An academic writer, Lois Marie Jaeck, has given me a new insight into the Proustian metaphor. Here is part of Proust’s famous declaration on metaphor:
An hour is not merely an hour, it is a vase full of scents and sounds and projects and climates, and what we call reality is a certain connexion between these immediate sensations and the memories which envelop us simultaneously with them–a connexion that is suppressed in a simple cinematographic vision, which just because it professes to confine itself to the truth in fact departs widely from it–a unique connexion which the writer has to rediscover in order to link for ever in his phrase the two sets of phenomena which reality joins together. (VI,289)
In this key passage, Proust describes metaphor as a duplication or re-presentation of reality. He does not refer to an external reality or one readily perceived by our sense, but to an internal, essential reality that constitutes the inexpressible connection between apparently dissimilar phenomena, which allows us to apprehend intuitively their innate similarity, even though this common factor eludes expression through logic, intelligence, or ordinary language. (17)
Proust does not declare in a preface that one discovers oneself through metaphor, but he does write a seven-volume book about a man who did just that: he discovers his true self–his vocation to be a writer–at the moment that his three experiences of involuntary memory (classifiable as natural metaphors) led him to an awareness of the metaphorical process. (16)
Metaphor gives rise to a field of signification that originates neither from one word nor the other but from an element common to both, which is beyond discourse and reason, in the realm of the inexpressible. (20)
This capacity of metaphor to provide unmediated understanding is what provokes the intense pleasure the narrator feels when experiencing a “natural metaphor.”
Having discerned precisely why the three ‘intimation’ experiences gave him the same inexplicable happiness (they fed the being in him that could nourish itself only on the essence of things), the narrator proceeds to investigate other phenomena which produced an effect similar to that engendered by his experiences of involuntary memory. (21)
And the writer emerges.