Containing whatever I enthuse over

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The Extra-Temporal Being

Posted by clissold345 on October 13, 2007

Marcel tries to explain his great sense of happiness when he hears the spoon hit the plate or when he steps on the uneven paving or when he tastes the madeleine. There need not be any happiness in the remembered experience or in the present experience, so where does the happiness come from? Marcel claims that at such moments his impressions are generalised, derived from what is common to the remembered and present experience. The impressions are therefore (in a sense) outside time. A being, a new side of himself, exists at such moments and it is this being which, freed from time and anxieties about the future, experiences great happiness.

The passage I’m discussing above is from Time Regained:

Or, cette cause, je la devinais en comparant entre elles ces diverses impressions bienheureuses et qui avaient entre elles ceci de commun que je les éprouvais à la fois dans le moment actuel et dans un moment éloigné où le bruit de la cuiller sur l’assiette, l’inégalité des dalles, le goût de la madeleine allaient jusqu’à faire empiéter le passé sur le présent, à me faire hésiter à savoir dans lequel des deux je me trouvais ; au vrai, l’être qui alors goûtait en moi cette impression la goûtait en ce qu’elle avait de commun dans un jour ancien et maintenant, dans ce qu’elle avait d’extra-temporel, un être qui n’apparaissait que quand, par une de ces identités entre le présent et le passé, il pouvait se trouver dans le seul milieu où il pût vivre, jouir de l’essence des choses, c’est-à-dire en dehors du temps. (Page 13 of volume 15 of the Gallimard edition, Paris, 1946-47.)

The above passage roughly corresponds to the following passage from Hudson (who translated Time Regained after Moncrieff died):

And I began to discover the cause by comparing those varying happy impressions which had the common quality of being felt simultaneously at the actual moment and at a distance in time, because of which common quality the noise of the spoon upon the plate, the unevenness of the paving-stones, the taste of the madeleine, imposed the past upon the present and made me hesitate as to which time I was existing in. Of a truth, the being within me which sensed this impression, sensed what it had in common in former days and now, sensed its extra-temporal character, a being which only appeared when through the medium of the identity of present and past, it found itself in the only setting in which it could exist and enjoy the essence of things, that is, outside Time. That explained why my apprehensions on the subject of my death had ceased from the moment when I had unconsciously recognised the taste of the little madeleine because at that moment the being that I then had been was an extra-temporal being and in consequence indifferent to the vicissitudes of the future. That being had never come to me, had never manifested itself except when I was inactive and in a sphere beyond the enjoyment of the moment, that was my prevailing condition every time that analogical miracle had enabled me to escape from the present. Only that being had the power of enabling me to recapture former days, Time Lost, in the face of which all the efforts of my memory and of my intelligence came to nought.


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