18 December 2008

The Secret

"There are few things humans are more dedicated to than unhappiness. Had we been placed on earth by a malign creator for the exclusive purpose of suffering, we would have good reason to congratulate ourselves on our enthusiastic response to the task. Reasons to be inconsolable abound: the frailty of our bodies, the fickleness of love, the insincerities of social life, the compromises of friendship, the deadening effects of habit. In the face of such persistent ills, we might naturally expect that no event would be awaited with greater anticipation than the moment of our own extinction."
-How Proust Can Change Your Life-
I'm working through "How Proust Can Change Your Life," by Alain de Botton. It's slotted mysteriously under self-help and I guess that's useful from a marketing standpoint but I've found it just to be a great book full of interesting ideas and more personal/social commentary along the lines of Friendship: An Expose. Regardless of exactly what it is, it's a fascinating book and written beautifully.

Basically there are chapters based on Proust's writings and worldview on how to love your life, how to express your emotions, how to be a good friend, how to be happy in love, how to read, how to interpret art, and how to revel in the details. Fine, it's a self-help book. Whatevers. But it's one that's written well, isn't dumbed down to simple "Life is blah blah blah" type of pronouncements, and holds no promises for a better life. It's just a good read to get you thinking.

Of particular interest to me was his chapter on friendship, which spoke to my heart and gave me confirmation that the way I think/treat friendships might just be okay after all. Proust had cynical views about friendships in general but yet he was a tremendous and much loved friend. "It meant that Proust's overwhelming priority in any encounter was to ensure that he would be liked, remembered, and thought well of." Some call it being manipulative, some call it being a calculating bastard, I see it as a defense of cynical, self-centered, but ultimately great, friendships. Proust and I must get together more, he seems like a fascinating guy.
"Given the effort and strategic intelligence he devoted to friendship, it shouldn't surprise us. For instance, it is assumed, usually by people who don't have many friends, that friendship is a hallowed sphere in which what we wish to talk about effortlessly coincides with others' interests. Proust, less optimistic than this, recognized the likelihood of discrepancy, and concluded that he should always be the one to ask questions and address himself to what was on your mind rather than risk boring you with what was on his."