Thursday, August 02, 2007

The pure and calm friendship that reading is

From Marcel Proust, On Reading, trans. and ed. Jean Autret and William Burford:
No doubt friendship, friendship for individuals, is a frivolous thing, and reading is a friendship. But at least it is a sincere friendship, and the fact that it is directed to one who is dead, who is absent, gives it something disinterested, almost moving. It is, moreover, a friendship unencumbered with all that makes up the ugliness of other kinds. Since we are all, we the living, only the dead who have not yet assumed our roles, all these compliments, all these greetings in the hall which we call deference, gratitude, devotion, and in which we mingle so many lies, are sterile and tiresome. Furthermore--from our first relations of sympathy, of admiration, of gratitude--the first words we speak, the first letters we we write, weave around us the initial threads of a web of habits, of a veritable manner of being from which we can no longer extricate ourselves in ensuing friendships, without reckoning that during that time the excessive words we have spoken remain like debts which we have to pay, or which we will pay still more dearly all our life with the remorse of having let ourselves refuse them. In reading, friendship is suddenly brought back to its first purity. With books, no amiability. These friends, if we spend an evening with them, it is truly because we desire them. In their case, at least, we leave often only with regret. And with none of those thoughts, when we have left, that spoil friendship: What did they think of us? Didn't we lack tact? Did we please?--and the fear of being forgotten for another. All these agitations of friendship come to an end at the threshold of that pure and calm friendship that reading is.

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