2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Swann’s Way à compte d'auteur, the first volume of In Search of Lost Time. When Proust wrote it, he was convinced it would fall into oblivion in ten years. I am happy to say that Proust was wrong. Marcel Proust is still a powerful man who transforms lives.
When I first discovered La Recherche du Temps Perdu, I was 21 years old, studying math and set on a path to become a math professor. This book pulled me in a different direction. I began new studies in philosophy and literature, which led me to cultural diplomacy. So today, if I am in New York as the Cultural Counselor, it is Mr. Proust’s fault. And I thank him every day for this.
Upon my arrival in the US, I was surprised to meet so many Americans who, like me, saw their lives changed because of an encounter with Mr. Proust. Proust is the epitome of French fiction in the United States and Swann’s way is probably one of, if not THE most essential book for French intellectual life. Why is this?
Well, you may remember how Proust described the French intelligentsia: “they are incapable of saying a simple thing in a simple way” - and I won’t quote the full sentence, since it is six hundred words, which is pretty short for Proust. So I will try to keep it simple and clear - or at least as simple and clear as the French can be.
Simply put, Proust teaches us that things are not simple. What Proust continuously shows is that the human truth is always complex, ambivalent and most certainly contradictory. Simple ideas are seductive, but false. We are always looking for simplicity, but once we have read La Recherche, this abstract concept is basically destroyed. Proust shows that the more things are complicated, the more two rare qualities matter - although they do not always go together.
In celebration of this centennial, the French Embassy is pleased to present 'A Year with Proust', a series of events programmed throughout the year including a concert, film screening, readings, lectures and conferences.
The series opens with “Marcel Proust and Swann's Way: 100th Anniversary" at The Morgan Library & Museum, organized in partnership with the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The exhibition is a grand "première". In fact it is the first time that Proust's manuscripts have ever left France!
I invite you to all go see this exhibition which will, I hope, inspire the future Proustians of our time and change many other lives.