Landy sees the Proustian self or identity as the actions of the intellect, intuition and will, each working at different strengths at different times, defining many layers of selves over a lifetime. The challenge is to forge an identity from these deep layers of sedimentation.
The image of the Self conveyed by the Recherche may be rebarbatively elaborate, but it has the merit of explaining a wide variety of phenomena that alternative schemata simply cannot capture: recidivism of the soul, simultaneities of faith and distrust, lucid dreams, a confusion as to our location on waking, and above all the strange power of ancient memories over our present-day organism. The fact, as Marcel sees it, is that involuntary memory is really not memory at all. When an odor, texture, or sound returns us to a former state, we are not dragging into the light a set of impressions that have long since departed but, instead, summoning up a part of us that is still very much present within our mind. Only in this way is it possible to reexperience from within a situation we approached with a radically different set of attributes, beliefs and desires. (110)
Involuntary memory provides evidence of at least the possibility of a unified self.
The genuine impact of involuntary memory thus turns out to be related to its unveiling of a hidden faculty within the Self. The simple act of remembering, and remembering from within–not just the facts of an experience (dates, times, names, places), as if it belonged to another person, but the subjective component, the way in which our taste buds receive information, the way (more importantly) in which we put things together–offers the sudden tantalizing glimpse of a possible identity consistent over time, and thus a partial and preliminary satisfaction of the ontological and epistemological criteria: involuntary memory indicates the existence of, and affords access to, a unique…self. (113)
If involuntary memory establishes the existence of the self, it is personal temperament or style that provides the content of the self.
The true self, in other words, cannot be expressed in but only revealed through language. It is not just perspective but first and foremost style; which is why, contra Sainte-Beuve and with Mallarmé, the writerly persona is more authentic than the empirical human being….As a musician of words, one is able to discover the true locus of coherence and uniqueness within oneself in “that song, different from those of other singers, similar to [one’s] own, …that distinctive strain the sameness of which–for whatever its subject it remains identical with itself–proves the permanence of the elements that compose [one’s] soul”.(V,343). And one is able at last to communicate to oneself as well, potentially, as to others) one’s idiosyncratic view of the world, thus resolving the final difficulty, that of representation. (115)
Armed with a sense of unity and style, the author (and any person) can now compose a life.
Real life, that is , is inherently literary, even for the inartistic, who are merely unaware of its existence at a subterranean level of themselves. In order to bring it into the light, we do not have to channel our life into writing; on the contrary, we need only introduce literature into our life, “developing” the various images that lie dormant in the mind and thus, in compliance with the Pindaric injunction invoked by Nietzsche and Marcel alike, becoming who we are. For we are already a set of disparate elements; whether or not we then become a whole of which they are parts depends on the success of our attempts at self-unification, on the measure of artistry we import into our existence. Instead of life in literature, the ultimate answer turns out to be life as literature. (123)
Tags: Joshua Landy