The Corner

Christopher Hitchens On Proust

All I can say is, wow. In the Atlantic, one of the best prose writers of our time discusses what I am not alone in thinking is the best novel ever written. A highlight: “If I were asked to ’summarize’ the achievement of Proust, I should reply as dauntlessly as I dared that his is the work par excellence that exposes and clarifies the springs of human motivation. Through his eyes we see what actuates the dandy and the lover and the grandee and the hypocrite and the poseur, with a transparency unexampled except in Shakespeare or George Eliot. And this ability, so piercing and at times even alarming, is not mere knowingness. It is not, in other words, the product of cynicism. To be so perceptive and yet so innocent—that, in a phrase, is the achievement of Proust.” Right on. The (much less eloquent) way I like to put it is: Proust tells us what life feels like–not what it’s supposed to feel like, in “literature”; what it does feel like.

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