It seems, in the summer of 1922, the French newspaper La Transitions posted a question:
“An American scientist announces that the world will end, or at least that such a huge part of the continent will be destroyed and in such a sudden way that death will be the certain fate of hundreds of millions of people. If this prediction were confirmed what do you think would be its effect on people between the time when they acquired the aforementioned certainty and the moment of cataclysm? Finally, as far as you’re concerned, what would you do in this last hour?”Proust’s reply:
“I think that life would suddenly seem wonderful to us if we were threatened to die as you say. Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs studies it, our life, hides from us; made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly, but let all this threaten to become impossible forever how beautiful it would become again.You can hear a 5-minute clip of the chapter, leading up to Proust's reply below.
Ah if only the cataclysm doesn’t happen this time we won’t miss visiting the new galleries of the Louvre, throwing ourselves at the feet of Miss X, making a trip to India.
The cataclysm doesn’t happen. We don’t do any of it because we find ourselves back in the heart of normal life, where negligence deadens desire. And yet we shouldn’t have needed the cataclysm to love life today it would be enough to think that we are humans and that death may come this evening.”
To conclude, I leave you with these paragraphs by Alain de Botton, which follow the Proust quotation.
Feeling suddenly attached to life when we realize the imminence of death suggests that it was perhaps not life itself which we had lost the taste for so long as there was no end in sight, but our quotidian version of it, that our dissatisfactions were more the result of a certain way of living than of anything irrevocably morose about human experience. Having surrendered the customary belief in our own immortality, we would then be reminded of a host of untried possibilities lurking beneath the surface of an apparently undesirable, apparently eternal existence.And so it goes...
However, if due acknowledgement of our mortality encourages us to re-evaluate our priorities, we may well ask what these priorities should be. We might only have been living half a life before we faced up to the implications of death, but what exactly does a whole life consist of? Simple recognition of our inevitable demise does not guarantee that we will latch on to any sensible answers when it comes to filling in what remains of the diary. Panicked by the ticking of the clock, we may even resort to some spectacular follies. The suggestions sent by the Parisian celebrities to L'Intransigeant were contradictory enough: admiration of Alpine scenery, contemplation of the extraterrestrial future, tennis, golf. But were any of these fruitful ways to pass the time before the continent disintegrated?