La Croix: Is the Carnavalet Museum exhibition the first of this magnitude devoted to Proust?
Jean-Yves Tadié: This is the fourth major exhibition in France devoted to the writer and his work. The first took place in 1965 at the National Library, the second at the Jacquemart-André Museum in 1971, both under the direction of Julien Cain. I took part in the third on the theme of writing and the arts, set up in 1999 at the BnF in association with the Musée d’Orsay, which had made it possible to show some very beautiful pieces. And so here is the fourth.
→ CRITICAL. Exhibition: Marcel Proust, a vision of Paris at the Carnavalet Museum
What does its success consist of?
J.-YT: It’s Paris at Proust and Proust in Paris. With a biographical part, in the broad sense, where we can meet him with his best friends. There are very rare documents, such as this photo of Bertrand de Fénelon, who was one of Proust’s great loves at the start of the 20th century, or that of the young aristocrat of Spanish origin Illan de Casa Fuerte playing the cello, a young man whom Proust met in 1900 in a salon and who inspired him to imagine the Guermantes community.
→ MAINTENANCE. Jean-Yves Tadié: “You have to imagine Proust in his bed, writing on his knees …”
Or curiosities, like the theatrophone: that’s what Proust listened to from home Pelléas and Mélisande, and Parsifal. We paid quite a bit for the subscription, I calculated that it cost the equivalent of 180 € per month, to have access to all the programming of the Opéra-Comique, the Comédie-Française, and some theaters of boulevards like Les Variétés. Of course, the sound was not of a great quality. Proust, passionate about music, classical as well as music hall, has tried everything, for example the mechanical tape piano. And then he played the piano himself, and he invited musicians to come and play at his place.
What do you particularly remember from this exhibition?
J.-YT: It is above all the atmosphere. Many details are enchanting, but first of all I am sensitive to the overall effect. And the fact of considering a work nourished by Paris which is also a great work in Paris. Marcel Proust describes a vanished world, but is it really that much? Fashions have changed but there are still fashions, classes, social relationships …
The year 2022 will see the centenary of Proust’s death, after several anniversaries, including the 150th anniversary of his birth in 2021. The writer is much commemorated, don’t we take the risk of weariness? Is there still something new to discover on Proust?
J.-YT: Documents yes, surely, always, ideas too. Above all, I believe that each generation expresses itself differently about an author. We still publish on Dante when we might think that everything had been said for a long time. It is very important to be interested in what young people think of a writer, bringing a different point of view. This is true from Homer and from Greek theater to modern literature: we must not stop commenting on great works, and each generation must take it in turn.
You who know Proust and his world so well, what do you discover when you read it today?
J.-YT: I certainly have a different look than fifty years ago. My first study, Proust and the novel, wanted to show how the book was made, like you undo a watch to see the mechanism.
→ CRITICAL. “The seventy-five leaves and other unpublished manuscripts”: writing lessons from Marcel Proust
The latest, Proust and society (1), which has just been published, is almost the opposite. I started the book with the emergence of the yellow vests, wondering what the writer might have thought of this movement. I wanted to see what the social system he was portraying then was, and whether it was out of date or not. I was struck in particular by the attention he pays to all forms of modern life: cars, electricity … He who was born with kerosene lamps finished with electricity, via the lighting gas. These are real revolutions.
Like the onset of modern warfare: Proust knew and described the first aerial bombardments in history – those of Paris by the Germans. He is absolutely concerned with anything that might on the one hand disappear and appear on the other.
We often hear thatIn Search of Lost Time is the book that we will be “rereading” next summer. Are you one of those readers?
J.-YT: I have read the novel several times and I never reread it over and over again, I sometimes look for things in the text, I sting like a seagull on the beach which comes to peck at the families’ sandwiches. Proust, replying to a lady who said she could listen to such and such a musical work a hundred times, replied: “If you can listen to it a hundred times, you haven’t heard it once. “ This is quite true. We can of course come back to look for a specific passage here or there, but rereading it all the time is not necessarily a good sign. If you have looked at a painting or read well, you don’t have to start over all the time, you carry it within yourself.