I have said that it would be impossible to depict our relationship with anyone whom we have even slightly known without passing in review, one after another, the most different settings of our life.
Each individual therefore—and I was myself one of these individuals—was a measure of duration for me, in virtue of the revolutions which like some heavenly body he had accomplished not only on his own axis but also around other bodies, in virtue, above all, of the successive positions which he had occupied in relation to myself.
And surely the awareness of all these different planes within which, since in this last hour, at this party, I had recaptured it, Time seemed to dispose the different elements of my life, had, by making me reflect that in a book which tried to tell the story of a life it would be necessary to use not the two-dimensional psychology which we normally use but a quite different sort of three-dimensional psychology, added a new beauty to those resurrections of the past which my memory had effected while I was following my thoughts alone in the library, since memory by itself, when it introduces the past, unmodified, into the present—the past just as it was at the moment when it was itself the present—suppresses the mighty dimension of Time which is the dimension in which life is lived.
Time Regained Volume VI, Marcel Proust, The Modern Library translation, Loc 6438.
The Narrator says "So often, in the course of my life, reality had disappointed me..." and I think of him seeing Mme de Guermantes in the church and hearing Berma for the first time, etc.
So often, in the course of my life, reality had disappointed me because at the instant when my senses perceived it my imagination, which was the only organ that I possessed for the enjoyment of beauty, could not apply itself to it, in virtue of that ineluctable law which ordains that we can only imagine what is absent.
Le temps retrouvé by Marcel Proust (1927) and Time Regained translated by Andreas Mayor and Terrance Kilmartin (1981) and revised by D. J. Enright (1992) p. 263
Note: this is a posthumously published volume; (it) was written at the same time as Swann's Way, but was revised and expanded during the course of the novel's publication to account for, to a greater or lesser success, the then unforeseen material now contained in the middle volumes. Wikipedia.
In addition to Andreas Mayor and Terrance Kilmartin there are other translators of this same volume: Sidney Schiff (1931), Ian Patterson (2003) and Neville Jason (2011) who recorded his translation on Naxos.
That "we can only imagine what is absent," reminds me of the Mahayana philosopher, Nägärjuna (~250 BC) and the Tetralemma: "It cannot be said to exist. It cannot be said not to exist. It cannot be said to both exist and not exist. It cannot be said to neither exist or not exist." Wikipedia.
At the Guermante's library in Time Regained, once again we meet our mystical Proust (or his stand-in, the Narrator). The language they use is not as smooth and perfect as most people think. It's holely—and the homonym is intended. God lurks within it as Zen masters do not say.
What transpired in the immediate years before the Narrator happened upon the uneven paving stones in the courtyard at the Guermante's party intrigues me.
In The Varieties of Religious Experience 1902 by William James, the author states mystical states are always proceeded by a hopelessness and the surrender to this fact. This is much like the mental state of the Narrator coming from a sanatorium outside of Paris to a daytime party at the Princess de Guermantes.
... now that I possessed the proof that I was useless and that literature could no longer give me any joy whatever, whether this was my fault, through my not having enough talent, or the fault of literature itself ...
Le temps retrouvé by Marcel Proust (1927) and Time Regained translated by Andreas Mayor and Terrance Kilmartin (1981) and revised by D. J. Enright (1992) p. 254.
After many years of trying, now he had decided that he couldn't write and furthermore Art had absolutely nothing to offer him—he surrendered to this view.
Then, just before the Narrator entered the Guermantes' mansion, he stumbles on uneven paving stones in the courtyard and seeming by magic they fill him with an uncommon joy—eventually he becomes mystically aware of Venice and the uneven stones at Saint Mark's.
'Yes, reality can contain sensual beauty'. The Narrator can see beauty (it is there in the reality he perceives) but he cannot enjoy it or imagine it because the perception overpowers his imagination. Beauty is present and he perceives it, albeit unenthusiastically—he cannot imagine or enjoy beauty's unique attributes because "we can only imagine what is absent."
We must remember that this is a sentence fragment from a long novel which becomes more mystical as I read it; it is unlike a realist work.
Simon quotes Samuel Becket in Proust (1931), "The Proustian equation is never simple," and part of that equation is a possible ending:
And I understood that all these materials for a work of literature were simply my past life; I understood that they had come to me, in frivolous pleasures, in indolence, in tenderness, in unhappiness, and that I had stored them up without divining the purpose for which they were destined ...
Le temps retrouvé by Marcel Proust (1927) and translated as Time Regained by Andreas Mayor and Terrance Kilmartin (1981) and revised by D. J. Enright (1992) p. 304.
Yet I was so accustomed, ever since I first made their acquaintance, to consider his wife an unusual person with a thorough knowledge of Schopenhauer who had access to an intellectual _milieu_ closed to her vulgar husband, that I was at first surprised when Saint-Loup remarked: "His wife is an idiot, you can have her; but he's an excellent fellow, gifted and extremely agreeable," By the idiocy of the wife, no doubt Saint-Loup meant her mad longing to get into the best society which that society severely condemned and, by the qualities of the husband, those his niece implied when she called him the best of the family. Anyhow, he did not bother himself about duchesses but that sort of intelligence is as far removed from the kind that characterises thinkers as is the intelligence the public respects because it has enabled a rich man "to make his pile."
But the words of Saint-Loup did not displease me since they recalled that pretentiousness is closely allied to stupidity and that simplicity has a subtle but agreeable flavor.
Time Regained Marcel Proust 1927 (posthumous) translated by Stephen Hudson 1931 on Gutenberg, (my emphasis).
And the most disagreeable part of all this was once again his vanity, for he was flattered at being loved by Gilberte and, without daring to say that it was Charlie whom he loved, gave, nevertheless, of the love which the violinist was supposed to feel for him, details which he, the Saint-Loup from whom Charlie every day demanded more and more money, knew to be wildly exaggerated if not invented from start to finish.
Time Regained Marcel Proust 1927 (posthumous) translated by Mayor, Kilmartin and Enright, 1992.