Doris Bersing, PhD
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Marcel Proust on Memory and Coming Out

Who is afraid Of Marcel proustMarcel Proust, a  XX century famous writer, author of a masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, brings to my attention the phenomenon of forgetfulness sometimes attached to the epidemic of dementia.  In Search of Lost Time, is one of Proust’s renowned creations (À la recherche du temps perdu published in seven volumes, previously translated as Remembrance of Things Past) (1913–1927).

In this work, Proust recounts his experiences  while growing up, participating in society, falling in love, and learning about art. He also discusses  memory, separation anxiety, the role of art in life, and homosexuality at length. He described many of the instances of Déjà vudéjà vécu effects and other phenomena related to memory. Proust shows the similarity between the structures and mechanisms of the human mind related to unfinished business and psycho-dynamic  principles he talks about, even without knowing or reading Freud.In this creation, Proust also speaks extensively in this book about the challenges of homosexuality, internalized homophobia, and the challenges of coming out as a homosexual.  Although Proust was gay, he had ambivalent feelings around coming out.

Proust stresses those challenges of being and living as homosexual in a society that des not understand or accept it. Identifying oneself as part of the LGBT group is not always easy or welcoming the way we would wish it to be. Although many people find that coming out is a positive experience, coming out has its challenges and it could have both a positive and a negative impact on the person’s life. It could affect the individual’s family relationships, social relationships, school, or work. Some LGBT people fear negative reactions, rejection and upsetting people they are close to. In many parts of the world strong cultural attitudes and discriminatory laws make coming out even harder. In USA things have changed legally, lately but at a personal level, there are still fears and internalized feelings of homophobia.

In a review by Edmund White for the New York Times, he states that among writers, the twentieth-century novelist they most admired–and who they thought would have the most enduring influence on the next century–was Marcel Proust.

An interesting take on Proust’s stance on memory is performed by  James Keller  a San Francisco Bay Area artist, who guides the audience through the seven volumes of  this Marcel Proust’s great 20th century novel, IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME, about the importance of memory and forgetting, using 180 slides and music as part of the narrative in a virtuoso performance which John Lahr (senior drama critic of The New Yorker magazine) called, “A tour de force” and also, has said that “James Keller is the most well-read person I know.”  Learn more and come to see more at Who is afraid of Marcel Proust. “Who’s Afraid of Marcel Proust?” will be performed in Berkeley on Thursday, 9/24/15  at 7:30pm at the Sacred Stream. For tickets and more information: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2260047 and in San Francisco on Sunday 10/4/15 at 2pm and at 8:00 pm.  Fort Mason.  For tickets and more information: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2239503

One of the big accomplishments of In Search of the lost time, is Proust’s position about the impossibility to recover the time we lose, the forfeiture of innocence through experience, the emptiness of love and friendship, the vanity of human endeavors, and the triumph of sin and despair; but Proust’s conclusion is that the life of every day is supremely important, full of moral joy and beauty, which, though they may be lost through faults inherent in human nature, are indestructible and recoverable.

In a personal level, one of Proust’s marvels as a writer was projecting  his own homosexuality upon his characters, treating them, as well as snob, vane, and cruel, but able to love even if considered it as a sin.

Just food for thought in some of Proust’s  famous and inspiring quotes are:

  • The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.
  • Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
  • If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.


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