Thursday, October 2, 2014


Interesting post by Shane Parrish on Farnam Street last week about Alain de Botton's book How Proust Can Change Your Life. The full backstory is in the post, but the short version goes like this: in 1922 Proust saw and responded to a query in a French newspaper posing the following question:

An American scientist announces that the world will end, or at least that such a huge part of the continent will be destroyed, and in such a sudden way, that death will be the certain fate of hundreds of millions of people. If this prediction were confirmed, what do you think would be its effects on people between the time when they acquired the aforementioned certainty and the moment of cataclysm? Finally, as far as you’re concerned, what would you do in the last hours.

Proust's reply includes this perhaps surprising assessment:

I think that life would suddenly seem wonderful to us if we were threatened to die as you say. Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies, it—our life—hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future delays them occasionally...But let all this threaten to become impossible forever, how beautiful it would become again! Ah! If only the cataclysm doesn’t happen this time, we won’t miss visiting the new galleries of the Louvre, throwing ourselves at the feet of Miss X, making a trip to India.

Here's part of de Botton's gloss on Proust:

Feeling suddenly attached to life when we realize the imminence of death suggests that it was perhaps not life itself which we had lost the taste for – so long as there was no end in sight, but our quotidian version of it, that our dissatisfactions were more the result of a certain way of living than anything irrevocably morose about human experience. Having surrendered the customary belief in our own immortality, we would then be reminded of a host of untried possibilities lurking beneath the surface of an apparently undesirable, apparently eternal existence.

I'm bringing this up because it seems to be to be relevant to me and many of my friends and colleagues as we continue to come to grips with the loss of Dan Mindich. Keeping Dan in our minds and hearts is one way to combat the lamentable tendency to fall into the vale of quotidian dissatisfaction, and one way to continue to celebrate life as he chose to do.

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