October 22, 2006

The Search for the "Experienced Innocent"

Adam and Eve were created innocent but longed for the knowledge of good and evil. They wanted it both ways, to be knowledgeable and innocent, and thus it ever has been. There is a great charisma in those who combine the two, such as many a saint, because it's so characteristic of God. It's interesting to see atheist Christopher Hitchens associate that with Marcel Proust: "To be so perceptive and yet so innocent — that, in a phrase, is the achievement of Proust." Hitchens ascribed that same ability to Shakespeare and George Eliot.

A bestseller a few years back was titled How Proust Can Save Your Life. Shelby Foote, another non-believer, treated Proust's Remembrance of Things Past as his scripture, having read the whole thing nine times during his lifetime. Is Proustphilia a subliminal search for God?

Update: That sounded a tad unfair to Marcel, so the obligatory disclaimers apply: what I know about Proust's work can be contained in a small handbag, and the number of things that can be used as subliminal substitutes for God are myriad.

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