Aristocratic affability

. . . . I took care not to interpret her words in the sense that I had been too modest. I was beginning to learn the exact value of the language, spoken or mute, of aristocratic affability, an affability that is happy to shed balm upon the sense of inferiority of those towards whom it is directed, though not to the point of dispelling that inferiority, for in that case it would no longer have any raison d’être. “But you are our equal, if not our superior,” the Guermantes seemed, in all their actions, to be saying; and they said it in the nicest way imaginable, in order to be loved and admired, but not to be believed; that one should discern the fictitious character of this affability was what they called being well-bred; to suppose it genuine, a sign of ill-breeding.

— Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah

judgment of generations

The people who are least capable of judging the worth of individuals are also the most inclined to adopt fashion as a principal by which to classify them; they have not exhausted, or even grazed the surface of, the talented men of one generation, when suddenly they are obliged to condemn them all en bloc, for here is a new generation with a new label which will be no better understood than its predecessor.

[Proust, Time Regained]

every morning war is declared afresh

“Be honest, my friend, you yourself once propounded a theory to me about things existing only in virtue of a creation which is perpetually renewed. The creation of the world did not take place once and for all, you said, it is, of necessity, taking place every day.  Well, if you are sincere, you cannot except war from this theory. . . . [T]he truth is that every morning war is declared afresh. And the men who wish to continue it are as guilty as the men who began it, more guilty perhaps, for the latter perhaps did not forsee all its horrors.”

[Proust, Time Regained]

the invisible line of this falling bomb

For the novel reality of a danger is perceived only through the medium of that new thing, not assimilable to anything that we already know, to which we give the name “an impression” and which is often, as in the present case, epitomised in a line, a line which defines an intention and possesses the latent potentiality of the action which has given it its particular form, like the invisible line of this falling bomb . . . .

[Proust, Time Regained]

Proust’s Experimental Faith

“Yes that’s what she wanted, that was the purpose of her action,” my compassionate reason assured me; but I felt that, in doing so, my reason was still basing itself on the same hypothesis which it had adopted from the start. Whereas I was well aware that it was the other hypothesis which had invariably proved correct. No doubt this second hypothesis would never have been so bold as to formulate in so many words the notion that Albertine could have been on intimate terms with Mlle Vinteuil and her friend… But all the same, if, after the immense new leap which life had just caused me to make, the reality that confronted me was as novel as that which is presented to us by the discovery of a scientist, by the inquiries of an examining magistrate or the researches of a historian into the hidden aspects of a crime or a revolution, this reality, while exceeding the puny predictions of my second hypothesis, nevertheless fulfilled them. This second hypothesis was not an intellectual one, and the panic fear that had gripped me on the evening when Albertine had refused to kiss me, or the night when I had heard the sound of her window being opened, was not based upon reason. But… the fact that our intelligence is not the subtlest, most powerful, most appropriate instrument for grasping the truth is only one reason the more for beginning with the intelligence, and not with an unconscious intuition, a ready-made faith in presentiments. It is life that, little by little, case by case, enables us to observe that what is most important to our hearts or to our minds is taught to us not by reasoning but by other powers. And then it is the intelligence itself which, acknowledging their superiority, abdicates to them through reasoning and consents to become their collaborator and their servant. Experimental faith. It seemed to me that the unforeseen calamity with which I found myself grappling was also something that I had already known… from having read it in so many signs in which (notwithstanding the contrary affirmations of my reason, based upon Albertine’s own statements) I had discerned the weariness, the loathing that she felt at having to live in that state of slavery, signs that had so often seemed to me to be written as though in invisible ink behind her sad, submissive eyes, upon her cheeks suddenly inflamed with an unaccountable blush, in the sound of the window that had suddenly been flung open. Doubtless I had not dared to explore them fully or to form explicitly the idea of her sudden departure. I had thought, my mind kept in equilibrium by Albertine’s presence, only of a departure arranged by myself at an undetermined date, that is to say a date situated in a non-existent time; consequently I had merely the illusion of thinking of a departure, just as people imagine that they are not afraid of death when they think of it while they are in good health and are actually doing no more than introduce [sic?] a purely negative idea into a healthy state which the approach of death would of course precisely alter.  (V 568-70)
[Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Volume V: The Captive & The Fugitive. Translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D.J. Enright (New York: The Modern Library, 2003)]