Proust’s Timetable

The French writer, Marcel Proust, was a notorious hypercondriac and insomniac. In order to help himself to sleep, he would read railway timetables; the more detailed and provincial the better. Not for him, les grandes lignes.

For Proust, every place name was freighted with the potential of people and history. Of course, this was both beautiful and disasterous. This tendency, combined with his other psychological characteristics, to distinguish a form of spectacular inertia.

It’s all very well planning a journey; but in the end, you have to leave the house!

I guess it was entirely appropriate that Proust should be fascinated by train timetables – he spent his whole life writing a work called In Search of Lost Time.

I am intrigued by how many writers, scientists and philosophers were exploring the theme of time in the early part of the 20C. One can certainly link the writing of HG Wells (The Time Machine), Proust (Time Past) and Joyce,  to the ideas of Einstein, and to those of Henri Bergson and Henri Lefebvre, and to those of Sigmund Freud.

This railway poster by Abram Games, from 1951, visually captures the connection between railways, dreams and time…

I’ve already posted about railway time,and about the Freudian connection between trains and dreams…

In Russia, where train travel may extend to days and weeks; one travels across Siberia on a bed!


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