Created by a Human Being

To write about Proust’s aesthetics is necessarily to contradict Proust’s intentions. For him, art begins where rational explanation ends. Nattiez is aware of the risk. In this passage, for instance, he provides an insightful analysis of the importance of music in Search:

The philosophy of Schopenhauer is not an apology for suicide. Renunciation of the Will-to-Live means that exceptional beings–geniuses and saints–devote themselves to pure contemplation. The musician is the supreme contemplative, for when music does not debase itself in pictorial description it is ‘a direct copy of the will itself.’

Is not the joy of the Veda also the joyous call to creation that the Narrator hears at the beginning and at the end of the Septet? Yes indeed, it was Schopenhauer who wrote the Vinteuil Sonata, right down to the last detail: ‘The composer reveals the innermost  nature of the world, and expresses the profoundest wisdom in a language that his reasoning faculty does not understand, just as a magnetic somnambulist gives information about things of which she has no conception when she is awake. Therefore in the composer, more than in any other  artist, the man is entirely separate and distinct from the artist.’ Herein reside Swann’s false trails: rational explanation, biographical explanation. We should also recall the Narrator’s speculation about a phrase in the Septet: ‘Perhaps…it had been inspired in Vinteuil by his daughter’s sleep.’ (83)

But Nattiez recognizes the inherent contradiction in writing about what cannot be written about.

In trying to show what the Sonata and Septet of Vinteuil owe to Schopenhauer, I have obviously gone against Proust’s intentions. If A la recherche itself is to be a redemptive work in the image of Parsifal or the Septet, it needs to escape from Time and become a pure object of philosophical, literary and aesthetic contemplation; the novel must free itself from its epoch and its author. It was not for nothing that Proust asked Céleste to burn his rough drafts, and there can be no doubt he would have done the same with all his notebooks and jotters if only he had time to experience the feeling that his work was finally complete. In all creative artists obsessed with the absolute…we find the same Utopian effort to efface the poietic dimension. It is Utopian, in the first place, because, as Proust shows very clearly with respect to Wagner, even of itself the text of a writer or composer will always bear traces–whether he likes it or not, and to a greater or lesser degree–of the labour that brought it into existence. It is Utopian, secondly, because the creative artist cannot obliterate all traces of his activity. If he destroys his rough drafts and sketches, his contemporaries will describe them. Even if he kills his contemporaries, that will not prevent the critic from comparing his texts and establishing connections (as I have done in this book). And it is Utopian, in the final analysis, because while all the metaphysicians in the world may say what they like about the Essence or the Idea being outside time, the books that deal with it or the works that are supposed to apprehend or translate it will always have been created by a human being, in  a given period, in a specific context. (88)


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