Sunday, March 13, 2005

Proust, re: Adolescence

There is hardly a single action we perform in that phase [adolescence] which we would not give anything, in later life, to be able to annul. Whereas what we ought to regret is that we no longer possess the spontaneity which made us perform them. In later life we look at things in a more practical way, in full conformity with the rest of society, but adolescence is the only period in which we learn anything. (423)

'...there are young people...whose masters have instilled into them nobility of mind and moral refinement from their schooldays. ...but they are poor creatures, feeble descendants of doctrinaires, and their wisdom is negative and sterile. We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.' (607-608)
What Proust isn't trying to say: Go forth. Light up a Doobie. Couchez avec des jeunes filles, sans protection. Do it all for the sake of wisdom and experience.

What Proust is trying to say: I (Debbie) am unsure. I realize that his intended audience is the 20-/30-year-old French male, well out of adolescence but still regretting all his teenage faux pas. To them he is saying "Be at peace with your mistakes because they have shaped your intellect and character."

But is there any sort of lesson in there at all for the struggling pubescent besides "Revel in your screw-ups because one day you'll grow up and be sad that you have lost the spontaneity of adolescence?" Which is like 40% comforting in a delayed-gratification sort of way, but 60% irritating because that is exactly the type of thing that old people say - treasure your youth, &c. - and really the only reason they can say that is because they've conveniently nostalgia'd out all the terrible parts of youth.

It is also 100% disappointing because other than this one incident, Mr. Proust has shown himself to be very adept at putting himself in shoes that he no longer fills, recapturing the splendor of first loves and sidelong glances and explaining it all away quite beautifully and sensibly.

So, now that I think about it, it is more likely that I am misinterpreting him. Which illustrates my least favorite part about this phase: the inability to ever be certain of your own validity. (Proust would probably say that this is a good thing because it indicates an eagerness to learn. I would probably say oh shut up.)