Proust and his work occupy an unusual position in modern times. From the In- dustrial Revolution up to and including our time, writers and thinkers are repeat- edly complaining about the ugliness of the mechanised world. Nearly all of them are cultural pessimists. Proust is one of the very few who show no sign at all of this pessimism; the best refutation of The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig is to be found in this writer, who wrote: “And very soon it is we ourselves who are on the horizon for the generations that come after us; all the while the horizon retreats into the distance, and the world, which seemed to be finished, begins again.” a 121 One could even claim that his work has brought cultural pessimism into question, in that he has exposed it as a form of idolatry, of aestheticism. Anatole France was a prominent writer at that time and initially very much admired by Proust. When he complains that after the eighteenth century nobody can write any more, the basis of his complaint, Proust is convinced, lies in the idolatrous worship of literary forms which used to be once expressions of life and thought.122 Proust’s vitalistic answer goes: The great artist is reborn every time. But he is not immediately recognised as such, first he has to treat people’s eyes like an ophthalmologist: “‘Now look!’ and suddenly, the world, which, far from having been created once and for all, is created afresh each...
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