New eyes on Marcel Proust’s new eyes quotation

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.–Marcel Proust, 1923

Marcel Proust. LOOKS French, doesn’t he?

I used this quote in my blog post Spring 2013 – Early April.  In those days, I was not as careful about confirming the accuracy of a quote.  It’s not merely a matter of accuracy or being picayune.  It’s about respect for the author/speaker and reader.

Beyond that, when I research the source and true meaning of a quote, I learn more than it could otherwise teach (or inspire) me out-of-context and distorted as so many quotes are.

In the case of this Proust piece, you can check dozens of websites, including some of the better ones, and find two or three versions repeated among them, all paraphrases, not quotes.

I’m grateful to Craig Thompson for his post on the matter in his blog Clearing Customs.  He turned me in the right direction, writing,

“A little more searching led me to the actual quotation, and the original source. It’s Proust’s seven-volume work, Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time). The quotation above is a paraphrase of text in volume 5—The Prisoner—originally published in French, in 1923, and first translated into English by C. K. Moncrief.”

His link is for the full text of The Prisoner at Project Gutenberg AustraliaIt is part of Proust’s “continuous novel” Remembrance of Things Past (À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, literally In Search of Time Lost) 3000 pages written in eight volumes from 1913 to 1927.

To get the full flavor of the commonly misquoted/paraphrased original text, here is the passage it came from, pasted exactly as it appears at Gutenberg.  I don’t know if some things that seem unusual are caused by translation from French or by archaic language or error.  Doesn’t matter.


And I’ll be the last to complain about the length of his hyper-Faulkneresque sentences.  I’ve attached my favorite Faulkner passage below.

Note: In this novel, the character Elstir is a painter and Vinteuil is a composer.

This lost country composers do not actually remember, but each of them remains all his life somehow attuned to it; he is wild with joy when he is singing the airs of his native land, betrays it at times in his thirst for fame, but then, in seeking fame, turns his back upon it, and it is only when he despises it that he finds it when he utters, whatever the subject with which he is dealing, that peculiar strain the monotony of which—for whatever its subject it remains identical in itself—proves the permanence of the elements that compose his soul. But is it not the fact then that from those elements, all the real residuum which we are obliged to keep to ourselves, which cannot be transmitted in talk, even by friend to friend, by master to disciple, by lover to mistress, that ineffable something which makes a difference in quality between what each of us has felt and what he is obliged to leave behind at the threshold of the phrases in which he can communicate with his fellows only by limiting himself to external points common to us all and of no interest, art, the art of a Vinteuil like that of an Elstir, makes the man himself apparent, rendering externally visible in the colours of the spectrum that intimate composition of those worlds which we call individual persons and which, without the aid of art, we should never know? A pair of wings, a different mode of breathing, which would enable us to traverse infinite space, would in no way help us, for, if we visited Mars or Venus keeping the same senses, they would clothe in the same aspect as the things of the earth everything that we should be capable of seeing. The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is; and this we can contrive with an Elstir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from star to star.

It’s creative, really, to boil that down to, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

I wonder who did it?

So much easier to remember, too.  Still, I will go back and change that old April 2013 blog post to say it was derived from Proust’s Prisoner, with a link to the original.

If you’ve read this far, you deserve some ice cream for dessert.  Below are the opening lines from Chapter 6 in William Faulkner’s novel, Light in August.

I read somewhere that it was the only book he wrote fully sober, and is his best one, but he went back to drinking after it.  But don’t quote me on that.  I can’t remember where I read it, so long ago.  But I will never forget this sentence about memory and knowing …

MEMORY believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. Knows remembers believes a corridor in a big long garbled cold echoing building of dark red brick sootbleakened by more chimneys than its own, set in a grassless cinderstrewnpacked compound surrounded by smoking factory purlieus and enclosed by a ten foot steel-and-wire fence like a penitentiary or a zoo, where in random erratic surges, with sparrowlike childtrebling, orphans in identical and uniform blue denim in and out of remembering but in knowing constant as the bleak walls, the bleak windows where in rain soot from the yearly adjacenting chimneys streaked like black tears.

I will never forget the words sootbleakenedcinderstrewnpacked and childtrebling.  There’s your ice cream, in three flavors, since this post has no nature pictures to relieve you from the text.  Are you satisfied with dessert?


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