Fertilizer for the Mind

Music is the most time-like of the arts, so little wonder that it plays such a major role in this novel. The narrator muses on why it is so hard to appreciate a musical work the first time you hear it.

If one had indeed, as one supposes, received no impression from the first hearing, the second, the third would be equally “first hearings” and there would be no reason why one should understand it any better after the tenth. Probably what is wanting, the  first time, is not comprehension but memory. For our memory, relative to the complexity of the impressions which it has to face while we are listening, is infinitesimal….But that picture gradually takes shape in the memory. (II,140)

Since I was able to enjoy everything that this sonata had to give me only in a succession of hearings, I never possessed it in its entirety: it was like life itself. But, less disappointing than life, great works of art do not begin by giving us the best of themselves. (II,141)

The time, moreover, that a person requires–as I required in the case of this sonata–to penetrate a work of any depth is merely an epitome, a symbol, one might say, of the year, the centuries even, that must elapse before the public can begin to cherish a masterpiece that is really new….The reason why a work of genius is not easily admired from the first is that the man who has created it is extraordinary, that few other men resemble him. It is his work itself that, by fertilising the rare minds capable of understanding it, will make them increase and multiply. (II,142)

Not a bad description of Proust and the reading of his novel.




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