’s mind (or his narrator’s voice) as he weaves in and out of different places and times and makes poetry out of the debris of his mind. (He shouldn’t have written this down! He should have just remained present with the breath! Just joking…)
Which gets me thinking–if one human mind can be this feeling and fleeting and profound, is it possible to picture billions of minds that are just as valid and complex? To recognize another as whole and important as you are to yourself–especially if that “other” is a stranger, perhaps someone sitting next to you on the subway–is mind-bending. What if everyone in the world were as sacred to you as yourself or your loved ones? What if the contents of every human mind had the potential to be miraculous–even if that “other” is of a different color or creed or nationality–or someone who has more or less education or money or fame than you do?
This kind of consciousness is what is contained in every great work of literature. Every good book holds a consciousness as mysterious as the miles of capillaries in your body or the positions of the stars. Every good book is holy, holy, holy in precisely this manner. And the gates of your own consciousness are opened wide with each literary encounter.
PS Sorry if yesterday’s blog was a little downbeat. I wanted to say that we are all lost in a dark wood now, but that we will find our way out as a species.
I have been mourning Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s passing with human tears. Every encounter with him on stage and screen was a kind of miracle. His consciousness is infinite.
PPS I’m working on adding the accents to the original French text. It will be fixed soon!