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Marcel Proust Zombies

July 14, 2012

Philippe Bilger writes “Proust, de plain-pied dans la communauté humaine” (which google translates as “Proust, on one level in the human community”:

Il n’a pas fait seulement de Proust l’idole qui, à cause de certaines étrangetés de sa vie, semblait échapper à notre condition humaine – une sorte d’être singulier contraignant sans cesse autrui à osciller entre l’admiration éperdue ou la dérision sotte, un zombie des nuits venant à l’hôtel Ritz quêter un peu de fraternité, de chaleur et de tendresse avant la fin, avant sa mort, sans avoir eu le temps de terminer le Temps retrouvé.

which Google translates as:

It was not only the idol of Proust who, because of certain peculiarities of his life, seemed to escape our human condition – a kind of be binding singular others constantly oscillating between the boundless admiration or derision foolish, a zombie nights at the Ritz from begging a little fraternity, warmth and tenderness before the end, before his death, without having had time to finish the Time Regained.

I’m not really sure what that means but it has something to do with Hôtel Ritz Paris and wikipedia does list Marcel Proust as a former guest of the hotel, writing parts of “Remembrance” there around 1909. Also Ernest Hemingway, who said:

“When in Paris the only reason not to stay at the Ritz is if you can’t afford it”

Surely, the zombies of Proust, Hemingway and Coco Chanel still haunt the halls. But is that what Bilher is saying? I think it’s also something about how Proust “escape[s] our human condition”? I don’t know. Maybe I should learn French. Or just not know. Or know that in not knowing I may already know?

I am reminded of Errol Morris’s writing about anonosognosia in NYtimes: The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is (Part 2) (this article also mentions Proust’s death and includes a picture from his deathbed). Morris wrote:

The contemplation of anosognosia leads to many questions about how the brain puts together a picture of reality and a conception of “the self.” It also suggests that our conception of reality is malleable; that it is possible to not-know something that should be eminently knowable. It may also suggest that it is possible to know and not-know something at the same time. But additionally, it puts the question of how we “know” things at the heart of a neurological diagnosis, and raises questions about how we separate the physical from the mental.


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