“The great quality of true art is that it rediscovers, grasps and reveals to us that reality far from where we live, from which we get farther and farther away as the conventional knowledge we substitute for it becomes thicker and more impermeable.”
– Marcel Proust
At its worst, art can exist as mere spectacle, something created only to incite anger and smother insightful conversation, but at its best it serves as a medium for our most submerged instincts, exposing the beating pulse beneath it all. Whether a stirring poem or a striking image, good art generally offers up a lot more questions than answers, and any resolution must be lumbered to slowly, through tremendous effort and without any real assurance. The language of art – of nuance and often incomprehensibility – exists poles apart from the language of business, one that is concise and easily marketable.
Twitter, launched in 2006, is currently the 2nd most popular social networking site in the world and enables its ‘tweeters’ to make a short post of no more than 140 characters. Whether you have a bone to pick with your favourite celebrity, a product to market or you just saw a person wearing really tight spandex walking down Main Street, you’re free to vocalize whatever it is you’re thinking to your followers – or anyone else who might be watching from the sidelines. Of course, with only 140 characters, significant limitations are already imposed.
Since Twitter’s inception, one Twitterer has taken on the project of tweeting out In Search of Lost Time, a seven-volume novel dedicated to writer Marcel Proust’s recollections of his youth in France. Given the lyrical quality of Proust’s prose – a style that has inspired the term Proustian – it seems like there are hardly two things more dissimilar in the world than the nature of Proust’s opus and Twitter.
There is something admirable about Twitter paying homage to Proust in its distinct, digestible way. Proust, after all, was a writer who could really work a sentence, spinning it into a state of elegant tension and beauty that made it both emotive and devoted, to the written word and youthful intensity. However, is the point of Proust and his dedication lost in such a fragmentary format? Can he really exist in such a forum, or even such a culture?
Though clarity and concision are necessary when speaking the language of business, the wellspring of art and all its fleeting words comes from some other place where being succinct is more of a limitation than anything else. Art – and in this case Proust’s writing – cannot be whittled down without its meaning being altered. There is a necessity in honing a work so its meaning can be exacted, but there is a utility to be found in lyricism where being succinct simply won’t do. In a sense, to make In Search of Lost Time more consumable – to break it down into smaller pieces – is to lose its essence all together, the reverence and feeling that make it such an influential work.
The position of art in our life has long been on the periphery, but with each new piece of content and each new media format, there is less time for absorption; instead, more time is spent digesting sheer volume. With a shortened attention span, it is the harder-to-digest things that are lost, those requiring more attention and thought so they can be processed wholly. But why must art be made more digestible for it to be significant in our lives?
Unfortunately, as writer Henry Miller articulated back in the 1950’s, perhaps this is a direct result of why we struggle:
“Men are not suffering from the lack of good literature, good art, good theatre, good music, but from that which has made it impossible for these to become manifest…They are suffering from the fact that art is not the primary moving force in their lives…They never dream – or they behave as if they never realize – that the reason why they feel sterile, frustrated and joyless is because art (and with it the artist) has been ruled out of their lives.”