Proust, Marcel - In Search of Lost time Volume 6 - A Vision of azure blue
Type of Spiritual Experience
In this vision Proust had been reflecting on his lifelong literary efforts and recounts the rising of his psyche to joy from gloomy thoughts about the life of the mind which he termed infertile, boring tedious, useless, sterile, and melancholy! Whilst crossing a courtyard he stumbles on an uneven paving stone and suddenly the blue mood he was in became a vision of blue.
The description runs to several pages, so we have extracted some of the key paragraphs. For those interested in the full text, it occurs towards the end of the book.
There is some interesting incorporation of alchemical symbolism in his description and obliquely a reference to the spiritual path. I quote
‘Cauda Pavonis’, the peacock’s tail, or the peacock itself, is a phase in which many colours appear. Many alchemists place this phase before albedo, whiteness, although some of them place it after albedo.
It is clear from his description that he went ‘out of time’ so that past present and future all seemed to concatenate, “I was made to doubt whether I was in the one or the other”
Marcel Proust – Time regained
… the plumage of an ocean green and blue like the tail of a peacock appeared. And what I found myself enjoying was not merely these colours but a whole instant of my life on whose summit they rested. ……
Anxiety on the subject of my death had ceased… since the being which at that moment I had been was an extra temporal being. The being which had been reborn in me with a sudden shudder of happiness is nourished only by the essence of things ……man freed from the order of time
A description of the experience
In search of Lost time – Volume 6 Time regained – Marcel Proust
But it is sometimes just at the moment when we think that everything is lost that the intimation arrives which may save us; one has knocked at all the doors which lead nowhere, and then one stumbles without knowing it on the only door through which one can enter – which one might have sought in vain for a hundred years – and it opens of its own accord.
Revolving the gloomy thoughts which I have just recorded, I had entered the courtyard of the Guermantes mansion and in my absent minded state I had failed to see a car which was coming towards me; the chauffeur gave a shout and I just had time to step out of the way, but as I moved sharply backwards I tripped against the uneven paving stones in front of the coach-house. At that moment when, recovering my balance, I put my foot on a stone which was slightly lower than its neighbour, all my discouragement vanished and in its place was that same happiness which at various epochs of my life had been given to me by the sight of trees which I had thought that I recognised in the course of a drive near Balbec, by the sight of the twin steeples of Martinville, by the flavour of a madeleine dipped in tea, and by all those other sensations of which I have spoken and of which the last works of Vinteuil had seemed to me to combine the quintessential character.
Just as, at the moment when I tasted the madeleine, all anxiety about the future, all intellectual doubts had disappeared, so now those that a few seconds ago had assailed me on the subject of my literary gifts, the reality even of literature, were removed as if by magic.
I had followed no new train of reasoning, discovered no decisive argument, but the difficulties which had seemed insoluble a moment ago had lost all importance.
The happiness which I had just felt was unquestionably the same as that which I had felt when I tasted the madeleine soaked in tea.
But if on that occasion I had put off the task of searching for the profounder causes of my emotion, this time I was determined not to resign myself to a failure to understand them.
The emotion was the same; the difference , purely material, lay in the images evoked; a profound azure intoxicated my eyes, impressions of coolness, of dazzling Light, swirled round me and in my desire to seize them – as afraid to move as I had been on the earlier occasion when I tried to draw into my consciousness whatever it was that it recalled to me – I continued, ignoring the evident amusement of the great crowd of chauffeurs, to stagger as I had staggered a few seconds ago, with one foot on the higher paving stone and the other on the lower.
Every time that I merely repeated this physical movement, I achieved nothing; but if I succeeded forgetting the Guermantes party, in recapturing what I had felt when I first placed my feet on the ground in this way, again the dazzling and indistinct vision fluttered near me, as if to say:
‘Seize me as I pass if you can, and try to solve the riddle of happiness which I set you’.
And almost at once I recognised the vision; it was Venice, of which my efforts to describe it and the supposed snapshots taken by my memory had never told me anything, but which the sensation which I had once experienced as I stood upon two uneven stones in the Baptistry of St Mark’s had , recurring a moment ago, restored to me complete with all the other sensations linked on that day to that particular sensation, all of which had been waiting in their place – from which with imperious suddenness a chance happening had caused them to emerge – in the series of forgotten days.
In the same way the taste of the little Madeleine had recalled Combray to me. But why had the images of Combray and of Venice, at these two different moments, given me a joy which was like a certainty and which sufficed, without any other proof, to make death a matter of indifference to me?....................
[Other examples of perfect perception recall occur prompted by smells and tastes and sounds]….
…… instantly, as though I had been the character in the Arabian Nights who unwittingly accomplishes the very rite which can cause to appear, visible to him alone, a docile genie ready to convey him to a great distance, a new vision of azure passed before my eyes, but an azure that this time was pure and saline and swelled into blue and bosomy undulations, and so strong was this impression that the moment to which I was transported seemed to me to be the present moment: …… I thought that the servant had just opened the window on to the beach and that all things invited me to go down and stroll along the promenade while the tide was high………..
The source of the experienceProust, Marcel
Concepts, symbols and science items
Perceptions - accessing perceptions
Perceptions and memory