(I finally found an hour today to read the last few pages. This is a marvelous translation -- Lydia Davis' - and I highly recommend it. It is a pity that she didn't do the subsequent volumes. The 'new' translation of volume II is by Mark Treharne, and the reviews are more mixed -- and, in any event, the book can't be bought on Kindle, where I'm reading it, in the United States. So much for cyberspace..... So I'll have to read volume two in the old Montcrieff - Montcrieff/Kilmartin even being unavailable on Kindle until August 2011.)
"The walls of the houses, the Tansonville hedge, the trees of the Roussainville woods, the thickets at the back of Mountjouvain, submitted to the blows of my umbrella or walking stick, heard my shouts of joy, these being both merely confused ideas that exhilarated me and found no repose in the light of understanding, because they had preferred, instead of a slow and difficult clarification, the pleasure of an easier diversion towards an immediate outcome. Most of the supposed expressions of our feelings merely relieve us of them in this way by drawing them out of us in an indistinct form that does not teach us to know them...."
This is pure Descartes...
And while many who read Proust will focus simply on the mood -- some of this is really the fault of Montcrieff, it must be said -- it is my view that what Proust offers us instead is rather what is fundamentally a Cartesian aesthetics: presenting the confused mass of sensation to the clarifying, distinguishing, ever dissecting and delimiting light of the understanding (intellectus)..., such that what results from the analysis is -- instead of an indistinct (and indistinguishable) mass -- is now rather a fully distinct and articulated whole.
I think this is quite deliberate -- and is very French.
Also interesting is his comparison later on with Dante --
"This water-lily was the same, and it as also like one of those miserable creatures whose singular torment, repeated indefinitely throughout eternity, aroused the curiosity of Dante, who would have asked the tormented creature himself to recount its cause and its particularities at greater length had Virgil, striding on ahead, not forced him to hurry after immediately..., as my parents did me."
Proust, for all his verbosity and intricacies, writes with great deliberation -- and has no difficulty drawing the reader's attention to key passages, key comparisons, and key images. Compare, e.g., the transcription of his first writing attempt of the three steeples, with the three farms that they see on the return from the walk on the Guermantes Way -- in each case, two huddling together, while the third lingers behind... -- with Proust and his parents... in the summer of his childhood.