Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer Discusses His Love for Reading Proust, and Why “Literature is Crucial to Any Democracy”


Worth a quick note: The New York Review of Books has post­ed an intrigu­ing inter­view with Supreme Court Jus­tice Stephen Brey­er, who reflects on an impor­tant moment in his intel­lec­tu­al life — read­ing Mar­cel Proust’s À la recherche du temps per­du (In Search of Lost Time) for the very  first time … in French. Decades ago, while “work­ing as a legal intern at an Amer­i­can law firm in Paris,” Brey­er need­ed to improve his French. Read­ing through all sev­en vol­umes of Proust’s mon­u­men­tal work seemed like a good way to do it. 3,500 pages and 1.5 mil­lion words lat­er, Brey­er fin­ished. And then he re-read them again. The first vol­ume of the long nov­el, Swann’s Way, was pub­lished 100 years ago, in 1913. Asked why he still cher­ish­es Proust’s work so much, Brey­er had this to say:

It’s all there in Proust—all mankind! Not only all the dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter types, but also every emo­tion, every imag­in­able sit­u­a­tion. Proust is a uni­ver­sal author: he can touch any­one, for dif­fer­ent rea­sons; each of us can find some piece of him­self in Proust, at dif­fer­ent ages.… What is most extra­or­di­nary about Proust is his abil­i­ty to cap­ture the sub­tlest nuances of human emo­tions, the slight­est vari­a­tions of the mind and the soul. To me, Proust is the Shake­speare of the inner world.

You can read the full inter­view at NYRB, which gets into to some fas­ci­nat­ing ques­tions, like Why is lit­er­a­ture cru­cial to a democ­ra­cy? and Does read­ing the US Con­sti­tu­tion hav­ing any­thing in com­mon with read­ing a great lit­er­ary work?

A hat tip goes to The New York­er’s Page Turn­er blog for call­ing this to our atten­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Mon­ty Python’s “Sum­ma­rize Proust Com­pe­ti­tion” on the 100th Anniver­sary of Swann’s Way

Lis­ten­ing to Proust’s Remem­brance of Things Past, (Maybe) the Longest Audio Book Ever Made

Ray Brad­bury: Lit­er­a­ture is the Safe­ty Valve of Civ­i­liza­tion

Find Recherche in our Free eBooks col­lec­tion

Free French Lessons in Audio & Video

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.