Verona’s Festival della Bellezza - Alessandro Piperno lays bare the soul of Proust

Alessandro Piperno is a literary critic, columnist of Corriere della Sera and esteemed novelist; he is also professor of French Literature at the University of Rome.

In the meeting at the Giardino Giusti, Professor Piperno has explored some aspects of the creation of the colossal work of Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time,with affection and irony. This novel in which the end harks back to the beginning, was written between 1906 and 1922 and is composed of seven volumes, narrated in the first person by a protagonist that often coincides with the author and with some characters, even if several elements suggest that it is not a pure autobiography.

A work that was sedimented in Marcel so much so as to become an integral part of his adult life, and in which the reader – the one who decides to venture into the text and go beyond the first 30 pages – can witness the emotional development not only of the author, but of all the historical context that surrounds him. When the protagonist begins to perceive the reverberation of the unavoidable fragility of earthly pleasures, here blossoms the yearning for lost time (lost, but also wasted), the slow trickle of death, the obsession with Decadentism to which Proust is inevitably associated. Yet putting the Recherche into any one box would be reductive, as it weaves together all the veins of an era of incisive historical, social and cultural change. Proust – from a wealthy family, Jewish on his mother’s side, asthmatic and homosexual – has been able to convey these vibrations first in a refined sense of worldly enjoyment, then, not without consistency, in feverish incessant writing, which has led to the troubled publication of Recherche,first rejected, later acclaimed.

Deep and disenchanted connoisseur of Marcel Proust, Alessandro Piperno has emphasised the importance of both the ability to experience happy moments, and the awareness of their fleeting nature, for artistic expression. In fact, happiness swings continuously between expectation and nostalgia, only just touching the present. Should it last longer, it would lose its value. When awareness of death begins to lurk in the soul it never leaves and begins to deposit its seeds of uneasiness, while at the same time making the maturity that is essential for the literary form of the novel germinate. Art proves to be, in the flow of time, like a handle to cling to in order to grant the spirit more lasting contentment. The obsession to become a writer, to exorcise the crumbling of existence through art, has made Proust a sublime interpreter of his own life and of his own death and it has given him the satisfaction of regaining possession of time.


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