Humanities West completes its 2023–24 season by searching for the real Marcel Proust―featuring Adam Gopnik, who will give our first Vance E. Carney Memorial Lecture. Gopnik has been writing for The New Yorker for more than three decades and has often riffed poetic on Proust. From the September 17, 1990 issue: “…watching our building go co-op has been … a lot like the experience of reading Proust. You begin hopefully, you dream of new vistas of pleasure opening up before you, you think that your friends will think better of you for having done it … and then you get bogged down and the whole thing seems to go on forever.”
From the June 14, 1999 issue: “As late as the nineteen-fifties, when most Americans already took it for granted that he was among the greatest of modern writers, a lot of people in France saw Proust as a slightly secondary figure―the way we might have seen a long-winded Scott Fitzgerald, or a Truman Capote who actually got his book written. In the past twenty-five years, though, all that has changed, and Proust has taken his deserved place among the French as at once the most magnanimous and the most exquisite of their novelists…”
From the March 30, 2015 issue: “Everybody tries to climb Mt. Proust, though many a stiff body is found on the lower slopes, with the other readers stepping over it gingerly.” And from the May 3, 2021 issue: “If Proust, for Updike in the God-haunted nineteen-fifties, was the last Christian poet, we may see him now in more secular terms, as a writer who, perversely, sought serenity not in detachment and self-removal but in attachment and reattachment—a monk within a metropolitan monastery. ‘Be here now’ is the mystic’s insistence. ‘Don’t be here now’ is Proust’s material motto: be there then, again. Enjoy, emote, repeat, remember: there are worse designs for living.”
Joshua Landy has also been writing and thinking about and teaching Proust for decades. He will explore several Proustian questions: How can we feel at home in the world? How can we find genuine connection with other human beings? How can we find enchantment in a world without God? Does an artist’s life shed light on her work? What can we know about reality, other people, and ourselves? When is not knowing better than knowing? Who are we really, deep down? And why does it matter to read about all this in a novel?
Dora Zhang will focus on the famous Proust observation that “the only true voyage . . . would not be to visit new lands but to possess other eyes, to see the world with the eyes of another.” In Proust’s novel the camera provides a crucial means for the narrator to step outside his habitual gaze and to possess other eyes, to look anew on familiar scenes and to see hidden truths therein. Zhang will explore this theme of estranging our vision by highlighting the role of photography in In Search of Lost Time.