Marcel Proust in “The Princesse de Guermantes Receives”, Third Chapter of The Past Recaptured, translated by Frederick A. Blossom, on the fragility of memories and the affordances offered by nebulous recall
If I still possessed a copy of […], I would never look at it; I would be too afraid of inserting in it little by little my impressions of today, covering completely those of former years; I would be too afraid of seeing it become so completely a thing of the present that, when I asked it to call forth again the child who spelled out its title in the little room at Combray, not recognizing its voice, he might not respond any longer to its call and might remain forever buried in oblivion.
The narrator had just before this called up an impression of how the mind works: “I know too well how easily the pictures left by the mind can be effaced by the mind.” I stress the subjective position of this declaration and its focus on pictures not on moments of what we might call “bundles of experience.” The pictures are fragile. They are things of the mind. The mind is ranked against its creations. “For the old ones it substitutes new ones which do not have the same power of resurrection.”
This succession of selves and the theme of resurrection is set in the context of a contrast between a copy of a given book and the work itself. And in rereading (and thereby displacing some previous impressions or pictures) we discern almost the inverse of a labour theory of value. Rereading disturbs the work (i.e. the product). Rereading, an act of labour, destroys the talisman quality of the work, indeed destroys the work as product. The work might no longer serve in conjuring the picture of the child that was.
There is an escape from resurrection. There is the call of oblivion. It may call forth something more enduring. A few pages later the lament for the present’s encroachment upon the past gives way to a passage that invites the reader to be mindful:
An hour is not merely an hour. It is a vase filled with perfumes, sounds, plans and climates.
And so the narrator moves from contemplating the role of reader to embracing the role of writer.
And so for day 416