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Oblivion Hidden from Our Eyes

Now the memories of love are no exception to the general laws of memory, which in turn are governed by the still more general laws of Habit. And as Habit weakens everything, what best reminds us of a person is precisely what we had forgotten (because it was of no importance, and we therefore left it in full possession of its strength). That is why the better part of our memories exists outside us, in a blatter of rain, in the smell of an unaired room or of the first crackling brushwood fire in a cold grate: wherever, in short, we happen upon what our mind, having no use for it, had rejected, the last treasure that the past has in store, the richest, that which, when all our flow of tears seems to have dried at the source, can make us weep again. Outside us? Within us, rather, but hidden from our eyes in an oblivion more or less prolonged. It is thanks to this oblivion alone that we can from time to time recover the person that we were, place ourselves in relation to things as he was placed, suffer anew because we are no longer ourselves but he, and because he loved what now leaves us indifferent.


I believed that I hankered after Balbec just as much as the doctor who was treating me and who said to me on the morning of our departure, surprised to see me looking so unhappy: “I don’t mind telling you that if I could only manage a week to go down and get a blow by the sea, I shouldn’t have to be asked twice. You’ll be having races, regattas, it will be delightful.” But I had already learned the lesson—long before I was taken to see Berma—that, whatever it might be that I loved, it would never be attained, save at the end of a long and painful pursuit, in the course of which I should have first to sacrifice my pleasure to that paramount good instead of seeking it therein.

—Marcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower

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