Essays in Literary Criticism of George Santayana

By George Santayana; Irving Singer | Go to book overview

PROUST ON ESSENCES

NO NOVELIST," writes Mr. Desmond MacCarthy, "has ever done such complete justice (as has Proust) to the great fact that all things pass and change." Yet this complete absorption in the flux of sensations, and abstention from all judgments about their causes or their relative values, leads Proust in the end to a very remarkable perception: that the flux of phenomena is after all accidental to them, and that the positive reality in each is not the fact that it appears or disappears, but rather the intrinsic quality which it manifests, an eternal essence which may appear and disappear a thousand times. Such an essence, when it is talked about, may seem mysterious and needlessly invented, but when noticed it is the clearest and least doubtful of things--the only sort of thing, indeed, that can ever be observed with direct and exhaustive clearness. An essence is simply the recognisable character of any object or feeling, all of it that can actually be possessed in sensation or recovered in memory, or transcribed in art, or conveyed to another mind. All that was intrinsically real in past time is accordingly recoverable. The hopeless flux and the temporal order of things are not ultimately interesting; they belong merely to the material occasions on which essences recur, or to the flutterings of attention, hovering like a moth about lights which are eternal.

A beautiful and impassioned confession of this discovery will be found in the last volume of Proust great work, the second Le Temps Retrouvé, pp. 14-23. Speaking of the vivid recovery of things long past, he says:

Ces diverses impressions bienheureuses . . . avaient entre elles ceci de commun, que je les éprouvais à la fois dans le moment

-241-

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Essays in Literary Criticism of George Santayana
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • A Note About This Edition v
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction: Santayana As A Literary Critic ix
  • Part I - Three Philosophical Poets 1
  • Part II - Critical Essays 75
  • The Homeric Hymns 77
  • Platonic Love In Some Italian Poets 94
  • Cervantes 112
  • Hamlet 120
  • The Absence of Religion In Shakespeare 137
  • The Poetry Of Barbarism 149
  • Hints of Egotism In Goethe 179
  • Shelley: or the Poetic Value Of Revolutionary Principles 186
  • Leopardi 208
  • Dickens 210
  • Emerson 224
  • Penitent Art 234
  • Proust On Essences 241
  • The Last Puritan 246
  • Preface 246
  • Tragic Philosophy 266
  • Part III - Critical Theory 279
  • The Elements And Function of Poetry 281
  • Speech And Signification 304
  • Poetry And Prose 317
  • Literary Form 336
  • Literary Psychology 394
  • Mythology 402
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