Élie-Joseph Bois interview notes

   This sobriety, this abstinence keeps me in a state of craving. Nothing less. But on the other hand it has given me a greater liking for nature, for travel, by constantly depriving me of it. When the most insignificant town is inaccessible to you the book that is the most effective conductor of our desires is the time-table. As I never see the sun, I imagine it to be something even more marvellous than it is, and when one of its rays falls on me, it is enough, like the statue of Memnon, to make me burst into song. - If I may allow myself to apply my reason to my book, it is precisely because it is in no way a work of reason. There is not a single element in it, be it ever so small, that was not furnished me by my feelings, that I had not perceived deep within myself without understanding it, and with as much difficulty converting it into an idea, to bring it up to the clear surface of consciousness as for example a musical motif. Do not imagine that it is a matter of artfulness; on the contrary it is a matter of evidence. That which we have not had to clarify for ourselves in this way, what was clear before us, is not ourselves and we do not know if it is real. These are ideas of the intellect, of a possible truth, that we select arbitrarily. Moreover we immediately recognize its style in the same way that the precision apparatus carried by divers indicates to them the exact depth to which they have descended.  Style is not at all a prettification, it is not even a question of technique, but like colour for a painter, it is the revelation of the particular universe that we see and which is different for each of us. No, if we must descend back into ourselves like this it is simply to put ourselves back in the presence of reality.

   If I may allow myself to talk about reasoning in my book, it is precisely because it is in no way a work of reason; there is not a single element in it be it ever so small that was not furnished me by my feelings, that I had not initially perceived involuntarily from deep within myself, without understanding it, then sought to bring it into the light up to the surface of clear consciousness. That which is truly our own is that which we have thus drawn from the obscurities of our being. Logical ideas [...] Please do not imagine that it is a matter of artfulness. No, but every moment of our life we replace the true impression that we experience with something that has no relation to it. Everything conspires together, pride that ensures that when we are angry that a person we do not like is successful, we conceal our anger and it makes us say "good luck to him, so much better for him, I don't need him at all", weakness that stops us from seeking to take into account what we really feel and makes us say: "I think that's delightful" of something too individual to allow itself to be defined in that way, love that always unsatisfied continuously pursues a new favour and does not stop to seek in a disinterested way the one who constitutes the pleasure that the recently granted favour has given us, habit more than anything else whose destructive power is so terrible and which ensures that at a distance of ten years, a certain name of a person that was full of poetry for us is nothing more than a label, an identity card serving to designate that person, to remind us that we are to dine with them. I am attempting to demonstrate the course of these tendencies that prevent us ever seeing what we have really felt deep within ourselves. So called realist literature is the complete opposite of reality because it concerns itself with the waste material that is left - the same for all - when we have withdrawn our impressions. Currently certain writers that I admire moreover are adherents of very short works, concentrated in one small space of time. That may have its own beauty but it is not my conception of the novel which I consider as though there is a geometry beside plane geometry - a geometry in space like a psychological essay in Time. And that is something completely different.  In this book I have sought to isolate the invisible substance of time. Some little social event, some marriage at the end between characters that in the first volume we knew to be from different worlds, will indicate that time has elapsed and will take on, if I have been successful, the beauty of those lead roofs at Versailles where time has both patinated them and covered them with an emerald sheath. The most complex astronomical clock has little to invoke when it comes to a novel that wishes to show the action of all the forces that are brought to bear through the course of life. In mine the life of the deepest zones where the intelligence sustains itself occupies a large position alongside its passions and its characters, its social backgrounds; I would be tempted to say that frequently it is an attempt at a novel of the Unconscious. It is not simply the same characters as in Balzac, it is the same impressions that you recognize at one time or another through the course of the work, placing my characters back in the state in which they found themselves when they were first encountered and that allow you to measure all the changes they go through. I would not be at all ashamed to say that it is a Bergsonian novel, the most spontaneous works of art of any era willingly aligning themselves to the prevailing philosophy of the time. But that would be even more inaccurate as my book like my life is dominated by the distinction between voluntary and involuntary memory, a distinction that M. Bergson does not make and which he even contradicted. For me voluntary memory, which more than anything is a memory of the intellect and the eyes, preserves nothing of the past. We remember our past but we paint it in colours that have no resemblance to it, it seems to us also as indifferent as the spring or the ocean painted by bad painters. But when all of a sudden and in very different circumstances we inhale a scent, we hear a sound, without us consciously drawing from it all the sensations that were associated with it in our past, immediately we are intoxicated with the poetry of the past, or else we break into sobs at the rediscovery of what was for us a being who we had lost, and for whom our intellect, our habits had substituted a double who was nothing like that being. I believe only in this sort of involuntary memory, it alone, precisely because it is involuntary, carries the stamp of authenticity and presents our memories to us with the necessary combination of forgetting and memory. It liberates a sensation from all these contingencies by rendering it to us [some words missing] in its transubstantiation in another. In the volume that you are good enough to announce you will see in this way one of my characters (the one who says [incomplete]

Extracts from Proust's manuscript of notes preparatory to his interview with Élie-Joseph Bois, published Le Temps 13 November 1913 in a different form. Taken from two sources, hence some repetition - NAF 27350 (2) held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France and a manuscript held by Yale University, Frederick R. Koch collection.

From Bulletin d'informations proustiennes, no 43, 2013, p9-22, Le lancement de Du Côté de chez Swann: Brouillon de l'"entretien" de novembre 1913 avec Élie-Joseph Bois, Natalie Mauriac Dyer.

Return to Front Page

Updated 21.12.15