chapter  4
Life and literature
Pages 39

The role of explicit intellectual reflection in creative writing is itself a subject for reflection throughout Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu,1 especially in its extraordinary closing sections. The novel as a whole narrates the process by which its hero becomes its narrator. In the closing sections, the narrator reflects on the literary ideal embodied in the work whose genesis is finally revealed as the substance of the novel itself, now drawing to its close. The truths which the intellectual faculty finds lying in its path ‘in full daylight’ may, the narrator says, be of very great value, but they are ‘like drawings with a hard outline and no perspective’. No depths have had to be traversed in order to reach them. They have not been ‘recreated’, but ‘educed by intellect directly from reality’ (III, 935). Such truths are not to be altogether despised. But it is clear that for the narrator they are to be judged by a standard quite different from that of philosophy’s traditional exaltation of intellect over senses. There is no question here of intellect being given the highest status in a hierarchy of faculties. Its value resides in its capacity to give a different access to the ‘essences’ recovered from lost time. In going direct to reality, intellect bypasses the only true path to these essences, whose recovery forms the central thread in the Recherche. But those preferred impressions, accessible through ‘involuntary memory’ rather than intellect, are too rare, we are told, for a work of art to be constructed exclusively from them. Through the reflections of intellect, they may be enshrined in ‘a matter less pure indeed, but still imbued with mind’ (III, 935).