Alain de Botton thinks so. He wrote an entire book about it (How Proust Can Change Your Life).
On Wednesday night at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, de Botton made an impassioned argument that Proust was giving the reader a way of understanding their life in three stages. (1) GOODNESS is distributed without regard to social class. It lies in unexpected places.
(2) LOVE is fateful and fated. It is an attempt to appreciate another person.
(3) ART is a corrective to the problems of life. Art is the beginning of the journey of self-understanding. This understanding has nothing to do with academic appreciation of art. It is artists like Chardin and Vermeer, who focus on the ordinary to show us the extraordinary.
As we all know, the first 40 pages of A la recherché du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past) is about falling asleep. De Botton is a person who entertains. Insomnia is not his problem. He has a pretty good rap. If you reserach de Botton, you will find voluminous criticism of his work: “Is Alain de Botton, the biggest pseudo and poseur of all time or a brilliant writer who asks intriguing questions?” (Lynn Barber, The Observer)
Alain de Botton is a performer. Giving an amusing talk isn’t easy to do, especially when you are talking about self-understanding. It helps to sprinkle a few facts here and there: Proust’s Paris telephone number was 29205, he tipped two hundred percent in a restaurant and at the age of thirty he was still giving his mother detailed reports on his bowel movements. Spending an hour hearing de Botton talk about Proust encouraged me to give In Search of Lost Time another go. If I can just get past the first 40 pages.
Four evenings hosted by The New Yorker’s critic at large
Metropolitan Museum of Art
October 2: Why Europe Committed Suicide
October 9: Why New Art Mattered
October 16: How Proust Changed Our Minds
October 23: Africa and the West