I read Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life after having read Swann’s Way. Am I doing it wrong? I didn’t like it. How Proust Can Change Your Life, that is. I don’t know; is de Botton a real philosopher, in the practical, know-how-to-die tradition, or just a rich prat? Now that I know what he looks like I’m a bit put off by the idea of his stridently bald and improbably domed head even when I’m thinking highly of him. I imagine him and Patrick Stewart in greasy loincloths, squaring off, like rutting goats, on some grey precipitous crag; I imagine their gleaming pink pates colliding with a mighty crash. I bought Essays In Love mainly because it was the only book in the English section of a small bookstore that didn’t look like it would feature a character named Madison, or use the phrase, “with every fiber of his being”. I quite liked it. It was full of gleaming little aperçus, and I liked its tone: the examined life, on quaaludes.
Anyway, while it’s possible Proust could have changed my life, and still might, he hasn’t so far. But this is not the Proust post.
I do think de Botton’s latest foray into the contemporary consciousness, as a sort of scandalized shusher who’s had quite enough of pushy atheists, or a palms-up, heavenly-choir humanist lobbying for some kind of vaguely defined new-age temple of man, is pretty deeply silly. I feel like he’s going about it wrong, like his answer to the agonies and anomies of modern machine-life (but this is not the machine post) is a kind of Renaissance Faire version of religion. I don’t know; isn’t there just something iffy about the guy? I think he should start a boy band with Julian Assange and Max Headroom.