Proust’s New Year’s Resolutions

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Proust, the anxious protagonist of our literary journey, seems to me like the kind of guy who would have loved new year’s resolutions. He would have been the person who, instead of making one or two manageable resolutions he could probably keep, would instead make dramatic vows of radical change — which he would quickly abandon. Were I to make Proustian New Year’s resolutions, I would probably pledge to make 2013 the year I finish my first novel, or run my first marathon. Since neither of those is likely to happen this year, I am instead making resolutions I can easily keep. The first is, of course, to be a superior blogger and Proust-consumer than I was in 2012.

When Marcel sees a young country girl while passing in his carriage, it is enough of a meeting for our flaky narrator to decide that he is in love with her. But the book mocks Marcel’s naiveté: after all, “Beauty is a sequence of hypotheses which ugliness cuts short when it bars the way that we could already see opening into the unknown” (398). Proust is suggesting here that the future is beautiful by virtue of its unknowability. People, potential lovers, places and things: all of them acquire attractiveness by being free from the burden of history. Even though I recognize that the author is mocking the narrator’s impulse to project his heart onto a stranger, I can’t help but wonder if there’s something to be gained from Marcel’s approach to love–and if I can’t find something in such an approach to apply to this new year.

2013 is not just any new year for me and Maeve: it is the first complete year of our new, post-academic lives. It’s the first year in New York City for my co-blogger, and the first year in New York for me when I don’t rely on my parents for lunch money. 2013 is a great deal unknown, and I have the fewest expectations of it as I have ever had of a single year. I can’t point to any definitive landmarks I know I’ll achieve: there is nothing to graduate from, no classes to earn good grades in, no trips to foreign countries to look forward to. But, lest I come off as pessimistic, what I mean is that 2013 is totally free from the burden of expectation or history. We don’t know what this year holds, and that’s a good thing.

So like Marcel, I’m going to let myself be completely enamored with the unknown. In 2013 I hope to find “even more beautiful a world which thus caused to grow along all the country roads flowers at once rare and common, fleeting treasures of the day, windfalls of the drive, of which the contingent circumstances circumstances that might not, perhaps, recur had alone prevented me from taking advantage, and which gave a new zest to life” (401).

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