Web Cowgirl 衛 思 維 (webcowgirl) wrote,
Web Cowgirl 衛 思 維

Friendship according to Proust (as interpreted by Alain de Botton)

For months I've been yearning to put this quote in my journal, but couldn't because my copy of How Proust Can Change Your Life (by Alain de Botton, whom I can apparently pay to have lunch with me via the "School of Life's" hire an expert program - and since no one else I know is going to talk about this book with me, why not him?). It's the best insight on life I've had (well, received) over the last year, and I think it is good enough to share with the world. I mean, I'm in my 40s now, what more do I need to learn about how people behave? But among all of the subjects I have studied, this has been the one I have found most tricky: what makes people work, and how do you form and keep friends. De Botton provides this illumination, as distilled from A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, on the degree of insincerity that friendship demands:

"There seems a gap between what others need to hear from us in order to trust that we like them, and the extent of the negative thoughts we know we can feel toward them and still like them. We know it is possible to think of someone as both dismal at poetry and perceptive, both inclined to pomposity and charming, both suffering from halitosis and genial. But the susceptibility of others means that the negative part of the equation can rarely be expressed without jeopardizing the union. We usually believe gossip about ourselves to have been inspired by a level of malice far greater (or more critical) than the malice we ourselves felt in relation to the last person we gossiped about, a person whose habits we could mock without this in any way altering our affection for them."

This has been the thing I've learned: people actually have extremely fragile self-images, especially with regard to their friends and how they see them. It's most certainly true for me, and I've seen plenty of proof of it being true of others. It's been a surprise to realize that the normal teasing I do could actually wound someone quite deeply, but it's also been good for me to realize that people can mock me (or quite sincerely criticize me) but still hold deep and strong affection for me. And I've also realized it's completely natural for me to be quite wounded when I've found out how poor people's opinions are of me - but now I have a bit more perspective about how the hurt I feel magnifies my interpretation of the poorness of their opinions. I'm just a little creampuff, but in some ways, we all are.

I've added a bit more from the section immediately following in the book, since I find it really interesting to read.

"How are we to respond to the level of insincerity apparently required in every friendship? How are we to respond to the two habitually conflicting projects carried on under the single umbrella of friendship: a project to secure affection, and a project to express ourselves honestly? [Isn't that really what it's about for me, too? -ed] It was because Proust was both unusually honest and unusually affectionate [also me]that he drove the joint project to the breaking point and came up with his distinctive approach to friendship, which was to judge that the pursuit of affection and the pursuit of truth were fundamentally incompatible ... One might imagine that it made Proust a far lesser friend, but paradoxically, the radical separation had the power to make him both a better, more loyal, more charming friend, and a more honest, profound, and unsentimental thinker."

I love Mr. de Botton's bio on the School of Life website: "Alain has spent years poring over Proust’ letters, essays and fiction not in order to gain a PhD on a new interpretation of some minor character from In Search of Lost Time, but in order to share with us all the power of literature to change our lives." That's why his book is awesome. Maybe if we have lunch together he can help me figure out how to take my passion and do something interesting with it, because I certainly could care less about the dull regurgitations other people have produced ont the topic.
Tags: friends, proust

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