Time Lost and Time Found

Marcel Proust’s long novel, entitled À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), is the story of a man who wants to become a writer, and wants to understand the world around him. He eventually embarks on his writing project after he understands that time has passed, and that he has been learning to become a writer all these years as he has negotiated the world around him and become disappointed in everything he thought would be important.

Two expressions are important in understanding Proust: temps perdu and temps retrouvé. The first, lost time or wasted time, is what the unnamed narrator of the novel is searching for. He finds it in unexpected ways, through the involuntary memories that come to him when he dips a madeleine into a tisane, when he sees the two bell towers in Martinville, when he smells the odor of the public toilets on the Champs-Élysées, when he sees the three trees in Balbec, and when he trips over some flagstones in the courtyard of the Hôtel de Guermantes. All of these experiences trigger something in his mind that open up access to forgotten memories, memories that are strong and that make up much of his being. 1

Is the narrator searching for lost time or looking for lost time; or is he doing neither, but simply discovering lost time through involuntary memories? The translation of these terms is important, because the verb "rechercher" has several meanings, including search, look for, and research. (Chercher is the basic word that means to look for, but it doesn’t work as a noun; recherche is the noun form of that verb.) It’s obviously not the last, but between the first two, there is a difference in English. Search implies a more active process than look for, it suggests a careful and thorough process, where as look for is a bit more vague. Throughout the novel, the narrator suggests that these memories are accidental, as if he simply chances upon these moments. But, at the end, he realizes that these accidents are part of something bigger.

But is he even searching for lost time, or is it simply the time that has passed that he is nostalgic about? In Proust et les signes (Proust and Signs), Gilles Deleuze mentions that “Il y a des signes qui nous forcent à penser le temps perdu, c’est-à-dire le passage du temps, l’anéantissement de ce qui fut, l’altération des êtres.” (There are signs that make us think about lost time, that is, the passage of time, the annihilation of what was, the transformation of beings.) Is Proust’s temps perdu simply time that has passed, like the grains of sand in an hourglass? Is temps perdu simply the past that we can never relive, other than through the experiences of memory, voluntary or otherwise?

A paragraph in Sodomme et Gommore explains what the narrator discovrs about time:

Tant de fois, au cours de ma vie, la réalité m’avait déçu parce qu’au moment où je la percevais, mon imagination, qui était mon seul organe pour jouir de la beauté, ne pouvait s’appliquer à elle, en vertu de la loi inévitable qui veut qu’on ne puisse imaginer que ce qui est absent. Et voici que soudain l’effet de cette dure loi s’était trouvé neutralisé, suspendu, par un expédient merveilleux de la nature, qui avait fait miroiter une sensation-bruit de la fourchette et du marteau, même titre de livre, etc. — à la fois dans le passé, ce qui permettait à mon imagination de la goûter, et dans le présent où l’ébranlement effectif de mes sens par le bruit, le contact du linge, etc. avait ajouté aux rêves de l’imagination ce dont ils sont habituellement dépourvus, l’idée d’existence, et, grâce à ce subterfuge, avait permis à mon être d’obtenir, d’isoler, d’immobiliser — la durée d’un éclair — ce qu’il n’appréhende jamais : un peu de temps à l’état pur.

TProust is saying that, by reliving these moments of involuntary memory, he manages to make a link between the past and the present, and experiences “a bit of time in its purest state.” In these moments, he experiences epiphanies, the perception of the fundamental nature of existence.

So, how do we translat temps retrouvé? Time Regained is the standard English translation of this final volume of the novel, but that may be adding too much baggage to the word retrouvé. French has two basic words for find: trouver and retrouver. Both mean the same thing, and they can be used more or less interchangeably. J’ai trouvé mes clés means I found my keys, but so does J’ai retrouvé mes clés. You can use the word trouver for something you discover; you generally use the word retrouver when you find something you have lost, but, in general, trouver fills that need. Is Le temps retrouvé the fact that Proust discovered that he can relive the past through those moments of involuntary memory, that the past is never really lost, and that it can be recovered? Time Regained is certainly not what Proust meant; he intended the title of this volume to mean that the lost time, or the past, had been found, nothing more than that. Even worse is the more recent translating Finding Time Again.

That leaves us with the two expressions, lost time and found time. I’ve turned the words into the correct English word order, because that’s another problem with the translation of these titles: it’s The Brothers Karamazov fallacy. The correct translation of Dostoyevsky’s novel should be The Karamazov Brothers, but some translator early on felt that it sounded more ominous the other way around.2 Time Lost and Time Found or Time Regained sound more formal, and are not what Proust would have intended.

Proust also suffered from a title malfunction, with the original English translation of his novel called Remembrance of Things Past, a phrase taken from a Shakespeare sonnet. He hated this. The proper title, at least in terms of translation, In Search of Lost Time, was restored in recent decades, but this title sounds like a journal article, not a fiction. Should it be Looking for Lost Time? The French À la recherche suggests a gerund (French doesn’t have a direct equivalent for the English -ing verb form), and is probably closer to what Proust meant. This title includes the idea of an active process, not one where lost time will be found accidentally. (Even though the moments of involuntary memory in Proust are all accidental.) Interestingly, Finding Time Again suggests that active process, which is not present in the French title Le temps retrouvé. The French suggests that time is found, not the process of finding it. A better title might be Rediscovering Time, or Looking Back at the Past, or even Reliving the Past.

Lost Time and Found Time; the two key terms of Proust’s novel. The first is part of the overall title, and the second the title of the final volume. The search for lost time that is the thread of the first six volumes comes to its conclusion when time is found in the final volume.

But Proust’s original title for the overall novel, Les intermittences du coeur, has little to do with time. (He eventually used this as the title of a section of Sodome et Gomorrhe.) If anything, it’s a medical term, which could be used for an arrhythmia, and, given that Proust’s father was a doctor, could be a metaphor for the body and the soul. The Irregularity of the Heart, or of Love; this is not very poetic. Perhaps something more creative would work, such as, Love’s Inconsistency, or The Fluctuations of Love, or Unpredictable Love; any of these would be close to his original meaning. Time is certainly one of the variables of love, but with this title, the narrator is no longer searching for anything; he is analyzing time’s effect on love and human relations.

Finally, it is important to point out that the first and last words of the seven volume novel are related. The novel opens with Longtemps je me suis couché de Bonne here. (For a long time, or I used to go to bed early), and ends with dans le Temps, "in Time." Proust capitalized Temps in the final volume, when Time was a grand concept. For example:

N’avais-je pas vu souvent en une nuit, en une minute d’une nuit, des temps bien lointains, relégués à ces distances énormes où nous ne pouvons presque plus rien distinguer des sentiments que nous y éprouvions, fondre à toute vitesse sur nous, nous aveuglant de leur clarté, comme s’ils avaient été des avions géants au lieu des pâles étoiles que nous croyions, nous faire ravoir tout ce qu’ils avaient contenu pour nous, nous donner l’émotion, le choc, la clarté de leur voisinage immédiat, qui ont repris une fois qu’on est réveillé la distance qu’ils avaient miraculeusement franchie, jusqu’à nous faire croire, à tort d’ailleurs, qu’ils étaient un des modes pour retrouver le Temps perdu ?

Here, Proust discusses how dreams can be "one way to find lost Time." In this sentence, I’d probably use the verb "recover" instead of "find." Which brings us to another question: is the novel abound finding lost time or recovering, perhaps rediscovering lost time? Proust writes, Seul il avait le pouvoir de me faire retrouver les jours anciens, le Temps Perdu, devant quoi les efforts de ma mémoire et de mon intelligence échouaient toujours. Il here refers to the taste of the madeleine, that experience of involuntary memory that I discussed earlier.

Proust writes, Ce n’était pas plus sur la place Saint-Marc que ce n’avait été à mon second voyage à Balbec, ou à mon retour à Tansonville, pour voir Gilberte, que je retrouverais le Temps Perdu, et le voyage que ne faisait que me proposer une fois de plus l’illusion que ces impressions anciennes existaient hors de moi-même, au coin d’une certaine place, ne pouvait être le moyen que je cherchais. It wasn’t his second trip to Balbec or his return to Tansonville that would allow him to recover/rediscover/restore lost Time…

He says, Alors, moins éclatante sans doute que celle qui m’avait fait apercevoir que l’œuvre d’art était le seul moyen de retrouver le Temps perdu, une nouvelle lumière se fit en moi. He realized that the only way to recover lost Time is through works of art. Lost time, wasted time, time that has passed that can never be recovered; the ill, aging narrator wants to write his work of art, in order to recover, perhaps relive that lost time of his past, and, at the end of the work, realizes that he now has all the material that he needs, he has lived all the experiences he requires, he has watched as the characters in his life story have all grown old, as they have succumbed to Time.

See also: (Re-)Reading Proust: Memory and Exile.

See this video by Antoine Compagnon, Proust scholar and editor of the Pléiade edition of La rercherche.

Painting by Sean Fleming.

PhotoActive Podcast Episode 150: iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro

Who wants to talk megapixels and tetraprisms? In this episode, recorded shortly after Apple announced the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro, Kirk and Jeff look at the specs and possibilities of the newest cameras-that-also-make-calls.

Episode 150: Episode 150: iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro PhotoActive

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The PhotoActive on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode #311: Getting Ready for macOS Sonoma

Apple has released macOS Sonoma, and we discuss how to prepare your Mac to upgrade to this new operating system. We also talk about the dozens of security fixes included in macOS Sonoma, and how one file format that has been supported on the Mac for decades is going away.

Episode 311: Getting Ready for macOS Sonoma Intego Mac Podcast

Follow the The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

How to Use Desktop Widgets on macOS Sonoma

Widgets have become common as a way to display small amounts of contextual information. Widgets can display the weather, or just the temperature. They can display the time, the date, current stock prices, or the status of smart home devices. Or they can display your calendar events, emails, and news headlines.

Widgets are everywhere in Apple’s operating systems. You can use them on home screens and on your lock screen on iOS and iPadOS, watchOS now has a widget view, and macOS Sonoma, which previously only displayed widgets in a sidebar, can now display them on the desktop.

Here’s how to use desktop widgets in macOS Sonoma.

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog.

The Next Track, Episode #265: How Recordings Have Changed Music

Recordings change music by freezing it in time.

Episode #265: How Recordings Have Changed Music The Next Track

Help support The Next Track by making regular donations via Patreon. We’re ad-free and self-sustaining so your support is what keeps us going. Thanks!

If you like the show, please subscribe in iTunes or your favorite podcast app, and please rate the podcast. Find out more at The Next Track website, or follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast.

How Daydreaming Can Enhance Creativity for Fiction Writers

I remember, back in second grade, my teacher chastising me because I was daydreaming. She rapped a ruler on my desk and told me to come back to the world. I don’t recall what sort of thing I was thinking about at that young age. Fantasies about animals or monsters? Thoughts about getting let out of class to play? Or perhaps something related to a book I had been reading recently?

From the youngest age, at school, we’re forced to pay attention, we’re told not to daydream because it’s bad. If you spend too much time staring out a window and daydreaming at work, you’ll be reprimanded by your boss. Yet it has been shown that daydreaming can enhance creativity, and help us maintain good mental health.

Read the rest of the article on The L&L Blog.

To learn how to use Scrivener for Mac, Windows, and iOS, check out my book Take Control of Scrivener 3.

Generative AI Can Be Pathetic

I’m trying out a tool that claims to generate emails based on prompts. You know, the kind where you want to send an email to someone to set up a meeting, to talk about some key points.

So I used the following prompt; Doug Adams is my co-host on The Next Track podcast.

Ask Doug if he wants to set up a zoom call with our podcast subscribers.

I asked the AI tool to expand on that, and here’s what it said:

Would you kindly inquire of Doug whether or not he would have any inclination to arrange a virtual conference utilizing Zoom video communications software with our esteemed audience of loyal listeners of our acclaimed podcast program?

Hmm… I tried again, and this time:

Could you possibly extend the courtesy of requesting information from Doug regarding the feasibility of arranging a virtual conference using the Zoom platform that is customized to appeal to individuals who possess a strong enthusiasm for consuming podcasts?

How about another try?

Would you kindly inquire of Doug whether or not he would have any inclination to arrange a virtual conference utilizing Zoom video communications software with our esteemed audience of loyal listeners of our acclaimed podcast program?

So then, I tried the shorten option. This summarizes emails to make them short and punchy. Each of the following shortens the previous one (with the text just above being the seed).

Kindly ask Doug if it’s practical to organize a Zoom symposium for podcast enthusiasts.

Can we do zoom for podcast lovers?

Zoom for podcasting.


I cannot shorten the message to 0 words while maintaining the paragraph and formatting, as that would simply be empty space. Please provide a message that can be shortened in a meaningful way.

Or, to paraphrase:

I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode #310: Welcome to iOS 17

Apple has released iOS 17 and iPadOS 17, along with new versions of operating systems for the Apple Watch, Apple TV, and HomePod. We discuss some of our favorite new features. We also look at radiation fears in France for the iPhone 12, and we examine why Apple may want to build a stock trading service into its devices. One correction: Standby Mode doesn’t require a MagSafe charger, but just needs to be plugged in and on its side.

Episode 310: Welcome to iOS 17! Intego Mac Podcast

Follow the The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

Different Ways of Setting Up Scrivener’s Binder for Your Projects

While you do all of your writing in Scrivener’s Editor, the Binder is where you organize your projects. The main advantages of Scrivener’s Binder are the ability to move elements around as you develop a project, and the ability to quickly view any section or chapter; no scrolling required.

You can organize the Binder in several different ways, and the organization you choose for your project affects how you build it as you move ahead with your writing. In this article, I will look at several options to make the Binder work for you.

Read the rest of the article on The L&L Blog.

To learn how to use Scrivener for Mac, Windows, and iOS, check out my book Take Control of Scrivener 3.

ChatGPT Is Daydreaming

Writing an article on daydreaming and creativity, I asked ChatGPT for some examples of authors who had discussed the topic. Here are some of the results:

There are several famous writers who have discussed the role of daydreaming in enhancing creativity. Here are a few notable examples:

  1. J.K. Rowling: The author of the Harry Potter series has mentioned the importance of daydreaming in her writing process. She has said that she often lets her mind wander and allows herself to daydream, as it helps her come up with fresh ideas and imaginative storylines.

  2. Stephen King: In his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” King mentions that daydreaming is a vital creative tool for writers. He encourages aspiring writers to cultivate deliberate daydreaming as a way to generate ideas and explore different narrative possibilities.

Regarding J.K. Rowling, I was unable to find any citations for the above claim. So I asked:

Where does JK Rowling discuss daydreaming and writing?

I apologize for any confusion caused by my previous response. While J.K. Rowling has not explicitly discussed daydreaming in relation to writing in any interviews or public statements that I could find, she has talked about the importance of imagination and letting her mind wander. These statements indirectly suggest that daydreaming plays a role in her creative process. Rowling has mentioned that the idea for the Harry Potter series came to her during a train journey, and that she allowed her imagination to run wild, forming the initial concept for the story. She has also emphasized the significance of daydreaming and having the freedom to explore different ideas in fostering creativity. While she may not have directly spoken about daydreaming, Rowling’s comments hint at its potential influence on her writing.

I happen to own the Kindle version of the Stephen King book, so I searched for daydream, and found nothing. So I queried ChatGPT about that.

Stephen King doesn’t say anything about daydreaming in his book On Writing.

Its reply:

I apologize for the error in my previous response. You are correct that Stephen King doesn’t specifically mention daydreaming in his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” While King does discuss his writing process and the importance of imagination, he does not address daydreaming as a specific technique for enhancing creativity. Thank you for pointing out the mistake, and I apologize for any confusion caused.