I was feeling low and mildewy this evening about that book-length piece of writing I've mentioned here once before, the one that I've been poking at, poor object, like a bear-baiter trying to rouse his animal into a competitive mood. My writing, I reflected sorrowfully, was nothing like the writing of anyone I admired: "You don't have the vigour of Christina Stead, you don't have the romance of Bruno Schulz, you don't have the brains of Hannah Arendt," and so forth, "you don't sound like anybody. You can't put sentences together the way Proust did --" and it was then I remembered that Proust wrote about the value of writing like oneself, even while you were wishing you were one of your heroes. This was heartening, because I had a vision of him (subject of veneration, multiply translated, trusted, loved, adored) propped up in his bed sighing, "But I sound nothing like Ruskin, not even a French sort of Ruskin. Oh Ruskin, Ruskin!" -- and moping like that piano player in Sesame Street who can't get to the end of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star without beating his forehead against the keys in despair. "I'll never do it!" he shouts. "Never!" Clang, clang, clang.
So I went away and fooled around in Time Regained for a while, trying to find the quote I had remembered, and never seeing it anywhere. But the book had its effect nonetheless: I read it and the spectacle of passionate sense cheered me up.
How many for this reason turn aside from writing! What tasks do men not take upon themselves in order to evade this task! ... For instinct dictates our duty and the intellect supplies us with pretexts for evading it. But excuses have no place in art and intentions count for nothing: at every moment the artist has to listen to his instinct, and it is this that makes art the most real of all things, the most austere school of life, the last true judgment. This book, more laborious to decipher than any other, is also the only one that has been dictated to us by reality, the only one of which the 'impression' has been printed in us by reality itself. When an idea ... is left in us by life, its material pattern, the outline of the impression that it made upon us, remains behind as the token of its necessary truth. The ideas formed by the pure intelligence have no more than a logical, a possible truth, they are arbitrarily chosen. The book whose hieroglyphs are patterns not traced by us is the only book that really belongs to us.