What I fault newspapers for is that day after day they draw our attention to insignificant things whereas only three or four times in our lives do we read a book in which there is something really essential. Since we tear the band off the newspaper so feverishly every morning, they ought to change things and put into the paper, oh, I don’t know, perhaps…Pascal’s Pensees! …and then, in a gilt-edged volume that we open only once in ten years…we would read that the Queen if Greece has gone to Cannes or that the Princesses de Leon has given a costume ball. This way the proper proportions would be te established.
– Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time
5 thoughts on “Proust on Newspapers”
I switched off from newspapers and world events for the last six months when launching my new startup (Triptease). It has been refreshing, but I tend to feel a little stupid at dinner parties.
I’ve been meaning to send you a riposte to your dark Eurydice poem. Here is a fun version of the same tale by Thomas Lisle. Written two hundred years ago, but could have been last week.
*The Power of Music*
When Orpheus went down to the regions below,
Which men are forbidden to see,
He tuned up his lyre as old histories show,
To set his Eurydice free.
All hell was astonished a person so wise
Should rashly endanger his life,
And venture so far but how vast their surprise
When they heard that he came for his wife.
To find out a punishment due to his fault
Old Pluto had puzzled his brain;
But hell had no torments sufficient he thought,
So he gave him his wife back again.
But pity succeeding found place in his heart,
And, pleased with his playing so well,
He took her again in reward of his art;
Such power hath music in hell.
There’s also Thoreau in Walden:
“And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter- we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip. …
What news! how much more important to know what that is which was never old! “
You’re right, Charlie, that poem is so modern it could be from last week! It is fun, and thanks for posting it.
And I love that quote from Thoreau, Ezra, I hadn’t seen it before. I think he also said something along the lines of “forget the times, read the eternities!”
Don’t forget C.S. Lewis
Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be seen before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand.
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