sainte beuve

“But it was especially by speaking of my inclinations as no longer liable to change and of what was destined to make my life a happy one that he awakened in me two terrible suspicions. The first was that (at a time when, every day, I regarded myself as standing on the threshold of a life that was still intact and would not enter on its course until the following morning) my existence was already begun, and that, furthermore, what was yet to follow would not be very different from what had preceded. The second suspicion, which was nothing more, really, than a variant of the first, was that I was not situated somewhere outside the realm of Time, but was subject to its laws, just like the people in novels who, for that reason, used to plunge me into such depression when I read about their lives, down at Combray, in the back of my wicker sentry box. In theory we know that the earth turns, but in fact we do not perceive it; the ground on which we tread seems not to move and we live undisturbed. So it is with Time in our life. And to make its flight perceptible novelists are obliged, by wildly accelerating the beat of the pendulum, to transport the reader in a couple of minutes over ten, twenty, or thirty years. At the top of one page we have left a lover full of hope; at the foot of the next we meet him again, an octogenarian, painfully dragging himself on his daily walk about the courtyard of a nursing home, scarcely replying to what is said to him, oblivious of the past. In saying of me, “He is no longer a child; his tastes will not change now, etc.,” my father had suddenly made me see myself in my position in Time, and caused me the same kind of depression as if I had been, not yet the demented old nursing home patient, but one of those heroes of whom the author, in a tone of indifference that is particularly cruel, says to us at the end of a book: “He very seldom comes up now from the country. He has finally decided to end his days there, etc.””

Μarcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, In Search of Lost Time

“There comes a time (and this is a problem of consciousness) when “our days are numbered”: there begins a backwards count, vague yet irreversible. You knew you were mortal (everyone has told  you  so, ever since you had ears to hear); suddenly you feel mortal (this is not a natural feeling; the natural one is to believe yourself immortal; whence so many accidents due to careless­ness).This evidence, once it is experienced, transforms the landscape: I must, imperatively, lodge my work in a compart­ment which has uncertain contours but which I know (new consciousness) are finite: the last compartment. Or rather, be­cause the compartment is designated, because there  are no longer any “outside-instances,” the work I am going to lodge there assumes a kind of formality, a solemn instance. Like Proust, ill, threatened by death (or believing himself so), we come back to the phrase of St. John quoted, approximately, in Contre Sainte­Beuve: “Work, while you still have the light.”
And then a time also comes (the same time) when what you have done, worked, written, appears doomed to repetition: What! Until my death, to be writing articles,  giving courses, lectures, on “subjects” which alone will vary, and so little! (It’s that “on” which bothers me.) This feeling is a cruel one; for it confronts me with the foreclosure of anything New or even of any Adventure (that which “advenes” which befalls me); I see my future, until death, as a series: when I’ve finished this text, this lecture, I’ll have nothing else to do but start again with another … Can this be all?  No, Sisyphus is not happy: he is alienated, not by  the effort of his labor, or even by its vanity, but by its repetition.”

Roland Barthes, Longtemps, je me suis couche de bonne heure …, The Rustle of Language


Les souvenirs sommeillaient, on les croyait disparus ; mais, au moindre mouvement qu'on fait dans ces recoins de soi-même, au moindre rayon qu'on y dirige, c'est comme une poussière d'innombrables atomes qui s'élève et redemande à briller.
—  Sainte-Beuve, Volupté
Qu'est-ce qu'un classique ? Un vrai classique, comme j'aimerais à l'entendre définir, c'est un auteur qui a enrichi l'esprit humain, qui en a réellement augmenté le trésor, qui lui a fait faire un pas de plus, qui a découvert quelque vérité morale non équivoque, ou ressaisi quelque passion éternelle dans ce cœur où tout semblait connu et exploré ; qui a rendu sa pensée, son observation ou son invention, sous une forme n'importe laquelle, mais large et grande, fine et sensée, saine et belle en soi ; qui a parlé à tous dans un style à lui et qui se trouve aussi celui de tout le monde, dans un style nouveau, sans néologisme, nouveau et antique, aisément contemporain de tous les âges.
—  Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi
Le romantique a la nostalgie, comme Hamlet ; il cherche ce qu'il n'a pas, et jusque par delà les nuages; il rêve, il vit dans les songes.
—  Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi (12 avril 1858)