Seth’s post, followed by Jocelyn’s post, both reach me just after reading this fascinating short history on the so-called Proust questionnaire, which I first encountered in the back pages of Vanity Fair magazine when I had nothing better to do. I am reminded of two things: guilty pleasure reading, and actual reading of something other than news, news analysis, or long-form non-fiction–which are a mainstay of my contributions on this site.
I am reminded of a third thing: Amie’s marathon reading of Proust, and the view of this 3-volume set around our home for a long stretch of time. Those books that she would lug around were the sign of an unreformed, unrepentant student of literature, whose career started as a book editor in New York City, when she had nothing better to do.
I say that mainly to contrast what I did with my guilty pleasure reading time back then, and what she did with hers. I say that because in more recent times, especially the past six years in India, she has had something much better to do, and plenty of it to do, and I think we are all better for that. Which has me thinking: if I had the time, what would I read if I could just leave it all behind right now and land at Villa del Faro with nothing but books (and at least a couple changes of clothes, of course)? Would I find that Proust set Amie has in storage? As an amateur nostalgist with limited writing talent, I might choose those volumes as a self-help guide.
I write on this site partly to share about events, people and places that I believe are worthy of others’ attention; but also for the sake of further reflection and sense-making of those. Patterns repeat; some people and places important once come back to be important again. For example, nearly five years ago I was on my third of five extended periods of work in Baja California Sur. It was on an earlier visit in 2008 that I had met Andy Murphy, then with WWF, with whom I became friends and then eventually more with our project in Ghana.
Then, just over three years ago, I had the opportunity to accompany George M George on a visit to one of the anchor properties of la Giganta, which influenced our discussion of Marari Pearl. The time Seth and Jocelyn are spending at Villa del Faro is connected to the work I did in the surrounding areas of the Baja peninsula; connected to the work we engaged in with Andy in Ghana; and connected to the work with George M George in the last six years. Connecting the dots, I think of repeating what has worked well and improving where we can. Which is an idea worth connecting back to this short history:
What would Proust have thought of the phenomenon he unwittingly inspired? One clue can be found in his unfinished critical work “Contre Sainte-Beuve,” in which he quotes this passage from the French literary critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve:
So long as one has not asked an author a certain number of questions and received answers to them, one cannot be certain of having a complete grasp of him, even though these questions might seem at the furthest remove from the nature of his writings. What were his religious views? How did he react to the sight of nature? How did he conduct himself in regard to women, in regard to money? Was he rich, was he poor? What governed his actions, what was his daily way of life? What was his vice, or his weakness? No answer to these questions is irrelevant in judging the author of a book, nor the book itself.
Proust had a different view. “Sainte-Beuve’s method ignores what a very slight degree of self-acquaintance teaches us,” he wrote. “That a book is the product of a different self from the self we manifest in our habits, in our social life, in our vices.” According to Proust, a writer’s authentic self could be accessed only through careful reading of the work, and the “true voice of the heart” found there should be sharply distinguished from mere “small-talk.” “It is the secretion of one’s innermost life, written in solitude and for oneself alone, that one gives to the public,” he wrote. “What one bestows on private life . . . is the product of a quite superficial self, not of the innermost self which one can only recover by putting aside the world and the self that frequents the world.”
I am ready to go do some guilty pleasure reading. But when will I find the time? When I do, I expect Villa del Faro will be the perfect place for it.