Richard Rorty on Proust and Hegel

For quite a while after I read Hegel, I thought that the two greatest achievements of the species to which I belonged were The Phenomenology of Spirit and Remembrance of Things Past (the book which took the place of the wild orchids once I left Flatbrookville for Chicago). Proust’s ability to weave intellectual and social snobbery together with the hawthorns around Combray, his grandmother’s selfless love, Odette’s orchidaceous embraces of Swann and Jupien’s of Charlus, and with everything else he encountered — to give each of these its due without feeling the need to bundle them together with the help of a religious faith or a philosophical theory - seemed to me as astonishing as Hegel’s ability to throw himself successively into empiricism, Greek tragedy, Stoicism, Christianity and Newtonian physics, and to emerge from each, ready and eager for something completely different. It was the cheerful commitment to irreducible temporality which Hegel and Proust shared — the specifically anti-Platonic element in their work — that seemed so wonderful. They both seemed able to weave everything they encountered into a narrative without asking that that narrative have a moral, and without asking how that narrative would appear under the aspect of eternity.

Trotsky and the Wild Orchids (1992)

December 15, 2021