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Table of contents :
Half Title
Proust’s In Search of Lost Time
Series Editor’s Foreword
1. Why a Novel?
2. Biography: Proust’s Parallel Lives
3. The Origins and Ends of Music: Proust Counters Rousseau
4. Proust’s Intermittent Seriality, or What Is a Literary Event?
5. Swann’s Medical Philosophy
6. The Shadow of Love: The Role of Jealousy in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu
7. In Search of Lost Weather
8. Proust’s Consciousness
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oxford studies in philosophy and literature Richard Eldridge, Philosophy, Swarthmore College

editorial board Anthony J. Cascardi, Comparative Literature, Romance, Languages, and Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley David Damrosch, Comparative Literature, Harvard University Moira Gatens, Philosophy, University of Sydney Garry Hagberg, Philosophy, Bard College Philip Kitcher, Philosophy, Columbia University Joshua Landy, French and Comparative Literature, Stanford University Toril Moi, Literature, Romance Studies, Philosophy, and Theater Studies, Duke University Martha C. Nussbaum, Philosophy and Law School, University of Chicago Bernard Rhie, English, Williams College David Wellbery, Germanic Studies, Comparative Literature, and Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago Paul Woodruff, Philosophy and Classics, University of Texas at Austin

published in the series Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler: Philosophical Perspectives Edited by Kristin Gjesdal Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Philosophical Perspectives Edited by Tzachi Zamir Kafka’s The Trial: Philosophical Perspectives Edited by Espen Hammer The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles: Philosophical Perspectives Edited by Paul Woodruff Jane Austen’s Emma: Philosophical Perspectives Edited by E. M. Dadlez Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji: Philosophical Perspectives Edited by James McMullen Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment: Philosophical Perspectives Edited by Robert E. Guay Joyce’s Ulysses: Philosophical Perspectives Edited by Philip Kitcher The Poetry of Emily Dickinson: Philosophical Perspectives Edited by Elisabeth Camp Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: Philosophical Perspectives Edited by Katherine Elkins

PROUST ’S IN S E A RCH OF LOST TI M E Philosophical Perspectives

Edited by Katherine Elkins

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and certain other countries. Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America. © Oxford University Press 2023 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by license, or under terms agreed with the appropriate reproduction rights organization. Inquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above. You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Elkins, Katherine L., author. Title: Proust’s In search of lost time : philosophical perspectives / Katherine Elkins. Description: New York, NY : Oxford University Press, [2023] | Series: Oxford Studies in Philosophy and Literature | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2022012635 (print) | LCCN 2022012636 (ebook) | ISBN 9780190921583 (paperback) | ISBN 9780190921576 (hardback) | ISBN 9780190921606 (epub) Subjects: LCSH: Proust, Marcel, 1871–1922. À la recherche du temps perdu. | Proust, Marcel, 1871–1922—Philosophy. | Philosophy in literature. | LCGFT: Literary criticism. Classification: LCC PQ2631 .R63 A8627 2023 (print) | LCC PQ2631. R63 (ebook) | DDC 843/.912—dc23/eng/20220321 LC record available at LC ebook record available at DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780190921576.001.0001 1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2 Paperback printed by Marquis, Canada Hardback printed by Bridgeport National Bindery, Inc., United States of America


Series Editor’s Foreword Contributors

vii xi



Katherine Elkins

1. Why a Novel?


Joshua Landy

2. Biography: Proust’s Parallel Lives


Elisabeth A. Ladenson

3. The Origins and Ends of Music: Proust Counters Rousseau


Christie McDonald

4. Proust’s Intermittent Seriality, or What Is a Literary Event? Patrick Bray




5. Swann’s Medical Philosophy


Richard Moran

6. The Shadow of Love: The Role of Jealousy in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu 157 Robert B. Pippin

7. In Search of Lost Weather


Dora Zhang

8. Proust’s Consciousness


Katherine Elkins





At least since Plato had Socrates criticize the poets and attempt to displace Homer as the authoritative articulator and transmitter of human experience and values, philosophy and literature have developed as partly competing, partly complementary enterprises. Both literary writers and philosophers have frequently studied and commented on each other’s texts and ideas, sometimes with approval, sometimes with disapproval, in their efforts to become clearer about human life and about valuable commitments–​–​moral, artistic, political, epistemic, metaphysical, and religious, as may be. Plato’s texts themselves register the complexity and importance of these interactions in being dialogues in which both deductive argumentation and dramatic narration do central work in furthering a complex body of views. While these relations have been widely recognized, they have also frequently been ignored or misunderstood, as academic disciplines have gone their separate ways within their modern institutional settings. Philosophy has often turned to science or mathematics as providing models of knowledge; in doing so it has often explicitly set


S e r i e s E d i t o r’ s F o r e w o r d

itself against cultural entanglements and literary devices, rejecting, at least officially, the importance of plot, figuration, and imagery in favor of supposedly plain speech about the truth. Literary study has moved variously through formalism, structuralism, poststructuralism, and cultural studies, among other movements, as modes of approach to a literary text. In doing so it has understood literary texts as sample instances of images, structures, personal styles, or failures of consciousness, or it has seen the literary text as a largely fungible product, fundamentally shaped by wider pressures and patterns of consumption and expectation that affect and figure in nonliterary textual production as well. It has thus set itself against the idea that major literary texts productively and originally address philosophical problems of value and commitment precisely through their form, diction, imagery, and development, even while these works also resist claiming conclusively to solve the problems that occupy them. These distinct academic traditions have yielded important perspectives and insights. But in the end none of them has been kind to the idea of major literary works as achievements in thinking about values and human life, often in distinctive, open, self-​revising, self-​critical ways. At the same time readers outside institutional settings, and often enough philosophers and literary scholars, too, have turned to major literary texts precisely in order to engage with their productive, materially and medially specific patterns and processes of thinking. These turns to literature have, however, not so far been systematically encouraged within disciplines, and they have generally occurred independently of each other. The aim of this series is to make manifest the multiple, complex engagements with philosophical ideas and problems that lie at the hearts of major literary texts. In doing so, its volumes aim not only to help philosophers and literary scholars of various kinds to find viii

S e r i e s E d i t o r’ s F o r e w o r d

rich affinities and provocations to further thought and work, they also aim to bridge various gaps between academic disciplines and between those disciplines and the experiences of extrainstitutional readers. Each volume focuses on a single, undisputedly major literary text. Both philosophers with training and experience in literary study and literary scholars with training and experience in philosophy are invited to engage with themes, details, images, and incidents in the focal text, through which philosophical problems are held in view, worried at, and reformulated. Decidedly not a project simply to formulate A’s philosophy of X as a finished product, merely illustrated in the text, and decidedly not a project to explain the literary work entirely by reference to external social configurations and forces, the effort is instead to track the work of open thinking in literary forms, as they lie both neighbor to and aslant from philosophy. As Walter Benjamin once wrote, “new centers of reflection are continually forming,” as problems of commitment and value of all kinds take on new shapes for human agents in relation to changing historical circumstances, where reflective address remains possible. By considering how such centers of reflection are formed and expressed in and through literary works, as they engage with philosophical problems of agency, knowledge, commitment, and value, these volumes undertake to present both literature and philosophy as, at times, productive forms of reflective, medial work in relation both to each other and to social circumstances and to show how this work is specifically undertaken and developed in distinctive and original ways in exemplary works of literary art. Richard Eldridge Swarthmore College



Patrick Bray is Associate Professor at University College London in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. Katherine Elkins is Professor of Comparative Literature and Humanities at Kenyon College. Elisabeth A. Ladenson is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Joshua Landy is the Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French and Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University. Christie McDonald is the Smith Research Professor of Romance Literatures and Research Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University. Richard Moran is the Brian D. Young Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. Robert B. Pippin is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. Dora Zhang is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. xi

Introduction K AT H E R I N E E L K I N S

Proust has inspired books both popular and academic, fiction and nonfiction. He has fascinated some of the greatest philosophical minds while intriguing scholars from fields as diverse as neuroscience and music. He is also a truly global writer, read widely in translation around the world. He is both a writer’s writer, inspiring authors from Virginia Woolf1 to Karl Knausgaard, and a reader’s writer, accessible and indeed enjoyable for the vast audience of readers. All this success in spite of the fact that he has written one of the longest books with some of the longest sentences in the world. The story is now legend of André Gide’s refusal to publish the first volume because of some unusual syntactical choices, a rejection that Gide quickly came to regret.2 And yet seven volumes and over 1. Woolf wrote of Proust in a letter in 1922, “Oh, if I could write like that!” In The Letters of Virginia Woolf, ed. Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann, 7 vols. (New York: Harcourt, 1976), 2:525. 2. Gide later wrote Proust an apology, stating, “The rejection of this book will remain the most serious mistake ever made by the NRF and, since I bear the shame of being very much responsible for it, one of the most stinging and remorseful regrets of my life.” Quoted by Tadié, Marcel Proust: A Life, trans. Euan Cameron (New York: Penguin Putnam, 2000), 611. Katherine Elkins, Introduction In: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Edited by: Katherine Elkins, Oxford University Press. © Oxford University Press 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780190921576.003.0001


one hundred years since Proust won the Prix Goncourt—​the most prestigious literary award in France—​his popularity has only continued to grow. If Proust has become a household name, it’s because he has become associated with a well-​known experience: a “Proustian moment” in which one very suddenly and intensely connects to a past experience, as does his narrator when tasting a madeleine cookie. Although earlier writers had described such moments, Proust has brought them into common parlance, and with his name attached. Rather unusual for a novel with this level of success, Proust’s work has also garnered a certain philosophical mystique. You will not be disbelieved if you insist that reading Proust, more than any other writer, has changed your life. And yet the uncertainty that Proust would actually become the writer he longed to be is a fundamental element of his novel. Not everything in the novel is autobiographical, to be sure, but the anxiety that the narrator might not realize his dream certainly is. The novel takes as its subject matter this coming of age of a young man whose becoming an artist is in doubt until the very end. In just one of the many dizzying perplexities of the narrative, however, the conclusion leaves us with a narrator who is ready to write, but the novel he is to write is, presumably, different from the novel we have just read. More spiral than circular, each return to the past, including in this final volume of Time Regained, both reprises earlier themes and yet takes us in new directions. In the reader’s mind, the end brings us back to the novel’s beginning but also leads us to imagine a future parallel novel about to be written. Unlike many other authors in this series, Proust was trained in philosophy. In fact, he even considered writing a philosophical treatise instead of the novel we know so well. This hesitation about what form his writing should take still haunts his final choice of a novel, 2


which is both philosophical and yet not philosophy. Take your pick of philosophers, from Plato to Nietzsche, and you can easily find an essay or even a book arguing that this particular philosopher most applies to Proust. And yet as one plunges into the narrative that he finally wrote, one is struck by the fact that In Search of Lost Time feels nothing like what we often call a philosophical novel, or even, a novel of ideas. Instead, philosophical reflection lies in the shadows of his fictional world, a sort of parallel life that can be found in the underweave. There are many challenges to establishing philosophical perspectives in Proust’s fiction, and I begin here with two formidable ones raised by two contributors in earlier work. Christie McDonald writes in The Proustian Fabric of the ways in which Proust tries to generalize from the ungeneralizable. A fundamental tension in the novel is to articulate general laws even as successive events often qualify or even negate them. The novel thus exhibits what I would call a conversation between literature and philosophy,3 or differently said, between a literary description of human experiences and their theorization. In this conversation, it is the tension between the two poles that is often more illuminating than any found theory or maxim. Joshua Landy articulates yet another difficulty in his Philosophy as Fiction: which of the many philosophical positions are key to understanding Proust’s stance, and which are to be dismissed as either partial or completely in error? In a letter to Jacques Rivière in 1914, Proust writes, “Only at the end of the book . . . will my position be revealed. The one I put forward at the end of the first volume . . . is the opposite of my conclusion. It is just a step, in appearance 3. I discuss one of the first instances of this conversation in “Naming the Lyric: Literature versus Philosophy in Plato’s Symposium,” Philosophy and Literature 44, no. 2 (2020): 402–​417.



subjective and dilettante, toward the most objective and committed of conclusions.” Indeed, you will find that the narrator will sometimes adopt philosophical positions only to discard them later. Other times, seemingly serious philosophical positions are, upon closer inspection, highly ironized. The multiple points of view, as Robert Pippin suggests in this volume, only further complicate matters. To this I would add yet one more consideration. It’s unclear how much of the final volume Proust had actually written so early in the process, though we know he had clearly conceived of Time Regained as he set out to write. But since the novel took so much time to write, is it possible that the burgeoning middle—​a middle that Proust was reworking even until his death—​might offer us the most mature philosophical position of Proust?4 As you will discover in the essays that follow, the difficulty of locating a philosophical position that we might ascribe to Proust (as opposed to his young narrator) is part of any exploration, whether the topic is love or jealousy, the value of art or knowledge of the self. We cannot simply assume that a particular pronouncement by the narrator represents Proust’s position. The difficulty of writing about Proust and philosophy is thus inescapable, and authors in this volume are careful to present how and why they draw the conclusions they do. While these difficulties should not be underestimated, it’s also true that from our contemporary vantage point, we enjoy certain privileges that early philosophical reflections on Proust did not. Some of the first work in the field explored philosophical perspectives by teasing out the many philosophical allusions and positions. Later work incorporated questions of irony, multiple 4. For more on this aspect, see Christine M. Cano’s Proust’s Deadline: The Temporality of Writing and Publishing (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007).



points of view, and issues of temporal progression or development. There was also more attention to various elements that challenged easy philosophical placement. As just one example, the narrator highly values sensory experience, an estimation that makes a simple classification of Proust as a Platonist problematic.5 All the essays here take as a starting point, sometimes explicitly, more often implicitly, this very large corpus of earlier philosophical reflection. As scholars have had more time to make sense of such an encyclopedic novel, they have also had more time to reflect on how the elements combine, both in the narrative unfolding and in a larger theoretical framework, to create a philosophical worldview. Although each of the essays in this volume takes on a particular question, there are several themes that appear again and again. It is no surprise that a novel about a search for lost time should engage with our human experience of time, and many of these essays investigate aspects of temporal experience. Both the narrator’s search and our own experience reading the novel take quite a bit of time, and not by accident. Some philosophies conceive of insight as instantaneous, and in Proust’s narrative we do have privileged moments like these. But the fact that Proust’s novel is written in narrative form, a form in which much of the narrative problematizes or even upends conclusions, offers us a good example of that conversation between philosophy and literature in which flashes of insight are coupled with slow and hard-​earned knowledge that takes time. Much of the novel portrays a narrator in search of something that always seems just out of reach—​not just lost time but also the 5. Both Anne Simon (Proust ou le réel retrouvé: Le sensible et son expression dans “A la recherche du temps perdu” [PUF, 2000]) and Evelyne Enders (Architexts of Memory: Literature, Science, and Autobiography [Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005]) offer excellent examples of this approach.



enchantment of the theater and the salons, as well as an experience of the world as entrancing as its portrayal in a work of art or a book. And yet the lost time that the narrator ultimately finds is always and forever close at hand, and enchantment can be found in how simply the actress La Berma incarnates her role, or in the ordinariness of the weather on a sunny day. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick first articulated this Proustian movement between closed and open systems. She calls attention to “the important question in Proust of how open systems relate to closed ones, or perhaps better put, of how systems themselves move between functioning as open and closed.”6 Our narrator is often in search of the magic command, the open sesame in which the closed world of the Guermantes or the theater of La Berma might suddenly open to allow him in. And they do, but often not when and how he imagines. Many of the essays in this volume investigate these boundaries between open and closed systems, whether between life and art, or between fiction and philosophy. One shared insight is that there are no forever, fully closed systems in Proust. Love opens onto jealousy, a text onto life, one form of art onto another. Another shared focus of many of these essays is the role of emotion. Proust famously denigrated both the dullness of voluntary memory and the dry work of intelligence. Proust already understood, long before the work of Daniel Kahneman on cognitive bias, that intelligence can often distort the truth or confirm what we wish to be true rather than proffer truth itself. Emotions offer a knowledge of their own, as Martha Nussbaum first noted in Love’s Knowledge. Love can attune us to beauty, and pain can indicate a truth counter to one’s habitual conception of the world. One of the 6. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Jonathan Goldberg, The Weather in Proust (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), p. 3.



surprises of Proust is that negative emotions can often enlighten just as much as positive ones. Jealousy, for example, can offer insights of its own. This complex role of emotion pertains not just to Proust’s fictional characters, but to the reader’s emotional experience of the narrative. Turning to our experience as readers of Proust, one of the first questions many who are unable to read the original ask is: which translation? Perhaps no other work has precipitated such debate. Scott Moncrieff, in the very first English translation of the work, titled the novel after Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30, Remembrance of Things Past. Proust wrote Moncrieff a complimentary letter, though he did feel the title failed to anticipate the last volume in which the search for lost time ends, finally, with time refound. But there’s much more that is missing from this Shakespearean transposition. Moncrieff ’s choice of the word “remembrance” in the title fails to capture both the agency and the urgency of the quest in the novel, a search for lost time that also contains within the French the suggestion of a scientific research project or recherche. Moreover, the French word temps signifies both time and weather in French, and Proustian moments, which the narrator calls “impressions,” owe much to the painterly inspiration of the Impressionists and their fascination with the weather. The series paintings that we see in Monet, for example his well-​known haystacks, point to an insistence on the role of time in any representation. Different temps renders the need for a new portrait. Proust’s own novel takes partial inspiration here, though he ultimately moves in new and different directions. Recently, Christopher Prendergast has overseen a new translation of Proust with a different translator for each volume. Many English readers first came to know Proust through the Moncrieff edition, a work which, though it departs from the original, is undoubtedly a masterpiece in its own right. Others prefer this more 7


recent edition as more faithful to the original. Since no translation is perfect, contributors to this volume each chose their own preferred translation or provided their own. Given Proust’s own hesitation between philosophy and literature, there is no better place to begin than with Joshua Landy’s question, “Why a Novel?” in Chapter 1. Why indeed? The answer is not a singular one. Rather, there are many ways in which fiction does things that a philosophical treatise would not. One thing it does is invite us into the very process of trying to philosophize—​ trying on theories and discarding them when evidence presents to the contrary. Another thing fiction does is offer us a narrative pattern with which to understand our own lives. These processes—​ what Proust’s fiction does—​afford us one way of considering aspects that transcend those particular, singular instances that resist generalization. Some are structures of experience, like the process of thinking, while others are structures of narrative that engage our emotions. The choice of fiction over philosophy considered, there remains the conundrum of whether Proust’s biography is relevant to a novel that is both autobiographical and yet clearly not. How to relate Proust’s fiction to his life? This is a particularly vexing question since Proust hesitated not just between philosophy and fiction but also between fiction and literary criticism. Although he ultimately chose fiction, one of Proust’s first attempts at writing was an essay, “Against Sainte-​Beuve,” that argued against judging a writer by the life. So why does Proust’s own narrative take the form of life writing, albeit fictionalized? Elisabeth Ladenson explores this question in Chapter 2. Proust is very careful not to name his narrator for the first two thousand pages: the ambiguity about the relationship between the author



and the narrator is built into the novel. On the one hand, we have antibiographical readings that assert no relationship between the novel and biography, a “closed-​systems” approach first articulated by Roland Barthes. Barthes’s reflections on Proust led to one of the most famous essays of poststructuralist thought, the proclamation of “The Death of the Author.” Rather surprisingly, however, Barthes’ inspiration was a famous biography of Proust by George Painter. Painter, in contrast to Barthes, insisted that the novel cannot be understood without reference to the author’s life, a life which helps to illuminate the text. As Ladenson points out so persuasively, however, Painter ends up using the fiction as a basis to argue for real biographical events, another form of a closed system in which a life story is imagined out of fiction. What relationship is there between the actual people, places, and events of a life and an autofiction that both does and does not resemble it? A method that treats life and text as parallel lives. If this solution is less puzzling to us today than it was for earlier readers of Proust, it is only because Proust inspired the very genre of what we now call autofiction. Of course, this is no simple life story but one that focuses on the development of the artist: a Künstlerroman or “artist novel.” This focus is especially modernist, placing Proust’s novel among many of the era, perhaps most famously James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Like Joyce’s novel, there is explicit reflection on the nature of art, a philosophical meditation on aesthetics. What makes Proust’s novel so unique, however, are the fictions, in this case fictions of artists, that explore questions of art and art’s value in their concrete particulars. Proust’s range of artists represented is also unusual. Embedded in the narrative is an examination of art in all of its various manifestations, not just the triumvirate of painting,



music, and literature, but also theater, and even less rarefied arts, like the domestic ones.7 Christie McDonald takes up this question of the relation between life and art in Chapter 3, “The Origins and Ends of Music: Proust Counters Rousseau.” Ever since Samuel Beckett first identified music as a key to Proust, scholars have puzzled over the unique role that the fictional composer Vinteuil plays in the work.8 Equally puzzling, McDonald finds, is Proust’s discussion of Wagner. MacDonald reads the narrator’s experience of Wagner for its covert reference to Rousseau, who, like Proust, shared a fascination with both life writing and music. Not simply a question of causal influence, both Proust and Rousseau take up music as a means of exploring questions that are both deeply personal and explicitly philosophical. The Rousseau-​ Proust musical connection lies in their focus on sensations, temporal understanding, and memory. Proust’s counter to Rousseau is indebted to the original musical sense of “counter” that sings as an accompaniment to a melody and that works as both engagement and response. Because of its temporal nature, music offers a unique view onto one of the fundamental tensions in Proust’s novel: moments of involuntary memory that punctuate the narrative but are immersed in a flow of time that counters such moments. Unlike any of Proust’s other so-​called “impressions,” listening to a piece of music, as Proust describes it, combines both moment and flux in a single aesthetic experience.

7. See Elkins, “Proust’s Family at Home,” H-​France Salon 13 (2021), for more on this aspect of his novel. 8. Although many have written about this element, best known is undoubtedly Jean-​Jacques Nattiez’s Proust as Musician (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).



Patrick Bray takes up this tension between the singularity of an event—​the Proustian moment—​and the serial aspects of Proust’s novel in Chapter 4. In “Proust’s Intermittent Seriality, or What Is a Literary Event?” Bray offers us yet another way to think about how Proust created a new genre by countering the well-​known serial novels of the nineteenth century. Unlike the typical serial novel, which was published in installments in periodicals, Proust’s novel was published serially on its own, the volumes appearing over many years with many interruptions. Proust’s novel thus responded in time to its present, changing and shifting in nature over the course of its writing. And of course, the volumes were released serially, ensuring that, as in serial novels published in periodicals, readers were often left to wonder at the end of one installment how it would continue in the next. Like the serial novels that came before it, Proust’s novel does evince borrowed elements like plot twists, cliffhangers, and characters that recur. Not only characters, but themes recur, and one such example is the theme of time itself, which is both explicitly and implicitly theorized. Singularity and seriality offer two opposing tensions in the novel but seriality, Bray concludes, offers ways to make sense of and recognize the singularity of events. This tension between two differing experiences of time—​as both singular and series—​shapes Proustian explorations of identity as well. The narrator sees himself as both a singular self—​a self made visible during those Proustian moments—​and a series of selves that change so much over the course of the novel that similarity between selves seems but an illusion. Another way to view seriality is through the superimposed patterns of shared stories, patterns that afford possibilities of generalizing from the particular. One such shared story is that of love and jealousy. Love and jealousy in the novel are presented both from the singular perspective of particular 11


characters in love, and from the more removed perspective of our philosopher narrator who surveys the ways stories both repeat and diverge. Richard Moran opens Chapter 5 with an examination of the original story pattern for love and jealousy—​the story of Charles and Odette in Proust’s first volume, Swann’s Way. In “Swann’s Medical Philosophy” Moran describes Swann’s “medical philosophy,” a philosophy that is first considered but later abandoned by the narrator. This medical philosophy holds much in common with the philosophical pessimism popular in Proust’s day, a philosophy which held that emotional disturbances like jealousy should be viewed as an internal disease that would eventually run its course. Freud, too, Moran points out, develops a notion of desire as an internal state for which the solution might be a cessation of such desire. The enchanted object or person in the outer world, from this psychological perspective, has no value or worth other than that which the internal state bestows upon it. With time, a later self—​ one of those serial selves that comes with the passage of time—​will no longer be perturbed, and jealousy will thus be cured. Here we see the situation for the narrator midway through the novel, having become disillusioned with the enchanted world of his childhood and concluding that many of his desires, from a mature perspective, no longer hold. And yet, as Moran makes clear, this midpoint position is itself abandoned. For this reason, Proust goes beyond the philosophies of his day, including both a philosophical pessimism and a medical philosophy. Emotional knowledge, including love’s knowledge, is not, for Proust, to be abandoned in favor of disinterestedness. The serial self of the narrator that gave up on writing the novel is not the end goal, and the realization of desire is ultimately, for the narrator, something to be wished for, not to be avoided. 12


In Chapter 6, Robert Pippin also explores the ways in which jealousy is not merely a state to be waited out, but one to be explored for its insights into knowledge of the self. In fact, jealousy seems to operate as the shadow of love, another side of the same emotional coin that reveals an essential aspect of the experience. While there are examples of love without jealousy in the novel, it characterizes the four most significant romantic relationships in the novel: Swann and Odette, Saint-​Loup and Rachel When from the Lord, the narrator and Albertine, and Charlus and Morel. Jealousy in Proust is, paradoxically, a kind of jealousy of the self: the inability to control the image of oneself held by the other. The moment when Swann laments that falling in love with Odette was a mistake as she wasn’t his type is actually a moment when Swann evinces a failure to understand himself. His assertion of indifference is, in fact, nothing but an attempt to mirror Odette’s indifference to him. Even social jealousy manifests this dimension, since it conceals the desire for other groups to reflect back one’s own positive self-​image. This is just one element that makes fiction, more than a philosophical treatise, a perfect vehicle for philosophical reflection. The narrative quest shows that it takes time to uncover knowledge, and self-​knowledge for Proust rarely comes directly. Often it emerges through the observation of others’ lives and even, at times, from the painful knowledge that others’ views of us—​so different from our own—​lay bare. Stories engage both our cognitive and our emotional self, an engagement that Proust seems to suggest is of the utmost importance in attuning us to notice both what is painful but also what enchants and brings joy. Jealousy reveals the ways in which we cannot always control the ways others see us. Weather also makes manifest the ways in which the outside world is beyond the control of the narrator’s inner desires and thoughts. As Dora Zhang explores in Chapter 7, weather 13


represents a fundamental and constitutive aspect of the world that Proust’s characters inhabit, an imbrication of self and world. Unlike more romantic invocations of weather extremes, weather in Proust is often quite ordinary. It offers a kind of atmospheric singularity to any given day and time while simultaneously offering comfort in its regularity. In Proust’s weather, then, we see another instance of that tension between singularity and seriality that recurs throughout the narrative. For this reason, weather is also the shadow of causal narrative plot. It reveals both the desire to explore the radical contingency of a world beyond one’s control and at the same time to find meaning and order in that world. A fundamental aspect of the narrator’s project is, Zhang writes, not just to write a book but to recreate a climate. Music in Proust offers us one way to think about time in art. Painting offers us another way to represent temps through weather. The difficulty of capturing weather may explain why, rather surprisingly, the fictional writer in the novel, Bergotte, is not by any stretch the central artist. Equally if not more central is the fictional painter Elstir, who offers lessons about the interweaving of identities in his painting of the Carquehuit harbor. In that painting, the masts of the boats resemble the steeples of the town, water and land shaping each other’s identities by their shared climate. Proust thematizes this interweaving of the arts by having the writer Bergotte, on his deathbed, wish he had incorporated elements of Vermeer’s View of Delft into his writing. In Bergotte’s case, it is a small patch of yellow that fascinates him. That patch, in spite of its small size, refracts a fundamental quality of the painting. It could be that the wall itself is yellow, but it’s more likely that it reflects the weather: sunlight on a wall, yet one more instance among many in which indirect knowledge serves better than more direct forms. For the narrator, the feel of the air and the way that the air refracts the 14


sound in the street below offer better knowledge of the weather outside his room, he insists, than if he were outside. The narrator also evinces an attunement to color that suggests that he has taken to heart the lesson from Bergotte on his deathbed. Color might seem to be an incidental aspect of Proust’s world, and yet it offers a portal onto the unique conscious experience of the narrator. In Chapter 8, I explore Proust’s consciousness for the way that qualitative experiences like color open onto an understanding of the world. As we’ve seen, subjective experiences can prove false, filled as they are with illusions that betray what we desire, not what is true. But Proustian moments, unlike many of the illusions in the novel, are never abandoned. Instead, they offer experiences when the narrator’s consciousness establishes agreement between his internal state and the external world. His impressions, the narrator insists, offer a sense of shared climate: he is able to breathe the very air of Combray, interior and exterior world sharing the same unique quality. In Chapter 2, Ladenson quotes the seemingly odd moment when Proust’s biographer Painter insists that he wouldn’t actually like to meet the physical Proust: “If somebody had said, ‘Proust calling this evening, do look in and meet him,’ I wouldn’t have wanted to. I wouldn’t have turned my head to see him across the street. The Proust I am interested in is the Proust living inside Proust’s eyes, ears, and mouth. That’s where I want to be, that is the Proust I have tried to associate with.” These qualitative experiences—​of living inside Proust’s “eyes, ears, and mouth,” are representations of Proust’s consciousness: qualitative experiences that capture a self ’s distinctive experience of the world. And yet this conscious experience of the world is more than just singular. Instead, it shows ways in which the narrator is part of an open system, with conscious experience opening onto an 15


understanding of the world that is neither subjective projection nor the disenchanted reality of lost illusions. At times, the narrator’s consciousness of the world can even lead to a sense in which the world out there is conscious: even matter appears to have a mind. One early Proustian moment offers a perfect example of this. As he walks along the Vivonne in Combray, the narrator notices a pink roof for the first time. This attunement to color leads to an appreciation of the larger scene in which the various elements are all intimately connected. It is an imbrication of objects in the world, since roof, sky, and pond all “smile” back at each other as though in communication. The narrator’s very strong emotion confirms the significance of the experience. In the narrator’s youthful enjoyment of the scene, he is only able to exclaim “zut, zut, zut, zut!” But his attention and emotion are key to a moment that draws on conscious experience to make sense of the world. It will take more than two thousand more pages before the young narrator feels able to translate this experience into a novel, thereby becoming that writer he longs to be. Before this success, however, the narrator offers us a multitude of philosophical reflections, some easily attributable to well-​known philosophical positions, others that call into question these positions over time. While all of this change and flux—​the seriality of the novel—​ would seem to point toward time as the eradicator of any philosophical position, there are elements of the narrative that offer ways of transcending the flux of time: patterns of narrative, singular events understood as such by their very immersion in the repeatable, and moments of consciousness in which self and world connect in a moment of resonance. Joshua Landy reminds us in Chapter 1 that if you really want Proust to change your life, you will need to read him yourself. But it’s also true that Proust’s field is so large that a field guide can be 16


helpful. Although Proust ultimately chose the form of a novel, his hesitation affirms both the critic and the philosopher as having important roles to play. We know this not only because of his hesitation but also because the novel continually engages with both philosophical reflection and the role of the critic. Bergotte, after all, had seen Vermeer’s painting and never noticed the yellow patch. It took another person’s consciousness, and its subsequent translation in writing, to help him notice it. So, too, I hope these essays offer up many more patches with which to help illuminate elements of Proust’s novel. These details are not merely incidental, I believe, but generalizable to aspects that, like that patch of yellow, inform the very nature of In Search of Lost Time.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” Image, Music, Text. Translated by Stephen Heath. London: Fantana, 1977, 142–​148. Beckett, Samuel, and Georges Duthuit. Proust; and, Three Dialogues. London: John Calder, 1987. Cano, Christine M. Proust’s Deadline: The Temporality of Writing and Publishing. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007. Elkins, Katherine. “Naming the Lyric: Literature versus Philosophy in Plato’s Symposium.” Philosophy and Literature 44, no. 2 (2020): 402–​417. Elkins, Katherine. “Proust’s Family at Home.” H-​France Salon 13 (2021): 1–​9. Ender, Evelyne. Architexts of Memory: Literature, Science, and Autobiography. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005. Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: James Joyce. New York: The Viking Press, 1970. Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013. Kolb, Philip. Correspondance. Edited by Philip Kol. Tome XIII. Paris: Plon, 1985. Landy, Joshua. Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. MacDonald, Christie. The Proustian Fabric: Associations of Memory. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.



Nattiez, Jean Jacques. Proust as Musician. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Nussbaum, Martha C. Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Painter, George D. Proust. London: Chatto & Windus, 1965. Proust, Marcel, and C. K. Scott-​Moncrieff. Remembrance of Things Past. London: Penguin Classics, 2016. Proust, Marcel. General Editor Christopher Prendergast, et al. In Search of Lost Time. London: Penguin Books, 2003. Proust, Marcel, and John Sturrock. Against Sainte-​Beuve: And Other Essays. London: Penguin, 1994. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, and Jonathan Goldberg. The Weather in Proust. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012. Simon, Anne. Proust ou le réel retrouvé: Le sensible et son expression dans “A la recherche du temps perdu.” Paris: Honoré Champion, 2018. Tadié, J-​Y. Marcel Proust: A Life. Translated by Euan Cameron. New York: Penguin Putnam, 2000. Woolf, Virginia. The Letters of Virginia Woolf. Edited by Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann. 7 vols. New York: Harcourt, 1976.


Chapter 1

Why a Novel? J O S H UA L A N DY

Proust’s novel readily lends itself to being read for its ideas. Unlike many works of fiction, it includes not just plot, character, and theme but argument, with chains of premises—​sometimes fairly extensive—​backing up specific philosophical positions.1 We have good reason, then, to think hard about those positions and those arguments . . . and yet it’s still a novel, not a treatise. It’s still three thousand pages of imaginary or semi-​imaginary people doing imaginary or semi-​imaginary things, and one of those (semi-​)imaginary people is even telling the story, making comments that aren’t always 1. On generic hybridity in Proust, compare Roland Barthes, “Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure . . .,” trans. Richard Howard, in The Rustle of Language (New York: Hill and Wang), pp. 277–​290, 278; Gérard Genette, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), p. 259; Gaëtan Picon, Lecture de Proust (Paris: Gallimard, 1995), p. 200; and Leo Spitzer, “Le style de Marcel Proust,” trans. Alain Coulon, Eliane Kaufholz, and Michel Foucault, in Etudes de style (Paris: Gallimard, 1970), pp. 397–​473, 460–​461. On generic hybridity more broadly, see Joshua Landy, How to Do Things with Fictions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 9, 14–​15, 35. The hybrid status of Proust is especially clear in the final volume where, at one point, the narrator even summarizes the results of a previous argument before launching into new premises and conclusions: “I had arrived then at the conclusion that in fashioning a work of art we are by no means free, that we do not choose how we shall make it but that it pre-​exists us and therefore we are obliged . . . to discover it. But this discovery . . .” (TR 277; emphasis added). Joshua Landy, Why a Novel? In: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Edited by: Katherine Elkins, Oxford University Press. © Oxford University Press 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780190921576.003.0002


to be trusted. So why didn’t Proust just write a philosophy book, where he could tell us in his own name what he actually thought about everything?

1 As far as we can tell, Proust considered doing exactly that. In 1908 he asked Anna de Noailles to help him choose between two options for the manuscript he was working on, which would either begin with “the story of a morning” or be a “traditional essay.”2 And in a notebook from the same year, a voice wonders aloud “should I make a novel out of it, [or] a philosophical study; am I a novelist?”3 So Proust was clearly hovering, at least in 1908, between two different types of writing, and he was clearly equal to the task of either. (He wrote plenty of essays over the years, several of which are excellent.4) What’s more, we can be pretty confident that he saw the choice as a meaningful one, given that some of the most famous passages in Proust concern what artworks can do (paintings, sonatas, novels—​but not essays) and everything else cannot.5 “Art,” 2. Letter to Anna de Noailles, mid-​December 1908, Correspondance, vol. 8 (Paris: Plon, 1981), pp. 320–​321. 3. Marcel Proust, Le Carnet de 1908 (Paris: Gallimard, 1976), p. 61. 4. I’d single out the preface to La Bible d’Amiens (1904), “Sur la lecture” (1905), the preface to Paul Morand’s Tendres stocks (1920), “À propos du ‘style’ de Flaubert” (1920), and “À propos de Baudelaire” (1921). Proust also began a wonderful article in 1895 on Chardin and Rembrandt, but he never finished or published it. 5. All references to In Search of Lost Time refer to the Modern Library with abbreviations as follows: Swann’s Way, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright, (New York: Modern Library, 1992) (Abbreviated in the notes as S); Within a Budding Grove, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright, (New York: Modern Library, 1992) (Abbreviated as BG); The Guermantes Way, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright, (New York: Modern Library, 1993) (Abbreviated as GW); Sodom and Gomorrah, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright, (New York: Modern Library, 1993) (Abbreviated


Why a N o v e l ?

his narrator tells us, “exteriorizes in the colours of the spectrum the intimate composition of those worlds which we call individuals and which, but for art, we should never know”; “style for the writer, no less than colour for the painter, is . . . the revelation, which by direct and conscious methods would be impossible, of the qualitative difference, the uniqueness of the fashion in which the world appears to each one of us, a difference which, if there were no art, would remain for ever the secret of every individual.”6 And Proust expressed similar sentiments in his own name. “Style,” he said in 1913, “is in no way an embellishment, as certain people think; it is not even a question of technique; it is, like color with certain painters, a quality of vision, a revelation of a private universe which each one of us sees and which is not seen by others. The pleasure an artist gives us is to make us know an additional universe.”7 Nor was Proust just thinking about what art can do generally; he was also thinking, more specifically, about what he wanted his own book to do to and for his readers. In February 1914, for example, he warned Jacques Rivière that the pessimistic statement at the end of Swann’s Way was not his actual opinion but in fact the very opposite. Why confuse the reader like that? Because “I did not want to analyze this evolution of a belief system abstractly, but rather to recreate it, to bring it to life. I am therefore obliged to depict errors, without

as SG); The Captive, in The Captive and The Fugitive, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright, (New York: Modern Library, 1993) (Abbreviated as C); The Fugitive, in The Captive and The Fugitive, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright, (New York: Modern Library, 1993) (Abbreviated as F); Time Regained, translated by D. J. Enright, Terence Kilmartin, and Andreas Mayor, (New York: Modern Library, 1993) (Abbreviated as TR). 6. C 343, TR 299. 7. Proust, Essais et articles (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), p. 255 (my translation).



feeling compelled to say that I consider them to be errors; too bad for me if the reader believes I take them for the truth.”8 “Too bad for me if the reader believes I take them for the truth”: we can already see why it’s dangerous to treat the Recherche as though it’s a treatise. (Beware if you read an essay—​even in this excellent volume—​in which “Proust says,” “Proust argues,” or “Proust states,” where what’s under discussion is the Recherche. Most of the time it’s the narrator doing the saying, arguing, and stating, and the narrator does not always speak for Proust.) To be fair, Proust does agree with some of the things his narrator says, including some of the most important. (We know that from Proust’s essays and letters.9) So it’s not that the stated ideas are to be dismissed entirely; on the contrary, there’s a great deal to be said about them. Still, Proust periodically seems to be using his narrator to flash a big bright warning sign in our direction. “As for the enjoyment which is derived by a really discerning mind and a truly living heart from a thought beautifully expressed in the writings of a great writer,” this narrator tells us, “this is no doubt an entirely wholesome enjoyment, but, precious though the men may be who are truly capable of enjoying this pleasure . . . they are nevertheless in the very process reduced to being no more than the full consciousness of another.”10 He also warns us, in one of the most delightfully ironic (not to mention self-​contradictory) slogans in the novel, that “a work in which there are theories is like an object which still has its price-​tag on it.”11

8. Quoted in S 462. 9. For some of these, see Joshua Landy, “Why Proust Isn’t an ‘Essayist,’ and Why It Matters,” Romanic Review 111, no. 3 (2020): 392–​407. 10. TR 296–​297. 11. TR 278.


Why a N o v e l ?

That, of course, is just the narrator speaking, but elsewhere Proust says similar things in his own voice. In the preface to his translation of Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies, for example, Proust tells us that the best books offer not conclusions but “incitements.” “So long as reading is for us the inciter,” Proust adds, “whose magic keys open to our innermost selves the doors of abodes into which we would not have known how to penetrate, its role in our life is salutary”; but if we start to think that truth is “deposited between the leaves of books like honey ready-​made by others,” and that we can passively absorb it from the shelf of a library, then “reading becomes dangerous.” Dangerous!12 So to ask again: why a novel? What can be done by these three thousand pages of fiction, relayed to us in long and complicated sentences by a narrator who’s not entirely reliable? Leaving aside the ideas we can glean from a reading of Proust, what is the experience like? And what is the activity like? Proust made a series of specific formal choices, and each invites, encourages, or requires us to do a particular kind of work. What work, then, with what rewards, and to what ends?

2 A good place to start, I think, is with Proust’s narrator himself and the things he has to say, whether rightly or wrongly, about the various benefits of art. If we put his statements together, what we find—​at a first approximation, anyway—​is a quartet of possibilities for art. Art, he seems to think, reveals not just (1) the world but also (2) our world, (3) their world, and even (4) my world. 12. Proust, On Reading Ruskin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 118.



The world: in discussing the fictional novelist Bergotte, the narrator says he “longed to have some opinion . . . of his upon everything.”13 It’s worth noting that the narrator soon decides Bergotte’s opinions aren’t actually true—​the metaphysicians he comes to love in school “would resemble him in nothing”—​and yet he continues to admire the novels, so clearly ideas aren’t everything when it comes to art. But perhaps they count for something, some of the time. Our world: in discussing the fictional painter Elstir, the narrator mentions a painting that deliberately confuses land and sea. Masts look like steeples. Sand looks like waves. One part of the sea looks like “a white stone causeway or . . . a field of snow.” Elstir’s plan, the narrator explains, is to present things the way they appear to us, rather than the way we know they are; it is “to reproduce things not as he knew them to be but according to the optical illusions of which our first sight of them is composed.”14 (In one of his articles, Proust quotes J. M. W. Turner saying something similar: “my business is to draw what I see and not what I know is there.”15) This isn’t the world as it is in itself, but it also isn’t the world as it appears to me, with my idiosyncratic conceptual scheme. Rather, it’s the world as it appears to us, to every human being alike. All of us see masts as steeples; all of us perceive the sun as rising, straight sticks in water as bent, and Necker cubes as cubes. It’s the phenomenological world we live in as members of the species Homo sapiens. Their world: in discussing the fictional composer Vinteuil, the narrator writes that his music “extended, note by note, stroke by stroke, the unknown, incalculable colourings of an unsuspected world.” The thought here is that artworks reveal, through form, the 13. S 132. 14. BG 570. 15. Proust, On Reading Ruskin, p. 42; Proust, Pastiches et mélanges (Paris: Gallimard, 1997), p. 178.


Why a N o v e l ?

inner world of their creators. Each of us has a conceptual scheme that is part objective, part intersubjective, and part idiosyncratic; what art does is to allow the idiosyncratic aspect, which otherwise has no reliable outlet, to find full expression. Once that happens, museums and libraries and concert halls can gradually fill with mesmerizing shards from a host of different “planets,” restoring to human existence a powerful sense of enchantment.16 My world: in discussing his own future novel, the narrator says something fascinating. “My readers,” he writes, “would not be ‘my’ readers but the readers of their own selves, my book being merely a sort of magnifying glass like those which the optician at Combray used to offer his customers—​it would be my book, but with its help I would furnish them with the means of reading what lay inside themselves”; indeed when it comes to any good book, “the writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have perceived in himself.”17 Here, artworks don’t offer us the objective truth, or a sense of our shared phenomenal reality, or a glimpse into the deepest self of an artist, but rather a richer

16. “The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is; and this we can do with an Elstir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from star to star” (C 343). 17. TR 508, TR 322. This is just the narrator talking about his own future book, not Proust talking about Search, but passages like this show the extent to which Proust cares about the different kind of effect artworks can have on their readers, listeners, or viewers. Elsewhere we see the narrator watching performances by Rachel and Berma, reading Bergotte, looking at Elstir paintings, and listening to the Vinteuil septet; we see him worrying about the effect his steeples piece will have on its readers; we see Swann listening to the sonata (which reveals, the narrator says, previously hidden “riches of his own soul”); and we see Bergotte looking at Vermeer’s View of Delft, which he sees as a model of pure form (“I ought to have . . . made my language precious in itself, like this little patch of yellow wall”). See S 496 and C 244. Aesthetic impact—​in its many different varieties—​is very much on Proust’s mind.


P r o u s t’ s I N S E A R C H O F L O S T T I M E

u n d erst a n di n g of o urs el v es. It gi v es m e acc ess t o my w orl d, rat h er t ha n acc ess t o t he w orl d. It t eac h es m e a b o ut m e, a n d y o u a b o ut y o u. ( R ec all w hat Pr o ust hi ms elf s ai d a b o ut t h e b est ki n ds of b o o ks, t h os e “ w h os e ma gi c k e ys o p e n t o o ur i n n er m ost s el v es t h e d o ors of a b o d es i nt o w hi c h w e w o ul d n ot hav e k n o w n h o w t o p e n etrat e.” ) W h y w o ul d w e n e e d a n o v el t o d o t his f or us? B ec a us e w e ar e o ft e n mist a k e n, or i g n ora nt, a b o ut o ur o w n mi n ds; t h er e ar e s o m e q u esti o ns w e’ v e n e v er as k e d o urs el v es, a n d t h er e ar e ot h er q u esti o ns w e’ d li e t o o urs el v es a b o ut. We n e e d a d et o ur — a n d o n e of t h e b est d et o urs, Pr o ust’s narrat or t hi n ks, is a gr eat n o v el. 1 8 e w orl d

H er w orl d

O ur w orl d

My w orl d

3 Th e f o ur b e n e fits of art w e’ v e c o nsi d er e d s o f ar — s h owi n g us t he w orl d, o ur w orl d, her w orl d, or my w orl d; t hat is, r e v eali n g s o m et hi n g a b o ut r ealit y, a b o ut t h e h u ma n ex p eri e n c e of it, a b o ut t h e artist, or a b o ut t h e i n di vi d u al s p ect at or — a r e all e ff ects t hat t h e narrat or ex pli citl y a n d dir ectl y p uts f or w ar d. B ut t h er e’s a fi ft h e ff ect t hat h e m e nti o ns i n passi n g, a n d it’s o n e of t h e m ost i nt er esti n g. 1 8. O n n e c ess ar y d et o urs, s e e J os h u a L a n d y, P hil os o p hy as Ficti o n: Self, Dece pti o n, a n d K n o wle dge i n Pr o ust ( Ne w Yor k: Oxf or d, 2 0 0 4 ), p p. 8 0, 1 4 4, 1 9 8 n 6 0.


Why a N o v e l ?

Late in The Captive, the narrator goes to a society soirée where he hears a performance of Vinteuil’s septet, his magnum opus. The septet is magnificent in itself, and the narrator fully appreciates it for what it has to offer on its own terms (including and especially the access it gives to Vinteuil’s mysterious inner world). At the same time, though, he notices traces within it of Vinteuil’s earlier work. And a thought suddenly strikes him: I began to realise that if, in the body of this septet, different elements presented themselves one after another to combine at the close, so also Vinteuil’s sonata and, as I later discovered, his other works as well, had been no more than timid essays, exquisite but very slight, beside the triumphal and consummate masterpiece now being revealed to me. And I could not help recalling by comparison that, in the same way too, I had thought of the other worlds that Vinteuil had created as being self-​enclosed as each of my loves had been; whereas in reality I was obliged to admit that just as, within the context of the last of these—​my love for Albertine—​my first faint stirrings of love for her (at Balbec at the very beginning, then after the game of ferret, then on the night when she slept at the hotel, then in Paris on the foggy Sunday, then on the night of the Guermantes party, then at Balbec again, and finally in Paris where my life was now closely linked to hers) had been, so, if I now considered not my love for Albertine but my whole life, my other loves too had been no more than slight and timid essays that were paving the way, appeals that were unconsciously clamouring, for this vaster love: my love for Albertine.19 19. C 335–​336. The seven moments or phases mentioned here may be found at BG 675–​676, BG 684, BG 700, SG 340, SG 186, SG 247, and C 1.



What’s happening here is that he’s borrowing the structure of the septet as a way of thinking about his life with Albertine. Before, it was just a disjointed series of events: meeting Albertine, flirting with her, getting rebuffed, finally kissing on a later meeting, drifting apart, coming back together, moving in. But now it’s a story—​a story of love, however tormented, overcoming obstacles and growing into the core of his life. It has a single overarching shape, a single cadence, a single emotional tone. And there’s more: this story fits into a bigger story, the story of his romantic life in general. The Gilberte episode and the Albertine episode belong together, as part of a larger structure; they produce something that’s more than the sum of its parts, just as a piece of music produces something more than the sum of its notes, motifs, or movements. So the music serves, for the narrator, as a formal model—​a template, a blueprint, a mold to pour his own memories into. Or to change the analogy, it’s like a dress pattern: you’ve got the material, but it tells you where to cut it, where to seam it, how to sew it together. There’s one last thing to notice here. “My other loves,” the narrator says, had been “paving the way” for the relationship with Albertine, the big love in his life. Paving the way; or, in the original French, préparaient, which also means “foreshadowed.” That’s a significant choice of term. When we think about story form, we tend to focus on cases where one thing leads to another, and that other to the next, in a perfect causal chain. (Emma Bovary reads too many bad books, and therefore gets the wrong idea about love, which causes her to make some poor life choices.) But causation isn’t the only way two events can be linked. The adolescent flirtation with Gilberte didn’t make the narrator fall in love with Albertine, or even make him fall in love in this particular way. Instead the two 28

Why a N o v e l ?

relationships send out echoes to each other across the long novel, just like a motif that returns in a symphony. The Gilberte episode foreshadows the Albertine episode, as a soothsayer’s prophecy in Act 1 foreshadows—​but doesn’t cause—​an outcome in Act 5. Once we get to the Albertine chapter, the memory of Gilberte lingers around to imbue the situation with richness, layering, and depth. “When new moments of pleasure call to us,” the narrator writes, “the others recur, bringing them the groundwork, the solid consistency of a rich orchestration.”20 A rich orchestration: life can be like music—​indeed like beautiful music—​if we let it. And that’s why we need art; that’s why we need novels and septets, not just noises and biographies. If we want our lives to have the richness, complexity, and shape of a classical composition, we’d better listen to some symphonies. If we want to notice recurring motifs as they pop up in our experience, maybe we should hear a bit of Wagner. If we want to experience a sequence of events as a beautiful story, it would help to spend some time around novels. Art can be a formal model for the shape of a life.

4 Five things, then, that art can do. Does Proust’s novel do any of them? Yes, I think—​all of them, or at the very least all but one. It’s an open question whether Search transmits, through style, the idiosyncratic “vision” of its author, since the narrator is so often in the

20. GW 543. On strictly aesthetic principles of organization in narratives, see David Velleman, “Well-​Being and Time,” in The Metaphysics of Death, ed. John Martin Fischer (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993), pp. 329–​357.



way.21 But there’s certainly plenty of instruction on offer here, as mentioned above, thanks to the hybrid nature of the novel. (Though heaven help any readers who look at the narrator’s theories of love and think they’re important truths about life!) And there are clearly also opportunities for self-​ knowledge. One delightful example of that is Swann in Love. I’ll come back to it in a moment, but for now, I’d like you to answer two questions: when does Swann first fall in love with Odette, and why? (If you want to play along and keep yourself honest, maybe write your answers down on a scrap of paper—​very Proustian22—​and don’t peek ahead.) What about “our world”? Are there phenomenological data on offer in Search? Again, yes. “A little tap on the window-​pane, as though something had struck it, followed by a plentiful light falling sound, as of grains of sand being sprinkled from a window overhead, gradually spreading, intensifying, acquiring a regular rhythm, becoming fluid, sonorous, musical, immeasurable, universal: it was the rain.”23 The novel is full of moments like these—​moments where we’re initially presented with an optical or auditory illusion, “the illusion of our first glance,”24 capturing the way in which reality appears to us rather than the way it is, the effect it produces on our senses rather than whatever it was that caused it. (Elstir and

21. I’ve suggested elsewhere (Landy, Philosophy as Fiction, pp. 141–​143) some places we may perhaps be able to spot Proust peeking out from behind the character. And Vincent Descombes ingeniously suggests that the very choice to write a novel, rather than a treatise, reveals something about Proust’s mindset (Proust: Philosophy of the Novel, trans. Catherine Chance Macksey (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), p. 13). But I’m really not certain. 22. W hen the narrator starts writing his novel, he does so on what Françoise calls paperoles (“paperies”): “whenever I had not all my ‘paperies’ near me, as Françoise called them . . . Françoise would understand how this upset me” (TR 509). 23. S 140–​141. On moments like these, see Picon, Lecture de Proust, p. 64, and Ernst Robert Curtius, Marcel Proust, trans. Armand Pierhal (Paris: Revue nouvelle, 1928), pp. 128–​133. 24. TR 527.


Why a N o v e l ?

Dostoevsky, the narrator tells us, “instead of . . . beginning with the cause, sho[w]‌us first of all the effect.”25) We just saw an example of an error corrected within instants, but sometimes our ill-​adjusted brains make mistakes that are more lasting. When we first meet Albertine, we’re told she has a beauty spot on her chin. Forty pages later, we’re told it’s actually on her cheek. Eight pages later, it “[comes] to rest for ever on her upper lip, just below her nose.”26 Again, we’re being given the feeling of what it’s like to get the world wrong, in the kind of way that’s common to the entire human species. And this may apply not just to factual errors (“Albertine’s mole is on her lip”) but also to philosophical mistakes (“our souls survive after we die”). Proust’s narrator tells us early on that he finds “very reasonable” the “Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object”; by the end he’s telling us that there’s no life after death.27 Are we witnessing the “evolution of a belief system”—​just as Proust claimed to Jacques Rivière? Are we feeling what it’s like to get not just the world wrong but our theories too, and then to get those theories wrong again in a different way, and then to get them a little bit less wrong (but still not entirely right) after three thousand long pages? And then there’s a truly delightful idea, suggested by some commentators, that the long novel simulates the experience of involuntary memory: if, say, we hear about Gilberte’s confusing signature early in volume two, largely forget it in the two thousand intervening pages, and then hear about it again late in volume six, then that wonderful aha moment, transporting us all the way back to

25. C 510; see also TR 431, JF 315. 26. BG 578; BG 618; BG 624–​625. 27. Celtic belief: S 59 (translation modified). No life after death: TR 524.



the narrator’s adolescence on the Champs-​Elysées, puts us in more or less the frame of mind the narrator will be in when he remembers the sound of steamers off the coast of Balbec. Even if we’ve never experienced an involuntary memory in our own life, we now have a sense, at least approximately, of what it feels like.28 I think we’ve dallied long enough, so it’s time to get those pieces of paper out and read back what you wrote about Swann in Love. The good news is that whatever you said, you’re almost certainly right. The weird thing, though, is that you could have been right by saying one of six or more different things. You could have said that Swann first falls in love with Odette the night he’s unable to find her, and it’s anxiety that does the trick.29 But you could equally have said that Swann fell in love with Odette much earlier, thanks not to anxiety but its opposite. “In his younger days a man dreams of possessing the heart of the woman whom he loves; later, the feeling that he possesses a woman’s heart may be enough to make him fall in love with her.”30 In Swann’s case, he’s extremely confident that Odette will one day “declare her passion,” and it’s that “romantic hope,” the narrator says, “which alone had aroused and sustained his love.”31 “Alone”! Hope is the only thing that caused Swann’s love, and it’s also the only thing that keeps it going: no mention of anxiety here at all. We’re told that Swann falls for Odette because she’s affectionate and certain to love him back; but we’re also told that Swann falls for Odette because she’s remote and unlikely to love him back. Everybody is right. But what does that mean? 28. E. M. Forster says something a little bit like this in Aspects of the Novel (London: Edward Arnold, 1974), p. 114; so too Joseph Frank, “Spatial Form in Modern Literature,” The Widening Gyre (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, [1945] 1963), pp. 3–​61, 20, 23. 29. See S 326–​327. 30. S 277. 31. S 318–​319.


Why a N o v e l ?

In a brilliant paper, Hervé Picherit offers an equally brilliant answer.32 (What I presented above is drawn from that paper.) Picherit counts nine different “first” times Swann falls in love with Odette, each time for a different reason; and the reasons, he notes, don’t add up. So when you subliminally pick one—​which almost all of us do—​that reveals something about you. If you’re a romantic, you’ll be more likely to have zeroed in on the Botticelli or the sonata. If you’re a cynic, you’ll be more likely to have focused on the anxiety. If you said it’s because Odette makes a great cup of tea, chances are you’re a Brit like myself. That, then, is one way a work of literature can be an “optical instrument.” By setting us a little interpretive trap, it functions as a Rorschach test, offering us a way to see something in ourselves that’s generally hidden from introspection. If we spend enough time around Proust—​and if you’re reading this book, you’re probably someone who does—​we may well come to realize that Swann in Love was more complicated than we first assumed; this, in turn, may make us wonder why we assumed differently; and once we’re there, we’re in a position “to discern what, without this book, we would perhaps never have perceived in ourselves.”

5 What’s on offer in Proust, then, is not just the world—​which would also have been available in a philosophy book—​but also perhaps his world, very likely our world, and almost certainly my world (which

32. Hervé Picherit, “The Impossibly Many Loves of Charles Swann: The Myth of Proustian Love and the Reader’s ‘Impression’ in Un amour de Swann,” Poetics Today 28, no. 4 (2007): 619–​652.



is to say, your world). And we can add to that list our fifth potential benefit, as well: just as the septet has an aesthetic shape that the narrator can borrow for thinking about his life, so too, his life has an aesthetic shape that we can borrow for thinking about our own. Elstir makes the point most beautifully, while speaking to the narrator in Balbec. “The lives that you admire,” he points out, “have sprung from very different beginnings, having been influenced by everything evil or commonplace that prevailed round about them. They represent a struggle and a victory.”33 Elstir could be describing the narrator’s own (eventual) life. That’s a life with some pretty inauspicious and uninspiring beginnings, combining hyperbolic anxiety about a goodnight kiss, various awkward and unsuccessful efforts at love, and a largely unremitting inability to write—​but one that culminates in a staggeringly radiant ending; it’s a victory, a triumphant struggle, a rags-​to-​riches story of the soul. What’s crucial to note here is that the inner rags didn’t cause the inner riches.34 It’s not because the narrator was a miserable child in Combray, a miserable adolescent in Place Names: The Name, and a miserable adult in The Captive, that he ends up finding his vocation

33. BG 605–​606. 34. It’s true that the narrator’s future novel will draw on his earlier experiences: “I understood that all these materials for a work of literature were simply my past life” (TR 304). To that extent, we can say that the future artwork redeems the earlier moments of suffering. Still, it’s strongly implied that those earlier experiences could have been wildly different, without that making the book impossible. Proust’s narrator says explicitly, in relation to Bergotte, that “the [people] who produce works of genius are not those who live in the most delicate atmosphere, whose conversation is the most brilliant or their culture the most extensive, but those who have had the power . . . to transform their personality into a sort of mirror, in such a way that their life, however mediocre it may be . . ., is reflected by it, genius consisting in reflecting power and not in the intrinsic quality of the scene reflected” (BG 175–​176). So having lived a miserable childhood is not necessary to the triumphant finale (epiphanies plus happy childhood equals future novel) and, as we’ve seen, it’s also not sufficient (miserable childhood minus epiphanies equals bupkis). The connection between origin and outcome is at least partly, if not largely or even entirely, aesthetic.


Why a N o v e l ?

as an artist in Time Regained. The epiphanies that ultimately set him on his way arrive, like all self-​respecting epiphanies, out of the blue, and they could just as easily never have happened. So if the book we have in our hands is a story with a shape, that shape turns out to be aesthetic in nature. The beginning and ending aren’t held together via a causal chain, with one thing leading relentlessly to another; instead they’re held together thanks to the emotional impact they collectively produce.35 Despair plus success equals relief, or even triumph (in Elstir’s terms, “a struggle and a victory”). And this is a shape we ourselves can borrow when we think about our own lives. Are you happy with where you are now, but ashamed of your humble beginnings? You’re missing out! Leaving the content of Proust’s novel where it is, lift out the shape, and see what happens when you lay it, like a dress pattern, over the events you’ve witnessed and actions you’ve performed. As long as your early actions were embarrassing, rather than criminal or despicable, you should want to include them in the story you tell yourself and others. “The picture of what we were at an earlier stage,” admits Elstir, “cannot, certainly, be pleasing to contemplate in later life. But we must not repudiate it, for it is a proof . . . that we have, from the common elements of life . . . extracted something that transcends them.”

6 The same thing holds at every level of the text. At the largest scale, we just saw, it’s an Elstir-​style tale of triumph. But the volumes that compose it have their own internal structure; the scenes that 35. For the idea of the “emotional cadence,” see Velleman, “Well-​Being and Time.”



compose those volumes have theirs; and even the sentences that compose those scenes follow the same trend.36 (Like a crystal or a coastline, the novel preserves its shape however closely you zoom in.) The famously long, famously tortuous Proustian sentences aren’t just chaotic stream-​of-​consciousness ramblings but, for the most part, highly organized machines: by collecting things that belong together, separating things that belong apart, and classifying everything under a hierarchy of significance, they impart a measure of order to a mass of unruly mental data.37 One of the best examples is a ferocious monster Proust throws at us a mere eight pages into the first volume, at 518 words the second longest in the entire novel. A welter of memories of rooms is reduced to a simple pair of categories, summer and winter, each of which carries three selling points; these categories in turn subdivide into a general type and a specific example (Balbec for summer,

36. For the shape of individual volumes, such as Swann’s Way, see J. P. Houston, “Temporal Patterns in A la recherche du temps perdu,” French Studies 16, no. 1 (1962): 33–​44; Genette, Narrative Discourse, pp. 141–​142. It’s true, of course, that Proust’s novel evolved considerably over the long course of its creation; that doesn’t mean, however, that it’s simply a formless mess. For one thing, Proust had his ending in mind from very early on, having written both an opening and a conclusion by 1911, two years before the publication of Swann. See Proust, Matinée chez la Princesse de Guermantes: Cahiers du “Temps retrouvé” (Paris: Gallimard, 1982), pp. 114–​240; Marion Schmid, “The Birth and Development of A la recherche du temps perdu,” in Cambridge Companion to Proust, ed. Richard Bales (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 58–​73, 63–​64; Roger Shattuck, Marcel Proust (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982), p. 127; Jean Rousset, Forme et signification: Essai sur les structures littéraires de Corneille à Claudel (Paris: José Corti, 1995), p. 138; Marcel Muller, Les voix narratives dans la “Recherche du temps perdu” (Geneva: Droz, 1965), pp. 55–​56; and Joshua Landy, “Why Proust Isn’t an ‘Essayist,’ and Why It Matters.” Proust periodically hinted at that conclusion in articles and correspondence (Essais et articles, pp. 295–​295; S xxiv; the Rivière letter cited above). And the novel itself contains a bunch of prolepses—​notably S 157, JF 287, CG 385—​all pointing the way forward. 37. See Spitzer, “Le style de Marcel Proust,” pp. 400–​402; Jean Milly, La Phrase de Proust: Des Phrases de Bergotte aux Phrases de Vinteuil (Paris: Larousse, 1975), pp. 164–​187; and Joshua Landy, “The Texture of Proust’s Novel,” in The Cambridge Companion to Proust, ed. Richard Bales (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 117–​134.


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Doncières for winter); then each specific room splits again, like a conceptual amoeba, into a physical description and emotional reaction; and finally the emotional reaction bifurcates, in the winter case, into a before and an after. This is the picture of a mind taking powerful control over its own contents, giving shape and unity to a life. And it invites us, if we so desire, to do the same with our own, borrowing the formal model Proust’s narrator provides, just as he himself borrowed the formal model provided by Vinteuil.

7 But there’s one last thing Proust’s novel may be doing (or rather, one set of last things). I say “may be doing” because for this sixth and final effect we have so little intentional ground to stand on. In the first four cases, we were able to draw on comments Proust’s narrator himself has to make about reading, hearing, or looking at art; in the fifth, we could plausibly extrapolate from what he says about listening to Vinteuil; but here we are more or less on our own. So it’s only as a possibility—​though a really exciting possibility—​that we should consider the potential this novel has, whether deliberately or not, for changing our lives in an even deeper way. In Search of Lost Time is not a quick read. It’s also not an easy read, thanks in part to the famously intricate sentences, many of which need multiple stabs before we figure them out. And to top it all, the narrator isn’t always reliable. As we saw earlier, some of his factual claims are later proven false, as when he says Albertine has a mole on her chin when in reality, it turns out later, the mole is on her cheek (I’m sorry, I mean on her lip); and above all, some of his theoretical claims are later retracted, as when he says at the end of Swann’s Way that “houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the 37


years,” only to turn around and tell us, in Time Regained, that they’re actually not as fugitive as all that. (We know this reversal is deliberate on Proust’s part: it’s precisely the example he had in mind in telling Rivière that he felt “obliged to depict errors, without feeling compelled to say that I consider them to be errors; too bad for me if the reader believes I take them for the truth.”) All of these formal features—​unreliability, intricacy, length—​ contribute to the experience we have when reading Proust.38 And each of them demands, or at least makes likely, a certain kind of work. Why? What’s in it for us to struggle so hard and for so long? One thing is for certain: it can’t just be for the sake of knowledge. If Proust had merely had nuggets of wisdom to impart, he could simply have written the essay he had in mind in 1908; that would have saved his readers a lot of time, and would also have vastly reduced the scope for confusion and misunderstanding. Part of the complexity may be there, in fact, precisely in order to deter us from thinking that truth is “deposited between the leaves of [this book] like honey,” just waiting to be extracted. And part of it may be there, as suggested earlier, to capture what it’s like to grope one’s way toward illumination (“I did not want to analyze this evolution of a belief system abstractly, but rather to recreate it”). But what if part of it also serves as an exercise for us, a training ground for our mind? Each formal choice, the thought would be, prompts a particular kind of mental activity; that activity serves as practice, strengthening the relevant neural pathways; and practice makes perfect (or at least, 38. For the idea that an artwork is an experience or event, see Louise M. Rosenblatt, The Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978), p. 12 and A. C. Bradley, “Poetry for Poetry’s Sake,” in Oxford Lectures on Poetry (London: Macmillan, 1941), pp. 3–​34, 4. Compare also Cleanth Brooks, “The Heresy of Paraphrase,” The Well-​Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (New York: Harvest, 1956), pp. 192–​213, 213, and to some extent John Dewey, Art as Experience (1934; repr., New York: Perigee, 2005).


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practice makes improved). Think of it as a Proustian gym giving a workout to a set of mental muscles.39 That insanely long novel, full of tiny seeds that only flower hundreds or thousands of pages later? It encourages us, I’d suggest, to stretch our memory capacity. We get in the habit of socking away data before we can know how, why, or even whether it’s important. (The narrator does exactly that with Albertine: once he comes to realize that she frequently contradicts herself, he gets in the habit of retaining every little thing she says.) Even at the level of a single page, those famous sentences often do something similar, forcing us to hold their early clauses in our head for an unusually long stretch, just so as to make sense of everything by the time we get to the end. That unreliability? Sooner or later it’s likely to change our attitude to the material we receive. We’re not just invited to file away a large amount of information; we’re invited to store some of it in quotation marks, under advisement, aware that it’s been delivered to us by someone who’s been wrong before and may well be wrong again. We attach a probabilistic value to what we hear (“the narrator has no reason to lie about this”; or, “he’ll probably change his mind on this later, just like he did before”; or, “this is unlikely to be true, given what the narrator said earlier about the same character”; or, “this may well be wishful thinking”; or again, “how could he know what he’s claiming here?”).40 And we attach a provisional assessment 39. Compare Landy, Philosophy as Fiction, pp. 143–​145; Darci L. Gardner, “Rereading as a Mechanism of Defamiliarization in Proust,” Poetics Today 37, no. 1 (2016): 55–​105. 40. Proust’s novel does a fascinating thing: it floods us with an avalanche of maxims, indistinguishably presented, some of which are to be taken entirely seriously, others entertained, and others still rejected. (In this it arguably resembles some of Plato’s dialogues.) In terms of his philosophical pronouncements, the narrator is neither completely reliable nor completely unreliable, and the text rarely offers overt hints as to when he’s closer to the one or to the other; the onus is on us, therefore, to sort the relative wheat from the relative chaff. That’s a striking choice on Proust’s part, and it’s not immediately clear what motivates it. But one possibility is that it generates an opportunity for us to practice attaching the



(“that seems like good news, for now at least”; “this is presumably curtains, but let’s wait and see”). Meanwhile, as new information comes in, we get in the habit of revising those values and those assessments. We get in the habit of rereading, reconsidering, thinking twice.41 The mistakes the novel virtually forces us to make—​“too bad for me if the reader believes I take them for the truth”—​do us a surprisingly important favor.42 appropriate level of confidence—​almost never zero percent, almost never one hundred percent either—​to the various beliefs we hold. If so, then it would serve as an excellent training ground for our faculty of judgment, perhaps even yielding a certain form of wisdom. 41. As Jean Milly points out (La Phrase de Proust, p. 202), many of Proust’s sentences lend themselves to being read more than once. 42.  Vincent Descombes says something that may possibly go in a similar direction. (Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to be 100% certain what Descombes is claiming.) “The philosophy of the novel,” writes Descombes, “is not to be sought in this or that thought content, but rather in the fact that the novel requires of the reader a reformation of the understanding. A novel, in order to be philosophical, does not need to communicate anything at all. What it does need is the philosophical power to exact intellectual and moral work” (p. 35). Descombes may be suggesting that Proust’s novel cultivates a mental capacity. If so, my guess would be that the specific capacity he has in mind is that of achieving clarity of vision (p. 272), “bringing into the broad light of day what had remained unformulated, obscure, implicit, misapprehended” (p. 77). The last adjective is probably the most important for Descombes, since he has a particular penchant for undermining what he considers illusions. That approach certainly seems promising, but there are three problems with it. (In what follows, square brackets refer to the original French edition, Proust: philosophie du roman [Paris: Minuit, 1987].) First, Descombes elsewhere claims that “Proust’s work is . . . a demonstration [une démonstration]” (p. 299) [p. 320], its point being to teach us things. Second, Descombes happily provides a number of specific lessons it ostensibly teaches: “its aim is to establish [elle vise à établir] the fact that the institution of literature makes self-​liberation possible in a world where action seems useless” (p. 299) [p. 320]; “the novelist shows [montre] that life is an apprenticeship” (p. 246) [p. 264]; “Remembrance tells us [nous dit] that we must begin with the false in order to arrive at the true” (p. 241) [p. 259]; “Proust’s most constant lesson [la leçon la plus constante de Proust] . . . is that time spent in society is time lost” (p. 193) [p. 210]; “the philosophy of the novel [philosophie du roman] is that thought . . . is clearer . . . if it is converted into a relationship among characters” (p. 272) [p. 292]; “the novel adds the following commentary [commentaire]: In the modern world there is no collective style” (p. 133) [p. 149]. Of course, Proust could be doing both at once, but if so, which is the “philosophy” part? Is the Recherche being philosophical by “exacting intellectual and moral work” or by having a “philosophy,” in the sense of a set of beliefs? And what sense does it make to say both that “the philosophy of the novel is not to be sought


Why a N o v e l ?

So the gold at the end of our three-​thousand-​page-​long quest may be not just knowledge, or self-​knowledge, but also a set of skills. Perhaps what’s on offer is not just teaching but training; not just “knowledge-​that,” as Gilbert Ryle would put it, but know-​how; not just “furnishing” for the mind but “fashioning,” in Montaigne’s terms; not just semantic memory, in neuroscience-​speak, but procedural.43 If that’s the case, then the experience of reading Proust is likely to sharpen our wits, strengthening certain predispositions, fine-​tuning certain cognitive capacities, and cultivating certain habits of mind. Philosophers of a certain stripe might object that there isn’t anything particularly philosophical about any of that, desirable though it may be. Surely, these stripy thinkers would suggest, the philosophical payoff from reading Proust lies in the set of statements made by the narrator, together with ideas implied by the series of events depicted. (In such discussions, the experience of reading Proust, together with the salient formal features of the narration, tends to drop out.) But thinkers of a different stripe, like Pierre Hadot or Alexander Nehamas, would counter that theoretical philosophy

in this or that thought content” and that “the philosophy of the novel is that thought . . . is clearer . . . if it is converted into a relationship among characters”? Most importantly, though, some of the core lessons Descombes claims to learn are rather questionable. If I understand Descombes correctly, he’s saying that we come away from Proust’s novel ready to see through our spurious tendency to imagine that the mind contains nonlinguistic contents (“impossible”! (220)) and that different people see the world in different ways (pp. 12, 209). But as people like Stephen Kosslyn have proven, minds do contain nonlinguistic contents; Descombes offers no real evidence that they don’t, and certainly no evidence that Proust thought they don’t. (See Landy, Philosophy as Fiction, pp. 61–​63.) Descombes may well have believed these ideas already; but if reading Proust convinced him of them, then reading Proust didn’t bring him closer to the truth—​ instead it led him astray. 43. Gilbert Ryle, “Knowing How and Knowing That,” Collected Papers 1929–​1968, vol. 2 (London: Hutchinson, 1971), pp. 212–​225; Michel de Montaigne, “Of Three Kinds of



isn’t the only kind.44 Once we recall that philosophy can be a matter of living well, not just a matter of thinking straight, mental skills and habits become not just relevant but central.45 Beliefs, whether stated and implied, do remain important—​but they aren’t, even for philosophers, the only thing that should matter.

8 But why do mental habits like retention, provisional evaluation, and reassessment matter, in the context of Proust? Well, one of the core assumptions driving Search is that a human life is or should be a totality, a “narrative” rather than a mere “chronicle.”46 The episodes within that life should hang together, forming a whole that is more than just the sum of its parts. And there’s an important and counterintuitive corollary: within a narrative, events in the future can reach back and change the significance of events in the past. Take, for example, Mme Verdurin’s rise to the pinnacle of society life. That shocking occurrence reaches back and transforms her Dreyfusism, which had once been “enormous setback,” a “social error” that relegated her to “the lowest rung of the social ladder,” Association,” Essays, trans. Donald M. Frame (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1965), p. 622. “I would rather fashion my mind,” Montaigne says here, “than furnish it.” 44. Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, trans. Michael Chase (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995); Alexander Nehamas, The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). 45. One of the great virtues of Martha Nussbaum’s essay on Henry James (“ ‘Finely Aware and Richly Responsible’: Literature and the Moral Imagination,” in Literature and the Question of Philosophy, ed. Anthony J. Cascardi [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987], pp. 167–​191) is that it focuses on habits of mind—​rather than beliefs—​ostensibly inculcated by The Golden Bowl, and compellingly explains why such habits are so vital in moral life. 46. For narrative and chronicle, see Boris Tomashevsky, “Thematics,” trans. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis, in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, ed. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965), pp. 61–​98, 66. But the distinction goes


Why a N o v e l ?

into a staggering move forward.47 (“The Dreyfus case had passed, Anatole France remained.”48) While the facts stay completely unchanged—​Mme Verdurin still invited people like Anatole France to her salon—​the significance of those facts is flipped on its head. And the overall story morphs too, from a tale of failure to (sadly!) one of spectacular success. That being the case, we never know exactly what will prove to have been beneficial, baleful, or simply inconsequential. (That makes it really helpful to store away as much information as possible.) And we also don’t know, for any given event, how it may end up contributing to the overall shape of our life; all we can do is make a provisional assessment (“it’s an enormous setback . . . for now”) or, in some cases, suspend judgment altogether. Either way, we should probably reevaluate from time to time, take stock, reconsider what we think we know. Our sense of the total picture is only ever partial and evolving; who knows, maybe something we thought a setback may end up being a stepping-​stone to success. Cognitive flexibility is going to serve us in very good stead. Three out of our six benefits, in fact, are benefits relevant to becoming who we are. In as much as Search offers us an “optical instrument,” it tells us things about our character that we didn’t know; in as much as it functions as a formal model, it prompts us to imagine ways to think about our life as a story; in as much as it fine-​tunes our capacities, it helps us retain and understand that story, revising

back, in a way, to Aristotle (On Poetics, translated by Seth Benardete and Michael Davis [South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2002], 1451b35). 47. See C 312 for the “enormous setback” and “social error”; SG 195 for the “lowest rung”; and C 314 for the staggering move forward. 48. C 314.



and updating it as needs dictate. One of the most important things Proust’s novel offers us, perhaps, is ourselves.

9 I’ve tried to suggest that there are at least six potential benefits from reading Proust’s novel. That’s a lot of purported benefits; but then again, this novel is three thousand pages long. It took me seven years to read it. I certainly wasn’t deriving every benefit at each moment—​it’s clearly not designed to work that way—​but my guess is that at least some of that seven-​year stretch was spent learning about myself, some of it gaining insight into the world of an idiosyncratic author, some of it gaining skills I had no idea I was cultivating. Some of the benefits were deliberately programmed in to our experience; others were probably intended; others still just came for free. (“Art,” as Benjamin Constant so memorably put it, “achieves the aim it doesn’t have.”)49 How many of those benefits turn on this book being a novel, rather than a treatise? All but one. A treatise can easily tell us about the world—​more efficiently, in fact, than a story can—​but it has a harder time revealing my world, our world, or the world of the author, not to mention offering formal models for self-​fashioning, let alone training grounds for the exercise of mental capacities. As Proust explicitly told Rivière, Search has no choice but to include deliberate errors in order to do its phenomenological work. And to serve as a 49. In Vincent Descombes’s elegant phrase, the novel is sometimes “bolder” than its author. Or again, “the formulations of Proust the theorist do not do justice to the intuitions of Proust the novelist” (Descombes, Proust: Philosophy of the Novel, pp. 6, 233). Descombes is surely right about the general principle: artists often work intuitively, building in affordances of which they’re not fully conscious at the time.


Why a N o v e l ?

Rorschach test, Search also has to include deliberate contradictions. Swann falls in love with Odette for her availability and then, impossibly, falls in love with Odette (still for the first time!) for her unavailability. If you want to transmit some truths about the world, the most effective way to do that is to avoid contradictions like that, as well as errors like the end of Swann’s Way; but if you want to recreate the feeling of an intellectual evolution, and reveal the reader to herself, using contradictions can be a brilliant move. Tempting the reader to make an interpretive decision and then holding up a mirror for her to see herself in? That’s something only fiction can do. As for the training, for that you need not just a novel but a long novel—​maybe one that stretches over seven volumes, three thousand pages, 1.3 million words, months or years of your life. You need a novel because you need a kind of mental activity that is driven by literary form (unreliable narrator, intricate sentences): form fosters activity, activity constitutes practice, practice consolidates habits, and habits enhance a life. You need a long novel because the cultivation of habits takes time, iteration, persistence. Whatever we get from Search, it comes not just from the extractable, detachable propositions but, just as importantly, from the experience of reading, the months or years of effort and joy we spend in its company. (Some people—​I won’t name names—​will tell you that Proust can change your life, but without saying you need to read his actual book.) Isn’t there something scandalous, though, about discussing the benefits of literature? Isn’t art supposed to be valuable for its own sake? Don’t we risk instrumentalizing great novels, reducing them to handy little self-​help apps? (“Life hack: to know yourself better, read Proust.”) It’s true that there are inelegant ways of talking about what literature can do for us. But it seems strange to refrain altogether in the case of Proust, who himself was so forthright about them. Remember Proust saying, in 1913, that “the pleasure an artist 45


gives us is to make us know an additional universe”; remember his narrator issuing specific hopes for the impact of his future novel; and remember that same narrator spelling out, with some passion, the purpose and value of music, painting, and prose. After seeing a few of Elstir’s still lifes, that same narrator is delighted to view after-​ dinner debris in a whole new light: “I would now happily remain at the table while it was being cleared . . . I tried to find beauty there where I had never imagined before that it could exist, in the most ordinary things, in the profundities of ‘still life.’ ”50 Neither he nor his creator appear to see anything wrong with allowing our aesthetic experiences to reach out loving tendrils and enlace other parts of our lives.51 This artwork is designed, brilliantly, to affect us. (In six different ways, at that.) We may as well let it.52

50. BG 612–​613. In an unpublished essay, Proust says more or less the same thing of his experience with the paintings of Jean-​Baptiste-​Siméon Chardin: “you will be a Chardin . . . one for whom metal and pottery will come to life and fruits have language” (Marcel Proust on Art and Literature, trans. Sylvia Townsend Warner [New York: Carroll & Graf, 1984], p. 326). 51. The point can be generalized: plenty of authors tell us what they want their artworks to do. “I don’t want to give my readers something to swallow,” writes Toni Morrison; “I want to give them something to feel and think about” (Conversations with Toni Morrison, ed. Danille K. Taylor-​Guthrie [Oxford: University Press of Mississippi, 1994], p. 147.) Analogously, Wordsworth’s preface to Lyrical Ballads makes it very clear that he wants us to be moved by his poems, and also why that will be such a great thing. George Eliot famously characterized “the only effect I ardently long to produce by my writings” as being “that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and joys of those who differ from themselves.” George Saunders says that the purpose of successful fiction (surely including his own) is to slow us down, making us less hasty in our overconfident judgments. Bertolt Brecht let us know, in no uncertain terms, that the aim of his plays was to cultivate a habit of questioning the apparently “natural.” So where exactly is the harm in thinking about Song of Solomon, being moved by the Lucy poems, cultivating empathy with the help of Middlemarch, stepping back with Mother Courage, or allowing Lincoln in the Bardo to cool our ideological jets? In these and countless other cases, it’s perfectly fine—​not to mention good—​to be benefited by art. 52. Kate Elkins and Katie Ebner-​Landy offered invaluable feedback on this essay. I am very grateful to them both.


Chapter 2

Biography Proust’s Parallel Lives E L I S A B ET H A . L A D E N S O N

À la recherche du temps perdu is, among other things, a multifaceted meditation on the relations between art and biography. This preoccupation takes various forms, and its centrality to both Proust’s work and his legacy has often been obscured by an academic strain of antibiographical interpretation, on the one hand (the “Death of the Author” school), and, on the other, more popular approaches which tend to ignore the distinction between author and narrator. Ambiguity as to the relation between the author and what he depicts is in any case built into the novel. By leaving his narrator carefully nameless (until several volumes and some two thousand pages in, and then naming him only very conditionally) while depicting a life that corresponds in many particulars with his own, Proust seems to be playing a coy game in which the reader is implicitly invited to assume that his main character is essentially him and the novel a lightly disguised autobiography. In the absence of personal knowledge of

Elisabeth A. Ladenson, Biography In: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Edited by: Katherine Elkins, Oxford University Press. © Oxford University Press 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780190921576.003.0003


the author, his earliest readers would have had no way to gauge the relation between the writer and his fictional avatar. The blurry relation between author and narrator-​protagonist of the Recherche, which left early readers perplexed, no longer perplexes, and this is both because the work’s reputation precedes it and also because it has created its own posterity in the form of what has been dubbed autofiction.1 The vagaries of literary history have, since Proust, solidly established a tradition of ambiguous first-​ person narratives featuring narrators more or less representing their authors, sometimes with other characters, more or less directly based on the author’s entourage, fictionalized or at least appearing under fictional names. Colette borrowed the approach for La Naissance du jour (1928), written while she was reading Le Temps retrouvé (published the previous year), as well as in later writings. Starting with Tropic of Cancer (1934), Henry Miller used this technique throughout his career. French writers such as Jean Genet and Violette Leduc were adherents of this approach from the 1940s on, and it has notoriously gained something of a stranglehold on French literature since the 1970s, when the Proust scholar Serge Doubrovsky coined the term “autofiction” to account for his novels (one of which is the meta-​Proustian Un Amour de soi [1982]). A spectacular recent instance can be found in the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-​volume My Struggle, explicitly written under the influence of Proust. Proust’s own declared attitude toward the question of his narrator’s relation to himself was characteristically ambivalent. From the start, in a text written in 1913 to coincide with the publication 1. See À la recherche du temps perdu, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (Paris: Gallimard, 1987), Volume I, p. 522 for the narrator’s observations about how works of art create their own posterity. All translations are my own unless otherwise noted. I am grateful to Beckett Pechon-​ Elkins for all his help.


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of Du côté de chez Swann, he noted that the narrator was not in fact him, referring to “Le personnage qui raconte, qui dit: ‘Je’ (et qui n’est pas moi).”2 At the same time as he distinguished his character from himself in public, and commented approvingly when critics did the same, in his correspondence he nonetheless consistently used the first person when referring to his narrator.3 As a result of the murky distinction between Proust’s life and his novel, commentators from the first expressed uncertainty on this score, while the vagaries of literary criticism have produced an apparent disconnect between two divergent readings: the biographical approach, which takes the Recherche to be something resembling an autobiography, and the closed-​system reading, which views the novel as a purely literary phenomenon, complete in itself, to be understood without direct reference to the author’s life. Most commentaries, reasonably enough, split the difference between these poles, but the history of readings of Proust’s novel is centrally marked by this opposition. The “closed-​system” approach is most closely associated with Roland Barthes, who in 1967 published “The Death of the Author,” an essay which did not inaugurate the idea that the figure of the author was irrelevant to the understanding of literary works,4 but provided its enduring theoretical formulation in the French context

2. Interview with Élie-​Joseph Bois, Le Temps, 13 novembre 1913. Reproduced in Du côté de chez Swann, Folio edition, ed. Antoine Compagnon (Paris: Gallimard, 1988), p. 613. 3. Perhaps analogously, actors sometimes use the first person when referring to their roles, without anyone concluding that, for instance, Brian Cranston believes himself to be the chemistry teacher turned homicidal meth cook Walter White when he says “I” about his character in interviews about Breaking Bad. 4. W hile his essay acknowledges that this idea was not an original one, citing the French precedents of Mallarmé, Valéry, and Proust himself, Barthes fails to note that critics outside France had for some decades been pursuing the notion that literature should be analyzed in itself, without reference to historical or biographical context: notably the New Critics in England and America, and the Russian Formalists, all of whose theoretical and critical writings had long emphasized this approach.



(and then, given the rise of “French Theory” in literary studies in general, in other contexts as well). Reinforced by Michel Foucault’s 1969 essay “Qu’est-​ce qu’un auteur?,” Barthes’s article was key in establishing a structuralist academic method of reading which rigorously eschewed all reference to biography in the analysis of literary works. Barthes’s 1967 obituary of the author-​figure proved enduringly influential in its insistence that the biographical person of the author should be irrelevant in the understanding of literary works. Proust, who was Barthes’s favorite author—​his fetish-​author—​ was the perfect test case for the closed-​system approach, not only because of the cagey semiautobiographical nature of his magnum opus but also because, as Barthes notes, he himself had criticized the biographical method. In a series of essays written shortly before he started on the Recherche itself and undertaken as a hybrid narrative-​ criticism attempt to formulate his magnum opus, posthumously published in 1954 under the title Contre Sainte-​Beuve, Proust had made the case against biographical reading to which Barthes refers glancingly in his 1967 article. The essay “La Méthode de Sainte-​ Beuve” had been meant as a possible start to his novel, which he had initially envisioned as beginning with a conversation with his mother, in which he would denounce what he characterized as the nineteenth-​century critic’s erroneous view that literary works should be judged with reference to the personal attributes of their authors. Most of Barthes’s discussion of Proust in the context of “The Death of the Author,” however, has to do with something slightly different: the idea that Proust’s depictions of various characters based on actual people—​notably Robert de Montesquiou, the “model” for the baron de Charlus—​have produced an inverted relation between reality and fiction. Montesquiou’s legacy, according to this view, has been influenced by Proust’s character based on him and not vice-​ versa. These observations make their first appearance in Barthes’s 50

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1966 review of the first volume of George Painter’s monumental biography of Proust.

PAINTER’S LIFE OF PROUST Painter, who had trained as a classicist and worked as a curator of incunabula (early printed books) at the British Museum, published the first volume of his two-​part work, Marcel Proust: A Biography, in 1959. The second volume came out six years later, and they were both translated into French by Georges Cattaui and R.-​P. Vial and published by Mercure de France in 1966 and 1968, respectively. Although it met with a certain amount of initial resistance in France because of the author’s Englishness, Painter’s biography quickly became the definitive life in France as well as elsewhere—​it was translated into many other languages—​for some thirty years, before being supplanted by a number of other weighty biographies, most notably that of Jean-​Yves Tadié (1996; English version 1999). The great success of Painter’s biography in France is remarkable; the French do not often take kindly to foreigners encroaching on their cultural patrimony.5 And indeed, publication initially proved difficult, with Gallimard pulling out after a conflict with the writer’s family circle. Marie-​Laure de Noailles went so far as to declare that “that Englishman” had no right to talk about Proust and “should be shot”; the biography was published by Mercure de France.6 5. The only other exception to my knowledge is Edmund White’s definitive biography of Jean Genet (Paris: Gallimard, 1993), which immediately established itself as the standard life of Genet and has never been equaled in any language. White has also published a biography of Proust (Penguin, 1998). 6. See Patrick Kéchichian’s obituary of Painter in Le Monde (December 28, 2005): “En France, un conflit avec la famille et les proches de l’écrivain—​Marie-​Laure de Noailles dénia à ‘cet Anglais’ le droit de parler de Proust, et déclara que Painter ‘devrait être fusillé.”



Nonetheless it became the authoritative life of Proust even in France, repeatedly hailed as a signal example of the art of literary biography. It still figures on lists of the enduringly best, especially in English, alongside, for example, Richard Ellmann’s life of Oscar Wilde (also first published in 1959). When Alan Bennett’s fictional version of Queen Elizabeth in his 2007 Uncommon Reader sets out to read the Recherche on vacation at Balmoral, Painter’s biography is packed along with the novel itself.7 Before Painter embarked on his project, there had already been many studies of Proust’s life and work, starting shortly after Proust’s death in 1922, and including a number of works by Proustians like Léon Pierre-​Quint (author of the first full study of Proust, the 1925 Marcel Proust, l’homme et son oeuvre) and Georges Cattaui, both of whom went on to write many books about the author. When Painter’s biography appeared, the main work on Proust’s life, considered at the time to be definitive, was André Maurois’s À la recherche de Marcel Proust, first published in 1949 and translated into English the following year as Marcel Proust: Portrait of a Genius. Before Maurois’s volume was published, the many studies of Proust had been of the “l’homme et son oeuvre” variety, with biography intermixed with literary criticism, as has also been the case for many subsequent studies. Maurois himself was a biographer rather than a Proust specialist. He had already published a number of well-​received biographies, including lives of Shelley, Byron, and Chateaubriand. In addition, though, he was particularly well positioned to write the life of Proust, since he had essentially married into a family of characters from the Recherche. His wife was the former Jeanne Pouquet, daughter of Gaston Arman de Caillavet, one of the “models” for Saint-​Loup, and therefore herself model 7. Bennett, The Uncommon Reader (London: Faber & Faber, 2007), p. 62).


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for Mlle de Saint-​Loup (and his mother-​in-​law, Mme Arman de Caillavet, was a model for Mme Verdurin, in the somewhat incoherent system of “originals” of Proust’s characters). As a seasoned biographer with access to a number of original versions of Proust’s characters, Maurois was therefore uniquely well suited to write the definitive Proust biography. What made Painter’s work nonetheless supersede Maurois’s was the revelation in the meantime of two major early unfinished manuscript works by Proust, which his niece had found and given to a young scholar called Bernard de Fallois to edit and publish. Fallois brought out his editions of the early attempt at a novel, Jean Santeuil (named after its main character) in 1952, and Contre Sainte-​Beuve in 1954. Although his biography contained many previously unpublished documents from the family’s archives, neither Maurois nor anyone else had had access to either Jean Santeuil (dating mostly from the 1890s) or Contre Sainte-​Beuve (from the years before the author had stopped hesitating between essay and novel forms, c. 1908–​1909). As a result, Proust’s life had appeared to consist of two separate periods, the first half essentially spent as a rudderless salon rat and would-​be writer, during which he published only a few youthful essays, pastiches, and stories, the latter collected in a slim yet opulent volume, prefaced by Anatole France and illustrated by Madeleine Lemaire, Les Plaisirs et les jours (1894), as well as translations of Ruskin. During the second part of his life, following the deaths of his parents (Adrien Proust died in 1903, followed by Jeanne Proust in 1905), came the ascetic retreat into the famous cork-​lined room where he forged his great novel out of the material collected during his frivolous youth. The discovery of Jean Santeuil and Contre Sainte-​Beuve revealed that he had in fact been hard at work the whole time, and Painter’s biography came along to account for this new version of Proust’s life, as well as being the first 53


to integrate the rich material contained in the newly revealed earlier writings. In his preface Painter states that he has “endeavored to write a definitive biography of Proust, a complete, exact and detailed narrative of his life, that is, based on every known or discoverable primary source, and on primary sources only” (p. xvii). He adds: “I think I may claim that something like nine-​tenths of the narrative here given is new to Proustian biography, or conversely that previous biographers have used only about one-​tenth of the discoverable sources” (p. xvii). At the same time as he dismisses his predecessors, he also pauses to inveigh against “one of the dogmas of Proustian criticism,” that is, “that his novel can and must be treated as a closed system, containing in itself all the elements necessary for its understanding” (p. xvii). The proponents of this approach, whom he identifies only as Monsieur X, Professor Y, and Professor Z, erroneously believe that one can understand Proust’s work without reference to the author’s life, while at the same time hypocritically using “unproven biographical axioms for critical purposes,” in particular the idea, which Painter vigorously rejects, that some of the novel’s female characters were based on men (p. xvii).8 The biographer asserts that he “shall show that it is possible to identify and reconstruct from ample evidence the sources in Proust’s real life for all major, and many minor characters, events and places in his novel” (p. xviii). Finally, to drive home the central idea that Proust’s novel cannot fully be understood without knowledge of its sources in his biography, he asks with a dramatic rhetorical flourish: “What do they know of A la Recherche who only A la Recherche know?” (p. xix). 8. Professor Y may have been Justin O’Brien, whose “Albertine the Ambiguous: Notes on Proust’s Transposition of Sexes” had been published in PMLA in 1949 (64, no. 5, Dec. 1949), prompting a vigorous response from Harry Levin (Professor Z?) six months later in the same journal (“Proust, Gide, and the Sexes,” PMLA 65, no. 4, June 1950).


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Not only does the biography shed interesting light on the work, the work cannot be properly understood in the absence of that light. In its quest to demonstrate that Proust’s work should not be approached as a closed system and that those who know only the novel itself don’t really know all that much, Painter’s biography (perhaps unsurprisingly) does something very peculiar. It produces its own closed system, extrapolating a life of Proust from a number of sources, notably: the Recherche, which he reads as a “symbolic autobiography”; Jean Santeuil, which he takes to represent something like straight autobiography with the names changed; Contre Sainte-​Beuve; Proust’s correspondence; memoirs by people who had known the author; and an article by a French academic identifying models (“keys”) for various characters in the Recherche.9 From this material Painter forges a life of Proust which is not really a life of Marcel Proust per se, but rather an imagined life of Proust based largely on the latter’s semiautobiographical fiction. It is founded in the author’s conviction that Proust’s magnum opus “is intended to be the symbolic story of his life, and occupies a place unique among great novels in that it is not, properly speaking, a fiction, but a creative autobiography” (p. xix). Given his further stated belief that his biography was the definitive and only complete account of that life, Painter presented the monumental work as the true key to Proust’s novel. And yet that biography is itself in effect another version of the closed circle he denounces in the preface. He narrates an imagined life of Proust based largely in the latter’s fiction, which he then uses to interpret Proust’s work. For each element in the novel he seeks an origin in the author’s life, but since his reference points are mostly drawn from Proust’s fiction, the “knowledge 9. Antoine Adam, “Le Roman de Proust et le problème des clefs,” Revue des sciences humaines, janvier-​mars 1952, pp. 49–​90.



of his life” without which Painter insists the novel cannot be understood is based primarily in the novel itself. In other words, the biography which was proposed and accepted as the definitive life of Proust for some thirty years is itself a bizarre sort of metafiction. For instance: “In that room with the Empire-​blue curtains, and the garden with the over-​tall chestnuts, when he was only seven years old, the most important event in Proust’s life happened. It told him that love is doomed and that happiness does not exist.” What event might that have been? “One summer evening at Auteuil Marcel’s mother was helping to entertain a medical colleague of Dr Proust, and could not come up to his bedroom to give him his usual good-​night kiss. The anguished child watched the group in the moonlit garden,” and so on (p. 9). No document external to Proust’s fiction exists that supports this recreation. What do we learn from Painter’s version of the scene that we didn’t already know from reading “Combray”? Nothing, beyond a purported assurance that the novel is not fictional but based firmly in reality, and the information that the “goodnight-​kiss” scene would have taken place in Auteuil, at the author’s maternal great-​uncle’s house, rather than in Illiers. What the recreation of this scene gives us is another fiction. Painter cannot truly offer a useful account of the scene, because he’s invented it, based on the assumptions that the Recherche is symbolic autobiography and Jean Santeuil is almost literal autobiography, and therefore that between the two lies the historical truth, and that the historical truth illuminates the work. Maurois’s treatment of the same famous scene discusses the passage in the novel, noting that it must have been based on an event or events from the author’s childhood, but unlike Painter he makes no claims of omniscient access to a long-​gone reality undocumented other than in fictional form (p. 19). This is standard biographical practice, followed by Jean-​Yves Tadié in what is now 56

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considered to be the definitive biography (1996), and almost all his predecessors and successors. In contrast—​paradoxically enough—​ because Painter does not consider the Recherche to be fiction, he is free to make assumptions about its truth-​value. Maurois’s 1949 life of Proust was the first standard biography. All previous studies had followed the traditional French “l’homme et l’oeuvre” approach, providing a mixture of biographical background and critical commentary on the work. Since Painter—​and especially in recent decades—​dozens of Proust biographies have been published in both French and English, most of them following the standard approach taken by Maurois, and, in more complete form, Tadié, that is, a circumspect marshalling of the available information brought to bear on the relations between life and work. Some recent biographical approaches have emphasized particular aspects of Proust’s life as it pertains to the reading of his work, most notably Edmund White’s 1999 biography, which focuses usefully on homosexuality. None of them since that of Tadié, however, who as editor of the second Pléiade edition of Proust’s works had access to the full range of drafts and occasional documents, has had anything new to add to the basic information available. One of the signal ironies of Painter’s take on Proust is that the texts collected under the title Contre Sainte-​Beuve, part of the primary, previously unavailable material which allowed him to claim that his biography was a substantial innovation, is in essence a long argument against biographical readings of literary works: not biography per se, but its use in evaluating and analyzing books. Proust’s objection to the method of the nineteenth-​century French critic is that Sainte-​Beuve reads badly because he insists on judging literary works not in themselves but in the light of his knowledge of their authors’ characters and lives. This impedes literary judgment, Proust insists, because the creative and social selves of the author 57


are entirely different beings, not to be confused. His case against the biographical approach is repeatedly demonstrated in the Recherche, most explicitly in Mme de Villeparisis’s dismissal of famous authors on the grounds that she had not been impressed by meeting them in person (a clear echo of Sainte-​Beuve’s attitude toward Stendhal among others). And, more centrally, the antibiographical stance animates the novel’s depictions of the writer Bergotte, the composer Vinteuil, and the painter Elstir, all of whom seem like mediocre human beings who could not possibly have created their great works. In the essay “La Méthode de Sainte-​Beuve,” from Contre Sainte-​Beuve, he makes the argument directly: This celebrated method which, according to Paul Bourget and so many others, made him the peerless master of the nineteenth-​ century criticism, this system which consists of not separating the man and his work, of holding the opinion that in forming a judgement of an author—​short of his book being “a treatise on pure geometry”—​it is not immaterial to begin by knowing the answers to questions which seem at the furthest remove from his work (How did he conduct himself, etc.), nor to surround oneself with every possible piece of information about a writer, to collate his letters, to pick the brains of those who knew him, talking to them if they are alive, reading whatever they may have written about him if they are dead, this method ignores what a very slight degree of self-​acquaintance teaches us: that a book is the product of a different self we manifest in our habits, in our social life, in our vices. If we would try to understand the particular self, it is by searching our own bosoms, and trying to reconstruct it there, that we may arrive at it.10 10. Cette méthode, qui consiste à ne pas séparer l’homme et l’oeuvre, à considérer qu’il n’est pas indifférent pour juger l’auteur d’un livre, si ce livre n’est pas ‘une traité de géométrie pure’,


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None of Proust’s commentators before Painter had had access to this clearly stated antibiographical argument, which should certainly not have made the biographer pack his bags and go home—​Proust was neither the first nor the last biographical subject to have expressed strong misgivings about the value of biography—​but at the same time it might have given the biographer pause as he announced in his preface that Proust’s work could not be understood without access to his biography.11 Painter attempts to grapple with the implications of Proust’s anti-​Sainte-​Beuve argument only when he has to account for the writing of the Contre Sainte-​Beuve pieces. He devotes a paragraph to the potential problem this might pose for the biographer: “Can it be that he has applied this shallow and falsifying ‘method of Sainte-​ Beuve’ to A la Recherche itself?” The answer is a quick and unsurprising “no”: “Fortunately, however, the biographical approach to a work of art is the direct opposite of Sainte-​Beuve’s, in which a superficial impression of an author’s outward behavior is used as a corrective to an equally superficial impression of his work” (vol. 2, p. 126). He goes on to explain that the point of his own biography is precisely to confront the actual existence of the author with

d’avoir d’abord répondu aux questions qui paraissaient les plus étrangères à son oeuvre (comment se comportait-​il, etc.), à s’entourer de tous les renseignements possibles sur un écrivain, à collationner ses correspondances, à interroger les hommes qui l’ont connu, en causant avec eux s’ils vivent encore, en lisant ce qu’ils ont pu écrire sur lui s’ils sont morts, cette méthode méconnaît ce qu’une fréquentation un peu profonde avec nous-​mêmes nous apprend: qu’un livre est le produit d’un autre moi que celui que nous manifestons dans nos habitudes, dans la société, dans nos vices. Ce moi-​là, si nous voulons essayer de le comprendre, c’est au fond de nous-​mêmes, en essayant de le recréer en nous, que nous pouvons y parvenir (Folio, p. 127). All translations are my own unless otherwise noted. 11. For example: Ann Jefferson begins the preface to her biography of Nathalie Sarraute (Princeton University Press, 2020) by citing her subject’s reiterated objections to biography in general and in particular, the idea of her own biography (p. xi). She also notes that Sarraute had Painter’s biography of Proust on her night-​table (p. xiv).



the use he has made of it in his work, thus revealing the “inner self ” Proust believed responsible for the writing with the raw material from which he had drawn in the act of creation. Fair enough, even if one might object that to the extent that Painter gains access to something like Proust’s writerly moi profond it is only because much of his biography is based not so much on historical documentation as on extrapolation of events from the fictional writings themselves. But in any case, he then repeats his main argument, of which Proust would surely not have approved: “A la Recherche, of all great works of art, cannot be fully understood until the life in time of which it is a symbolic reconstruction in eternity is known” (p. 126). He adds that Proust had eventually “conceded some truth to Sainte-​ Beuve’s belief that ‘an author’s work is inseparable from the rest of him,’ ” although he does not provide any references for the assertion (p. 126).12

BARTHES’S RESPONSE TO PAINTER When Roland Barthes read the first volume of Painter’s biography in French translation in order to review it for La Quinzaine littéraire on March 15, 1966, he had at his disposal both Cattaui’s translator’s preface and Painter’s own presentation of his work from the first edition, which is supplied in translation. Perhaps surprisingly, the man who would announce the death of the author-​figure the following

12. Georges Cattaui, in the preface to his French translation of the biography, revisits the problem and tries to resolve it by saying that Proust also felt that some knowledge of the author’s life was pertinent in understanding literary works. While he had criticized the biographical method of Sainte-​Beuve, Cattaui notes, “Proust admettait lui-​même que ‘si trop de renseignements nuisent, trop peu ne facilitent pas non plus les choses’ ” (cited, without reference, vol. 1, p. 12).


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year has only good things to say about Painter’s biography. He begins by noting that Proust’s life—​unlike those of other artistic figures such as Rimbaud, Byron, Balzac, or Van Gogh, with their variously remarkable (precocious, adventurous, grandiose, or tragic) life stories—​would not appear to make for a great biography, given Proust’s comfortable, moneyed, bourgeois life. Barthes does not add what might seem to be a central reason for the inauspicious nature of the project, namely that Proust didn’t really do all that much beyond engage in social climbing and write. (This essential plotlessness is also why it’s now worth asking why both Proust’s life and his work have given rise to so many cinematic and theatrical treatments, but almost all of them postdate Barthes.) Despite the seemingly counterintuitive nature of Proust’s life as fodder for a major biography, he asserts, Painter’s book is, paradoxically, fascinating. Why? The rest of his essay is dedicated to answering this question. Barthes was hardly the only fan of Painter’s biography—​the second volume won the Duff Cooper Prize, and the entire project was greeted, by English writers especially (e.g., Anthony Powell, Raymond Mortimer, Angus Wilson) as a monumental tour de force of biographical writing—​but he would seem to be an unlikely one, given that he was to go on to write the most prominent declaration of authorial irrelevance in the approach to literary works, a stance he inherits from Proust himself. But in fact the central and ultimately almost exclusive place of writing in both Proust’s life and his work, which is what makes him such an improbable object of compelling biography, is also what attracts Barthes to Painter’s work. He does not directly acknowledge or attempt to grapple with Painter’s claims that the Recherche cannot be fully comprehended without reference to the author’s life. In his review of volume one, though, and also in later writings, he seems, paradoxically enough—​but then Barthes was never one to shy away from paradox; to the contrary, the word 61


paradoxalement appears regularly in his writings, on this subject and elsewhere—​to have embraced something resembling this view. The review is entitled “Les Vies parallèles,” and at its center is the idea that Painter’s biography depicts the lives of Proust and his narrator-​protagonist as a mutually illuminating pair of similar but not identical trajectories, along the lines of the exemplarily coupled lives of prominent Greeks and Romans in Plutarch’s Parallel Lives (e.g., Alexander and Julius Caesar or Demosthenes and Cicero). Barthes characterizes the relation between them as being one of homology rather than analogy. This opposition between modes of understanding is regularly noted in Barthes’s work, with particular reference to biographical approaches. It appears initially in his quarrel with Raymond Picard to account for the methods of “la nouvelle critique” as opposed to the old historical-​biographical criticism, inherited from Gustave Lanson and ultimately deriving from the familiar l’homme et l’oeuvre approach reviled by Proust in Sainte-​ Beuve. The latter proceeds by what Barthes terms in the 1963 essay “Les deux critiques” “le postulat d’analogie,” which depends on “the investigation of ‘sources’: it always puts the work to be studied in relation to something else, an elsewhere of literature”13 whether it be a literary or biographical precedent (449). While there is obviously a relation between the author and his work, he notes in the same essay, “it is not a pointillist relation which accumulates parcellary, discontinuous, and “profound” resemblances, but on the contrary a relation of relations, a homological not an analogical correspondence” (Critical Essays, p. 253).14 13. la recherche des ‘sources’: il s’agit toujours de mettre l’oeuvre étudiée en rapport avec quelque chose d’autre, un ailleurs de la littérature. 14. Ce n’est pas un rapport pointilliste, qui additionnerait des ressemblances parcellaires, discontinues et ‘profondes’, mais bien au contraire un rapport entre tout l’auteur et toute l’oeuvre, un rapport des rapports, une correspondance homologique, et non analogique” (idem., p. 499).


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There are, therefore, two distinct forms of “biographism” for Barthes: the bad old search for sources (analogy) and the innovative new method (homology), which does not attempt to explain the work by means of specific detail in the life but rather establishes structural relations between them.15 Painter’s biography of Proust found an enthusiastic reader in Barthes because it unwittingly showcased what he called the “homologous” relation between the author’s life and his work. In his review Barthes points out that Painter’s life of Proust demonstrates that the trajectories of the writer’s life and that of his narrator remain for the most part strictly parallel: what they have in common is “A very elementary series of events or rather articulations: a long high society period, a violent mourning (mother or grand-​mother), an enforced retreat (in a nursing home), a voluntary secession (in the cork-​lined room), intended to flesh out the work” (Oeuvres Complètes II, 811).16 These moments have similar positions in the life and work, but not the same function, because, for instance, while the death of his mother brought about decisive change in the author’s life, the grandmother’s death in the novel does not have the same effect on the protagonist, and Proust’s sojourn in a sanatorium is short, whereas his narrator spends a great deal of time in his (even though it isn’t actually described in the work), since he emerges to find that the world is greatly changed afterward. Barthes derives from this that:

15. In comparative anatomy, analogous phenomena are those which serve similar functions without deriving from a common ancestral source (e.g., birds’ wings and butterflies’ wings), whereas homologous phenomena may serve different functions but have structural similarities because they derive from the same evolutionary source (e.g., birds’ wings, bats’ wings, whales’ flippers, mammals’ forelimbs). 16. Une série fort élémentaire d’événements ou plutôt d’articulations: une longue période mondaine, un deuil violent (mère ou grand-​mère), une retraite subie (dans une maison de santé), une sécession volontaire (dans la chambre de liège), destinée à élaborer l’oeuvre).



The truth is that, paradoxically, the life of Proust forces us to criticize the use we ordinarily make of biographies. Usually, we believe that a writer’s life should inform us about his work; we would like to find a sort of causal relation between the lived experiences and the narrated episodes, as if one produced the other; we believe that the life authenticates the work, which seems more “true” to us if we are shown that it was lived, so stubbornly prejudice are we that art is basically an illusion and that it is necessary, whenever possible, to weigh it down with a bit of reality, a bit of contingency.17

He concludes: “Yet the life of Proust obliges us to reverse this prejudice; it is not the life of Proust that we find in his work, it is his work that we find in the life of Proust” (emphasis Barthes’s; Oeuvres Complètes II, 812).18 And it’s in Painter’s biography that we see this: to read Painter’s book is not to discover the origin of the Recherche, but rather to read another version of the novel, as though Proust had written two different versions of the same story, in his book and in his life. Thus the author’s life isn’t written in his book so much as the book is written in his life. And so it’s clear what Barthes, who went on shortly thereafter to proclaim the death of the author, likes so much about Painter’s account of Proust’s life. It is precisely what makes Painter’s book

17. La vérité, c’est que, très paradoxalement, la vie de Proust nous oblige à critiquer l’usage que nous faisons ordinairement des biographies. D’habitude, nous considérons que la vie d’un écrivain doit nous renseigner sur son oeuvre; nous voulons retrouver une sorte de causalité entre les aventures vécues et les épisodes narrées, comme si les uns produisaient les autres; nous croyons que la vie authentifie l’oeuvre, qui nous paraît plus ‘vraie’ si l’on nous montre qu’elle a été vécue, tant nous avons le préjugé tenace que l’art est au fond illusion et qu’il faut, chaque fois qu’il est possible, le lester d’un peu de réalité, d’un peu de contingence. 18. Or la vie de Proust nous oblige à renverser ce préjugé; ce n’est pas la vie de Proust que nous retrouvons dans son oeuvre, c’est son oeuvre que nous retrouvons dans la vie de Proust.


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so problematic as a biography that he appreciates in it. Having elaborated a life of Proust based largely on Proust’s writings, Painter had written the ideal biography of the ideal writer, in Barthes’s terms: a creature made entirely of writing. From 1966, when the first volume was published in French, through his last seminars at the Collège de France in 1980, “La Préparation du roman,” Barthes regularly cites Painter when discussing Proust.19 Remarkably enough, “La Mort de l’auteur,” first published (in English) in 1967, would seem to have been at least partially inspired by his reading of Painter’s life of Proust, since in it he takes up many of the same notes he had struck in the review, including ruminations on the paradoxical effect of reverse influence according to which aspects of the Recherche “radiated” into reality. Thus Robert de Montesquiou resembles Charlus rather than vice-​versa, Cabourg is like the fictional Balbec, and so on. This view would be spectacularly vindicated a few years later when Illiers was officially renamed Illiers-​Combray, and Jules Amiot’s house established as a museum called “La Maison de Tante Léonie.” For Barthes, a vehement rejection of biographical reading—​at least the “analogic” kind, the search for sources outside the text—​ coexists somewhat uneasily with an intense and abiding fascination with the life of Proust and its relation to his work, which seems to have been sparked by his reading of Painter’s first volume. He continued throughout the rest of his life to cite in particular Painter’s assessment of the Recherche as a “symbolic biography,” or a “symbolic story of Proust’s life,”20 which justifies a fixation on the alchemical 19. L  a Préparation du roman, the seminars from 1978 to 1980, was later published (Seuil, 2015). Cut short by his untimely death in April 1980, his next seminar was to be on Proust and photography. 20. Cited in “Longtemps,” p. 339, a lecture given by Roland Barthes at the Collège de France that was published in English in The Rustle of Language (University of California Press, 1989) and later in French in Le bruissement de langue (Seuil, 1993).



transformation of the life into the work, as well as the idea that Proust’s biography, as presented by Painter, represents another version of his novel. (He never acknowledges Painter’s seemingly hyperanalogic insistence that the Recherche cannot be fully understood without recourse to the life.) Traces remain of the tension between his antibiographical stance of the late 1960s and his growing focus on Proust’s life, and eventually writers’ biographies in general. The somewhat obscure distinction between the outmoded Picardian “analogic” search for specific sources and the liberatory new “homologic” emphasis on rapport de rapports eventually, in his later writings and lectures, gives way to an obsession with writers’ lives as a category, always focused primarily on Proust’s life. By the “Préparation du roman” period in the late 1970s, he relegates “La Mort de l’auteur” itself to the period of its composition, the Structuralist era of the 1960s with its obsession with the “Text” and Mallarmé-​inspired (he no longer cites Proust’s part in this trend) discarding of the author in favor of his texte (Préparation du roman, 483–​484). Barthes coined a term for the specific interest in Proust’s life in relation to, and indeed as opposed to, his work: le marcellisme, sometimes written with a capital M. In his lecture at the Collège de France in 1979 entitled “Longtemps je me suis couché de bonne heure” and later published as an essay, he says the following: More and more, we find ourselves loving not “Proust” (civil name of an author filed away in the histories of literature) but “Marcel,” a singular being, at once child and adult, peur senilis, impassioned yet wise, victim of eccentric manias and the site of a sovereign reflection on the world, love, art, time, death. I have proposed calling this very special interest readers take in the life of Marcel Proust “Marcelism” in order to distinguish it from 66

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“Proustism,” which would be merely a preference for a certain work or a certain literary manner. (Rustle, p. 283)21

Here we find the apogee of Barthes’s preoccupation with Proust’s life. He seems to have come full circle, and indeed now to prefer marcellisme to proustisme, an interest in the life of “Marcel,” by which name Barthes seems to mean a sort of writer-​narrator hybrid, to a banal interest in the works of “Proust.” The latter name has come to figure the analogic object of dry, traditional, Lanson-​Picardian literary history, whereas Barthes’s “Marcel” embodies the purely literary being he discovered in Painter’s biography. When he wrote this, toward the unforeseeable end of his life, he was in full identification with Proust (or “Marcel”) as writer; this is the “Préparation du roman” period, during which he was, Marcel-​like, putting off the writing of a novel by writing about his intention to write a novel. On the following page he compares himself to Dante entering his selva oscura in the opening of the Divine Comedy, with Proust serving as Virgil (p. 341). While it may appear strange to find Barthes, famous necrologist of the author, celebrating the writer’s life almost at the expense of his writing—​this is after all what his seeming dismissal of proustisme as a mere taste for the work suggests—​what his later references to Painter’s biography and the writer’s life indicate is nonetheless clear. In the “Préparation du roman” seminars, Barthes makes reference to several other biographical sources as well, 21. De plus en plus nous nous prenons à aimer non “Proust” (nom civil d’un auteur fiché dans les Histoires de la littérature), mais “Marcel,” être singulier, à la fois enfant et adulte, puer senilis, passionné et sage, proie de manies excentriques et lieu d’une réflexion souveraine sur le monde, l’amour, l’art, le temps, la mort. J’ai proposé d’appeler cet intérêt très spécial que les lecteurs peuvent porter à la vie de Marcel Proust (l’album des photographies de sa vie, dans la collection de la Pléiade, est épuisé depuis longtemps) le ‘marcellisme’, pour le distinguer du ‘proustisme’, qui ne serait que le goût d’une œuvre ou d’une manière littéraire (Bruissement, p. 340).



notably Léon Pierre-​Quint’s 1925 Marcel Proust, sa vie et son oeuvre and Henri Bonnet’s 1959 Marcel Proust de 1907 à 1914, an attempt to account for the development of the Recherche. He keeps coming back to Painter in this seminar, in particular citing the latter’s characterization of the novel as a symbolic autobiography. What he is after is what happened in September 1909, the month during which the Contre Sainte-​Beuve material, according to Painter’s account, somehow morphed into the beginning of the Recherche proper. He knows that this cannot be known, and yet biographical approaches—​le marcellisme—​hold out a promise that the work itself cannot. What is missing from the Recherche, the epic of wanting to write, le Vouloir-​Écrire as he calls it, is the alchemical moment when “ça prend”—​the mayonnaise, in the culinary metaphor he keeps coming back to—​“takes,” that is to say when the disparate main ingredients, egg yolk and oil, emulsify, and come together to form the desired substance.22 The Recherche fascinates Barthes, among and perhaps above the many other reasons, because it is the epically digressive story of a writerly vocation, but the novel itself cannot account for what happened in September 1909 (if, indeed, that is when it happened; biographical opinions differ), because it ends with the narrator’s realization that he is now ready to commence his long-​delayed work. This is where biography enters the picture. Le marcellisme finally wins out over le proustisme for this reason: because even though Proust’s great novel represents the extremely lengthy narrative of

22. The insistent mayonnaise comparison does not translate well, since presumably few people outside of France, and indeed few people in France, now make their own mayonnaise. It may be worth noting that mayonnaise emulsifies gradually, not all at once in an instant of coherence; perhaps pertinently, the analogous (homologous?) moment is not when it comes together but when one perceives that it has come together. Barthes’s final essay on Proust is entitled simply “Ça prend” (1979; Oeuvres Complètes, vol. 5, 654–​656).


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something like its own inception, it still does not account for the existence of the Recherche itself, but rather for the eventual conception of the narrator’s novel, which exists only as an idea. In order to get at the actual genesis of the work, biography—​Painter’s biography in particular, with its presentation of a palimpsest-​like overlapping of life and work—​is key, not in the “analogic” sense of “keys” to the various characters and events in the novel in the author’s life, but crucial to any attempt to understand how Proust conjured the Recherche out of the raw material of his experience. What Barthes wants is access to the “primal scene” of the novel, the narrative of its conception, which is unavailable in the novel itself, and of which a biography like Painter’s holds out the promise, although it, too, ultimately fails to deliver on this score.23 Painter’s biography is precisely and explicitly predicated on a method that looks very much like what Barthes derides as the hoarily inadequate Lanson-​Picard analogic method, which seeks to understand literary works via recourse to extraliterary biographical people and events. One of the problems with Barthes’s celebration of marcellisme at the expense of proustisme is that when he refers to “Marcel” he seems to mean Proust, or rather Proust not as literal “analogical” entity in the way understood by the likes of Sainte-​Beuve misjudging his contemporaries or Gustave Lanson laying out literary history, but as an impossible hybrid, a somehow at once fully biographical and yet entirely textual entity. In other words, the “Marcel Proust” invented by George Painter and theorized by Roland Barthes. The distinction Barthes draws between “Proust” as the “nom civil d’un auteur fiché dans les Histoires de la littérature” and “ ‘Marcel’, être singulier,” doesn’t really hold up 23. Even Knausgaard’s My Struggle, for all its metarecursive narratives in the later volumes of the initial volumes’ reception, does not actually deliver the story of its own inception.



to scrutiny except as a factitious opposition designed to ensure that Barthes’s interest in Proust’s biography doesn’t look anything like his predecessors’ interest in authors’ lives to explain their works. In the notes for his “Préparation du roman” seminar in January 1980, we find the following: Proust: this is gradually becoming clearer—​for the Proustian landscape changes over time—​, Proust marks the intensive, audacious entrance of the author, of the writing subject as biographologist into literature. [ . . . ] In Search of Lost Time has been called “a symbolic story of his life,” a symbolic biography; no chronological narrative: it isn’t a bio-​chronography. The distinction (or the confusion) between Marcel and the Narrator is unhelpful [ . . . ] The Proustian myth has shifted toward the apotheosis of the biographical subject what I termed Marcelism (different from Proustianism).24

Barthes thus concludes that both the confusion and the distinction between “Marcel” and Proust’s narrator are irrelevant. He justifies this by citing Proust’s observation in “La méthode de Sainte-​Beuve” that a book is the product of a different self from the social identity of the author. What this leaves out is both Painter’s insistence that the novel cannot be fully understood without recourse to biography, and Barthes’s own preoccupation, which he obviously 24. Proust: on s’en aperçoit de plus en plus—​car le paysage proustien change avec l’histoire—​ , Proust, c’est l’entrée massive, audacieuse de l’auteur, du sujet écrivant, comme biographologue, dans la littérature. [ . . . ] On a pu dire de la Recherche du temps perdu =​ ‘une histoire symbolique de sa vie’, une biographie symbolique; pas de récit chronologique: ce n’est pas une bio-​chronographie la distinction (ou la confusion) entre Marcel et le Narrateur n’est pas utile [ . . . ] Déplacement du mythe proustien vers l’apothéose du sujet biographique ce que j’ai appelé le Marcellisme (différent du Proustisme) (Préparation du roman, 486–​487).


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shares with Painter, with precisely those personal idiosyncrasies. In a 1981 interview with Phyllis Grosskurth, Painter relates a conversation he’d had with Philip Kolb, editor of Proust’s voluminous correspondence: We both started to say the same thing and said it without prompting one another. What we said was everything in Proust’s life is used in “A la recherche” and everything in “A la recherche” happened in Proust’s life. That sounds axiomatic, but requires proof. I believe it’s tenable and provable.25

As an example of proof, he offers the episode of the petite madeleine, which according to his biography wasn’t a petite madeleine to start with, but rather a dry rusk, and wasn’t offered by his mother but rather a servant, and didn’t recall what his aunt had given him during his childhood but rather his grandfather, but in any case, he is sure that it happened on or about January 1, 1909 (cf. vol. 2, p. 129). In the same interview Painter notes, in response to Grosskurth’s question about whether he would have wanted to experience the Belle Époque society depicted in the biography, that he wouldn’t have liked actually to meet any of the subjects of his biographies. If somebody had said, “Proust calling this evening, do look in and meet him,” I wouldn’t have wanted to. I wouldn’t have turned my head to see him across the street. The Proust I am interested in is the Proust living inside Proust’s eyes, ears, and mouth. That’s where I want to be, that is the Proust I have tried to associate with. (p. 37)

25. Grosskurth interview with Painter, Salmagundi, no. 61 (Fall 1983): 31.



Not only does Barthes, the chief voice of antibiographical theory, turn out in the end to be fascinated by Proust’s life, we see here that Painter, the chief proponent of a centrally biographical approach to Proust’s work, is not really interested in the biographical person of the author. They come together, finally, in their common conviction that Proust, the actual person by that name, is not really the point of his biography. Instead—​although they are entirely divergent in both general methodology and (as a result) vocabulary—​they are united in the conviction that the creature of interest, called variously “Marcel” or “Proust” or “Marcel Proust,” is an être de papier, an entity not of flesh and blood but ink and paper, a hybrid of biography and literary production. Painter’s biography depicts a life entirely saturated in literature, fully absorbed in writing, all but indistinguishable from the novel, responding to Barthes’s fantasy of a life exclusively textual.

“MARCEL” When Barthes, in the 1980 seminar cited above, declares that the distinction (as well as the confusion, he adds confusingly) between “Marcel” and the narrator is not useful, “Marcel” seems to refer to the author, or at least an author-​in-​the-​text construct which he does not further elucidate. Yet he must have been aware of the long tradition of critical commentary which referred to the narrator-​protagonist or hero of Proust’s novel as “Marcel.” Given that the name does not occur in the work at all until La Prisonnière, published in 1923, early readers generally referred to the “narrator,” or “hero,” or “protagonist,” sometimes expressing hesitation as to whether he was to be taken to be some version of the author, but few called him “Marcel.” It was only after the author’s biography had 72

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become general knowledge, and the skittish mention of “Marcel” in the posthumous, antepenultimate volume had seeped into the commentary on the novel, that the narrator-​hero-​protagonist became routinely referred to by that name. By that time it would have become clear that there were large differences between the author and his fictional avatar, and yet even such stalwart figures of structuralism as Gérard Genette allude to him as Marcel, as in his famous plot summary of the Recherche in the laconic formula “Marcel devient écrivain” (Figures III, [Seuil, 1972], 326).26 The assumption that Proust’s narrator is named Marcel is something of an “urban legend” of literature, a story retold so many times that it has attained truth value despite its sketchy provenance. In this sense it has a certain amount in common with another enduring literary myth: the idea that Flaubert said “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” Both truisms have been repeated so many times, by seemingly authoritative sources, that no one bothers to check where they came from or whether they’re actually true. That the novel carefully avoids all mention of the narrator’s name for some two thousand pages, and then drops it in twice, once in highly ambiguous form and once in a draft that the author died before being able to go over, has not stopped even the most circumspect scholars from calling him Marcel, doubtless because it’s just so much easier that way. But in any case, repetition has made it true, just as “Madame Bovary, c’est moi” has been repeated so many times that no one doubts it, and yet Flaubert never actually wrote this in any document that has been preserved. Instead, that indelible piece of literary mythology originates in a 1909 book by one René Descharmes, which states 26. In the introduction to his Philosophy as Fiction, Joshua Landy provides a cogent take on the history and paradoxes of references to Proust’s narrator as “Marcel.” After demonstrating how problematic this conventional appellation is, however, he proceeds to do the same. Landy, Philosophy as Fiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 22–​24.



that an unnamed person who had known Amélie Bosquet, a correspondent of Flaubert’s, reported that when Mlle Bosquet had asked Flaubert about the origin of his character, he had told her: “Madame Bovary, c’est moi!—​D’après moi!”—​the last part being a somewhat mysterious elaboration which complicates matters and no doubt for that reason is always omitted.27 Flaubert’s apocryphal aphorism is often cited, but almost always as mere anecdotal color in discussions of other things rather than as a serious commentary on Madame Bovary. To call Proust’s nameless narrator Marcel, however, is to finesse the relation between author and character, and suggests that he is more or less Marcel Proust. Proust left this possibility open, even as his narrator is not in fact named Marcel: certainly not in the way that has been passed down over generations of commentary. He only seems to be named Marcel because he has so often been called by that name.28 As a result, the differences between Proust and his fictional spokesman have become permanently elided. The endless repetition of “Madame Bovary, c’est moi” and “Marcel” as the name of Proust’s narrator has a common origin, in any case, in the desire to make fiction autobiographical. As Barthes notes, this sort of reading stems from the stubborn assumption that art is illusion and that literature needs to be weighed down with a measure of reality, a complement of autobiographical ballast in order to be taken seriously.

27. René Descharmes, Flaubert. Sa vie, son caractère et ses œuvres avant 1857 (Paris: Ferroud, 1909), p. 102. See Yvan Leclerc, https://​flaub​ert.univ-​​res​sour​ces/​mb_​cest​ moi.php. 28. In his influential 1949 PMLA article “Albertine the Ambiguous: Notes on Proust’s Transposition of Sexes,” Justin O’Brien observes that the narrator “is simply called ‘Marcel’ throughout the novel,” which is a remarkable example of the sort of confirmation bias that already obtained at midcentury, especially given that O’Brien was editor and translator of The Maxims of Marcel Proust (New York: Columbia University Press, 1948).


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BIOGRAPHY AND POSTERITY Arguments over whether the narrator should be called Marcel, or the extent to which the Recherche should be read as autobiography, or how much light is truly shed by reading the novel in the light of Proust’s life, have come to seem somewhat beside the point. Dozens of biographies have been published since Painter’s, as well as para-​Proustian biographies such as Evelyne Bloch-​Dano’s Madame Proust and Caroline Weber’s Proust’s Duchess, and para-​ biographical approaches such as Anka Muhlstein’s Monsieur Proust’s Library and Lorenza Foschini’s Proust’s Overcoat—​all this in addition to the bestselling How Proust Can Change Your Life, which spawned an entire industry of “bibliotherapy.” It is no longer clear why it should matter to what extent Charlus was based on Robert de Montesquiou or Baron Doasan. In any case, Barthes’s observation that Montesquiou is based on Charlus no longer seems counterintuitive, since if Montesquiou’s name has been retained, it is mostly as the model for Proust’s baron (as well as Huysmans’s Des Esseintes). Illiers officially became Illiers-​Combray a half-​ century ago, further obscuring the differences between reality and Proust’s novel. In his 1981 interview with Grosskurth, George Painter insisted that while he did regret having made such categorical statements about having written the definitive biography without which the work could not be understood, his general stance had not changed. Asked about Sainte-​Beuve, he states that the nineteenth-​century critic “is a very special case, because he had the same feelings about biography and literature as I have, and as I think many of my fellow biographers have, that art can be illuminated by the life and the experience from which the writer has created it.” He then goes on to say that “If Proust had thought more about it, I don’t 75


think he would have made this split between the writer as he lives in the world and his work” (p. 29). Proust had first articulated his antibiography stance in 1886. In what became known as the “Proust Questionnaire” (but started out as a parlor game), the fifteen-​year-​ old future author answered the question “For what fault have you most toleration? [sic]” with “pour la vie privée des génies” (Tadié, vol. 1, p. 102). He continued throughout the rest of his life to argue in various ways that the lives of artists should be off limits as they bear a negative relation to their works. And yet it seems that Painter will have been right after all. Proust may never have actually changed his mind about the split between the writer as he lives in the world and his work, but his insistence on sounding this theme means that his work is filled with ruminations on the peculiar and surprising disconnect between the lives and works of great artists. As a result, and especially given its ambiguously autobiographical narrator who allows that one might after all be tempted to call him Marcel, the Recherche is to a large degree actually about the gaps between biography and literature. Alongside its antibiographical arguments and demonstrations of the futility of reading authors’ lives in conjunction with their works, Proust’s writing contains an implicit (if inadvertent) invitation to read it in light of his biography. The world has taken up this invitation with improbable gusto. How else are we to account for the immense amount of biographical attention devoted over the years to this most unlikely of figures, a man most of whose life was spent trying to write the novel—​itself the story of a man trying to write a novel—​which sparks interest in his biography? It is surely this very Möbius-​strip aspect of the work that sends readers to Proust’s life. As opposed to the cases of Vinteuil, Bergotte, or Elstir, a comparison between Proust’s own life and his work yields few surprises: they are indeed, as Barthes argued, parallel. To be sure, there are real 76

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differences between Proust and “Marcel,” chief among them that unlike the author, his fictional avatar is neither homosexual nor half-​ Jewish. Given the lavish—​and ambivalent—​attention accorded to homosexuality and Jewishness in the novel, though, the biography is entirely in accord with the work as a whole, and indeed still has much light to shed on it.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Adam, Antoine. “Le Roman de Proust et le problème des clefs.” Revue des sciences humaines. Janvier–​mars (1952): 49–​90. Barthes, Roland. Le bruissement de la langue. Paris: Seuil, 1993. Barthes, Roland. Critical Essays. Translated by Richard Howard. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1972. Barthes, Roland. “The Death of an Author.” In Image, Music, Text, translated by Stephen Heath, pp. 142–​148. New York: Hill and Wang, 1978. Barthes, Roland. “Les deux critiques.” MLN 78, no. 5, (1963): 447–​452. Barthes, Roland. Oeuvres Complètes. Volumes II and V. Paris: Seuil, 2002. Barthes, Roland. La Préparation du roman. Paris: Seuil, 2015. Barthes, Roland. The Rustle of Language. Translated by Richard Howard. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. Barthes, Roland. “Les vies parallèles.” Quinzaine Littéraire, 1 (1966). Bennett, Alan. Uncommon Reader. London: Faber & Faber, 2007. Bloch-​Dano, Evelyne. Madame Proust. Translated by Alice Kaplan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Bonnet, Henri. Marcel Proust de 1907–​1914. Paris: A.G. Nizet, 1971. Botton, Alain de. How Proust Can Change Your Life. New York: Penguin, 1997. Colette. La Naissance du jour. Paris: Flammarian, 1928. Descharmes, René. Flaubert. Sa vie, son caractère et ses oeuvres avant 1857. Paris: Ferroud, 1909. Doubrovsky, Serge. Un amour de soi. Paris: Hachette, 1982. Ellman, Richard. Oscar Wilde. New York: Vintage, 1988. Foschini, Lorenza. Proust’s Overcoat. New York: Ecco Books, 2010. Foucault, Michel. “What is an author?” In Textual Strategies, edited by Josue Harari, pp. 141–​160. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979. Genette, Gérard. Figures III. Paris: Seuil, 1972. Jefferson, Ann. Nathalie Saurraute. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020. Landy, Joshua. Philosophy as Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.



Knausgaard, Karl Ove. My Struggle. Translated by Don Bartlett. Paris: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009–​2011. Levin, Harry. “Proust, Gide, and the Sexes.” PMLA 65, no. 4, (1950): 648–​653. Maurois, André. À la recherche du Marcel Proust. Paris: Hachette, 1949. Maurois, André. Marcel Proust: Portrait of a Genius. Translated by Gerard Hopkins. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1984. Miller, Henry. Tropic of Cancer. Paris: Obelisk Press, 1934. Muhlstein, Anka. Monsieur Proust’s Library. New York: Other Press, 2012. O’Brien, Justin. “Albertine the Ambiguous.” PMLA 6, no. 5 (1949): 933–​952. Painter, Georges. Marcel Proust: A Biography, vols. 1 and 2. London: Chatto and Windus, 1959 and 1965. Painter, Georges. Marcel Proust. Translated by Georges Cattaui. Paris: Mercure de France, 1985 and 1992. Proust, Marcel. À la recherche du temps perdu, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Paris: Gallimard, 1987. Proust, Marcel. Contre Saint-​Beuve. Paris: Gallimard, 1965. Proust, Marcel. Du côté de chez Swann. Folio edition, edited by Antoine Compagnon. Paris: Gallimard, 1988. Proust, Marcel. Jean Santeuil. Paris: Gallimard, 1952. Proust, Marcel. The Maxims of Marcel Proust. Edited and translated by Justin O’Brien. New York: Columbia University Press, 1948. Proust, Marcel. Les plaisirs et les jours. Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1894. Quint, Léon-​Pierre. Marcel Proust: l’homme et son oeuvre. Paris: Les Documentaires, 1925. Tadie, Jean-​Yves. Marcel Proust. Paris: Gallimard, 1996. Tadie, Jean-​Yves. Marcel Proust. Translated by Euan Cameron. New York: Viking, 2000. Weber, Caroline. Proust’s Duchess. New York: Penguin, 2018. White, Edmund. Jean Genet. Paris: Gallimard, 1993. White, Edmund. Marcel Proust. New York: Penguin, 1998.


Chapter 3

The Origins and Ends of Music Proust Counters Rousseau CH R I ST I E M CD O N A L D

Gradually it has become clear to me what every great philosophy so far has been: namely, the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoire. . . . (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 6). Faut-​ il en faire un roman, une étude philosophique, suis-​ je romancier? —​Proust, Le Carnet de 1908, p. 61

The relationship between Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu and Jean-​Jacques Rousseau’s writing was not a question I asked myself when, having written an honors thesis in college on Proust, I turned to Rousseau for my dissertation in graduate school. In the cross-​over between philosophy and literature, I probed questions about Proust’s sense of the absolute in involuntary memory and ecstatic moments out of time; in Rousseau, I looked to the complex underpinnings of social, political, and personal origins and the way in which literature works hand in glove with the philosophical Christie McDonald, The Origins and Ends of Music In: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Edited by: Katherine Elkins, Oxford University Press. © Oxford University Press 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780190921576.003.0004


problems. Since then, in my subsequent work on Proust, I suggested that “music guides the artist away from the pitfalls of idolatry and intellectualism.”1 Not until I was sitting at a conference at Cerisy-​la-​ Salle with colleagues celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Du côté de chez Swann did I see that I needed to explore at some point the relationship between Proust and Rousseau about music. Not so much to determine influence as somehow causal, but rather to look at how both writers sought to explore deeply personal and philosophical sedimentations in music and writing. The narrator of La recherche evokes many thinkers, philosophers and artists, musicians and writers throughout the novel tracking the path to creation and writing: from Plato to Bergson, Homer to George Sand, Bach to Saint-​Saëns, Chardin to Moreau, to name only a few. There are, however, only two references to Rousseau, both somewhat negative: the first in Combray, where Proust progressively reduces the grandmother’s idea of a bookish present to the hero, in his drafts, from “some Rousseau” [“du Rousseau”] to “several volumes of Rousseau” [“quelques volumes de Rousseau,”] to a “volume de Rousseau,” which his father will disallow in favor of a present of George Sand’s bucolic novels;2 the second and last reference constitutes a benign though confusing mention in the last volume, Le Temps retrouvé, about Rousseau’s aristocratic disciples who went to live in nature and abandon their privileges.3 Yet, in very different ways, the connections between Proust and Rousseau run wide and deep: the primacy of feeling before reason and the intellect

1. Christie McDonald, The Proustian Fabric: Associations of Memory (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), p. 56. 2. Pyra Wise, “Legrandin: Un pastiche de Rousseau?,” Marcel Proust 5: Proust au tournant des siècles 2, La Revue des lettres modernes (Paris: Minard, 2005), pp. 15–​37 (p. 15). 3. Marcel Proust, “Combray,” A la recherche du temps perdu (Paris: Pléaide I, 1987), p. 39; “Le temps retrouvé,” ibid., 1989, IV, p. 606.


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(a cogito of the senses); memory as access to the past and the kind of joy that leads to creativity. Were they then too close? Rousseau may be a model to discard because of the connections he made between confession, knowledge and truth (going back to St. Augustine), a focus on social justice within society, and the hubris of election for the artist-​writer (Rousseau’s profession of uniqueness). In 1920, Proust was thrilled with a good review but took umbrage at what he understood to be a comparison of his novel with memoirs and confessions, insisting that the work was highly constructed, the end of the novel conceived and written from the beginning: “The ‘I’ is a pure contract, the phenomenon of memory which triggers the work and a deliberate method. . . .”4 What was at stake by then was clearly the question of the originality and newness of his writing. Yet when he wrote to Gaston Gallimard in 1922, shortly before his death, Proust recommended a review that declared A la recherche du temps perdu would one day be understood as “the most extraordinary monument that one has erected to Montaigne’s Essays and Jean-​Jacques’ Confessions.”5 Is it not curious, then, that of all the literary, philosophical, and artistic references in the novel, the two great lacunae are Montaigne and Rousseau, both of whom mixed autobiography with philosophical and social reflection?6 Whether the erasure of these predecessors was conscious or unconscious,

4. Letter 342 to Henri de Régnier, 28 nov. 1920, my translation. “Le ‘Je’ est une pure formule, le phénomène de mémoire qui déclenche l’ouvrage est un moyen voulu . . . .” Correspondance, ed. Philip Kolb (Paris: Plon, 1991), vol. 19, p. 263 and n. 2. 5. Edmond Jaloux, in l’Éclair, 7 September, 1922, p. 3, cited in n. 7, Letter 316 to Gaston Gallimard, 8 or 9 septembre 1922: “le plus extraordinaire monument que l’on ait dressé à la nature humaine, depuis les Essais de Montaigne et les Confessions de Jean-​Jacques,” Correspondance, vol. 2, p. 467. 6. See Magill, Michèle, “Les grands absents d’À la recherche du temps perdu,” Romance Notes, vol. XXIX, no. 1 (Fall 1988): 15–​20; see also Margaret Mein, A Foretaste of Proust (Westmead, England: Saxon House, 1974).



reveling in the accolade of being successor to Rousseau was, it seems to me, more than mere vanity. Over time, Proust showed ambivalence about the importance of Rousseau’s work. In 1896, he wrote to his then soul mate, the prodigy composer Reynaldo Hahn, about how reading Rousseau’s Confessions slowly, he felt “tout musique” and wished he could hear Hahn sing.7 In 1905, the year his mother died, he admired a beautiful passage on sentiment in Rousseau written by George de Lauris: showing how missteps and experience taught Rousseau, despite feuds with close contemporaries, to reach a distant audience through his books—​an aspiration for Proust.8 A year later, he wrote that he was sick of reading critical sarcasm about Rousseau’s sentimentality and melancholy.9 What he celebrated in a letter in 190810 was the way in which a revolutionary style like Rousseau’s (along with Hugo’s, Flaubert’s, and Maeterlinck’s) holds up next to Bossuet’s, the celebrated seventeenth-​century French bishop and theologian noted for his brilliant sermons and oratory. We also know of Rousseau’s importance to writers Proust admired: Sand, Chateaubriand, and Nerval, among others. His professors of literature and philosophy, Maxime Gaucher and Alphonse Darlu, had also admired Rousseau. Gaucher separated the man, whom few might admire from reading the Confessions, from the work; this was important as a critique of Sainte Beuve, arguably the most important critic of his time, from whom Proust would take his distance. Sainte Beuve referred back to the salonnière climate of anti-​Rousseauistic opinion during the centenary of Rousseau’s death, 1878, echoing the superficial but damaging critiques of the eighteenth century: Marie Anne, marquise de 7. Letter 56 to George de Lauris, March, 1905, Proust, Correspondance, vol. II, p. 106. 8. Letter 36 to George de Lauris, March 1905, Correspondance, vol. 5, p. 76. 9. Letter 98 to Madame Straus, 1 August, 1906, Correspondance, vol., 6, p. 174. 10. Letter to Madame Straus, 6 November, 1908, Correspondance, vol. 8, p. 277.


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Deffand, and Louise d’Epinay, for example, who criticized Rousseau for social hypocrisy and charlatanism. Darlu also pointed to the distinction between Rousseau’s inner voice and the nattering of society. On the other hand, the influential critic Gustave Lanson defended Rousseau’s work and influence against the reduction to biography.11

FROM PASTICHE TO MEMORY Rousseau’s influence on Proust compares to the inspiration of Ruskin, with whom Proust had intimate and hidden subterranean affinities.12 Pyra Wise has definitively analyzed the character of Legrandin in A la recherche du temps perdu as a pastiche of Rousseau: Proust’s camouflaged alter ego. Wise tracks an association of ideas from Balzac, through Vigny, Carlyle, to Rousseau, and the contradictions noted by many before and after, along with the critic Jules Lemaître, who confronted Rousseau’s inconsistencies: a strong critic of social corruption, who also frequented Parisian society and aristocrats.13 Legrandin’s snobbism (an anti-​snob snob who critiques snobs) and “Jacobinism” (as the revolutionary legacy of Rousseau) turn into a double-​edged protection against idolatry of this fierce, possibly “crazy” predecessor. At a structural level, the underlying precept about time can be traced to Rousseau’s Emile, as distinguished scholar and publisher of Proust’s letters, Philip Kolb, suggested with respect to

11. See Wise, “Legrandin,” p. 22 (citing Gustave Lanson, Préface à Jean-​Jacques Rousseau—​ leçons faites à l’École des Hautes Études Sociales [Paris: Alcan, 1912]). 12. “Due à d’intimes affinités, souterraine, et, en un sens, cachée.” John Ruskin, cited in Edmund Gosse, “Rousseau en Angleterre au XIXe siècle,” Annales de la Société Jean-​Jacques Rousseau (Geneva: A Julien Éditeur), t. 8, pp. 130–​160 (p. 158). 13. See Jules Lemaître, Jean-​Jacques Rousseau (Paris: Calmann-​Lévy, 1907).



the composition early of both the beginning and the end of the novel (what I have elsewhere called the project): “the most important, the most useful rule for all of education is not to gain but to lose time.”14And many critics have flagged a passage in Rousseau’s Confessions about a blue flower, a periwinkle, the sight of which brings back a period of great happiness living with a woman whom he called “Maman,” Madame de Warens.15 Rousseau evokes the past often to avoid the pain of the present, whence the immense importance of memory: “My existence is now only in my memory, I only live through my past life and its duration is no longer of value to me since my heart has nothing new to discover.”16 Yet, and this is significant I believe, even before the encounter with Madame de Warens, Rousseau recalls moments of happiness so intense that just thinking back to them revives the people, place, and feeling.17 Here is where music enters: Rousseau remembers playing the flute à bec and singing for his music teacher Jacques le Maître in the cathedral Saint-​Pierre of Geneva in Annecy. 14. “La plus importante, la plus utile règle de toute éducation, ce n’est pas de gagner du temps, c’est d’en perdre.’ ” Jean Jacques Rousseau, Emile, Œuvres complètes, vol. IV (Paris: Pléiaide, 1969), p. 323. 15. “En marchant, [Madame de Warens] vit quelque chose de bleu dans la haie et me dit: voilà de la pervenche encore en fleur. Je n’avais jamais vu de la pervenche. . . . Je jetai seulement en passant un coup d’œil sur celle-​là, et près de 30 ans se sont passés sans que j’aie revu de la pervenche, ou que j’y aie fait attention. En 1764 . . . , [je montai] une petite montagne. . . . En montant et regardant parmi les buissons je pousse un cri de joie: ah voilà de la pervenche. . . . Le lecteur peut juger par l’impression d’un si petit objet de celle que m’ont fait tous ceux qui se rapportent à la même époque.” Jean-​Jacques Rousseau, Confessions, vol. I, 1959, p. 226. See Juan Wang, “De la pervenche de Rousseau à la Recherche de Proust,” Romance Notes 57, no. 2 (2017): 179–​188. 16. My translation. “Mon existence n’est plus que dans ma mémoire, je ne vis plus que de ma vie passée et sa durée cesse de m’être chère depuis que mon cœur n’a plus rien à sentir de nouveau.” Confessions, p. 1103. 17. “Non seulement je me rappelle les temps, les lieux, les personnes, mais tous les objets environnants, la température de l’air, son odeur, sa couleur, une certaine impression locale qui ne s’est fait sentir que là, et dont le souvenir vif m’y transporte de nouveau.” Rousseau, Confessions, Œuvres complètes I (Paris: Gallimard, 1959), pp. 122–​123.


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The relationship to the past, present, and future through music constitutes a personal and philosophical thread that runs from Rousseau to Proust and beyond.

COUNTERING INFLUENCE Jean-​Paul Sartre dealt with the anxiety of influence by taking on Proust parodically. Sartre rewrote Proust’s idealism in his novel La Nausée by distancing himself from the Enlightenment, the Cartesian subject, humanism, and phenomenology. The failure of his character Roquentin, for whom the search for memories cannot bring meaning, throws off the influence of Descartes: “My thought is me: that’s why I can’t stop. I exist because I think . . . and I can’t stop myself from thinking.”18 For Sartre, narration gives structure to experience, whereas experience is unstructured. Deflecting Descartes and the Enlightenment, along with Proust, becomes a matter of undoing thought and the past in order to seek freedom.19 Sartre was able to acknowledge negatively the importance of Proust to his own work: bouncing off the Recherche to parody its idealism. In addition to pastiches of cold tea and to disillusionment, a jazz tune returns as the promise of better days with “Some of these days.”20 The parody is explicit: “For a long time, I took my pen for a sword; I now know we’re powerless.”21 Sartre turned the failure of love, thought, and 18. Jean-​Paul Sartre, Nausea, trans. Lloyd Alexander (New York: New Directions, 1964), pp. 99–​100. “Ma pensée, c’est moi: voilà pourquoi je ne peux pas m’arrêter. J’existe parce que je pense . . . et je ne peux pas m’empêcher de penser.” Jean-​Paul Sartre, La Nausée (Paris: Gallimard, 1938), p. 140. 19. See my “Sartre Rereading Proust,” Journal of Romance Studies 6, nos. 1 & 2 (Spring-​Summer, 2006): 197–​207. 20. Sartre, La Nausée, p. 241. 21. Jean-​Paul Sartre, Les Mots (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), pp. 253–​254.



music to capture existence into a powerful critique galvanizing the interaction between philosophy and literature. Theodor Adorno, on the other hand, was so taken with Proust’s novel that he wrote “Marcel Proust, whose work, as a precipitate of experience and an exploration of the possibility of experience, should be taken extremely seriously from a philosophical point of view.”22 He was particularly interested in the question of how memory works: the passage from an evanescent and transient present to the evocation of the past in the unencumbered access to past experience through involuntary memory. Place names, and their evocations in particular, were key to finding happiness in the ruins of personal history. In a letter to Walter Benjamin, Adorno wonders whether Proust’s involuntary memory was “actually unconscious,” and raises the question of whether forgetting was not the “foundation . . . for [both] the sphere of experience [Erfahrung], and for the reflex character of a sudden act of recall that already presupposes the forgetting.”23 Although Adorno thought of Proust’s relation to art in general and music in particular as that of a dilettante, he also recognized that “however naïve his enthusiastic judgements of individual works of art . . . , he was far less naïve in his relation to art as

22. Theodor W. Adorno, Metaphysics: Concept and Problems, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Cambridge: Polity, 2000), p. 139. 23. Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin, The Complete Correspondence 1928–​1940, ed. Henri Lonitz, trans. Nicholas Walker (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 320–​321. He goes on: “Is not the aura invariably a trace of a forgotten human moment in the thing, and is it not directly connected, precisely by virtue of this forgetting, with what you call “experience”? One might even go so far as to regard the experiential ground which underlies the speculations of idealist thought as an attempt to retain this trace—​and to retain it precisely in those things which have now become alien. Perhaps idealist philosophy as a whole, for all the splendor of its dramatic appearance, is nothing but one of those “occasions” which you have developed in so exemplary a fashion in your Baudelaire.” Ibid., p. 322. I am indebted to Espen Hammer for his lecture “Remembrance and Anticipation: Adorno’s Reading of Proust and Beckett,” Center for European Studies, March 13, 2019. And to Peter Gordon for his remarks and the series of lectures on Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory he organized throughout that semester. 86

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such.”24 Adorno reminds us that the return of art to life is inscribed on the first page of Proust’s novel where the narrator recalls: “it seemed to me that I myself was the immediate subject of my book: a church, a quartet, the rivalry between François I and Charles V.”25 The quest for “art as such” was central to the search, in its relationship to the past, to becoming a writer. Proust was determined to counter Sainte Beuve’s position about the importance of understanding the biography of a writer to comprehend a work of art; for Proust, it was necessary to distinguish between life experience and the act of writing, to deal with the forgetting in voluntary memory through the intermittencies of disappearance and reappearance. Perceptions in love and life, of what is lived, seem to lead away from creation of art. In any case, Swann, the hero’s older alter ego and negative model, associates music with his love for Odette (in la petite phrase) and will never become a writer. Yet the experience of music will in the end be the greatest model for artistic creation for the narrator. Proust had a more secret partner in Rousseau and Enlightenment with whom to joust than Sartre did in Proust. Proust’s mother had 24. Theodor Adorno, Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981), p. 181. “For Proust’s aestheticism the question of aesthetic quality is of secondary concern. In a famous passage he glorified inferior music for the sake of the listener’s memories [Swann?], which are preserved with far more fidelity and force in an old popular song than in the self-​sufficiency of a work by Beethoven.” Ibid., p. 182. “Proust overestimates the act of freedom in art, as would an amateur. Often, almost in the manner of a psychiatrist, he understands the work all too much as a reproduction of the internal life of the person who had the good fortune and the misfortune to produce it or enjoy it. . . . He fails to take full account of the fact that even in the very moment of its conception the work confronts its author and its audience as something objective, something which makes demands in terms of its own inner structure and its own logic. Like artists’ lives, their works appear ‘free’ only when seen from the outside. The work is neither a reflection of the soul nor the embodiment of a Platonic Idea. It is not true Being but rather a ‘force field’ between subject and object.” Ibid., p. 184. 25. S wann’s Way. In Search of Lost Time, trans. Andreas Mayor and Terence Kilmartin, revised D. J. Enright (New York: The Modern Library, 2003), I, p. 1.



written to him in 1889 that she thought he scorned the eighteenth century,26 and to some extent like Sartre, though to a very different end, Proust shied away from values of reason, as the highest faculty, and progress (within society and particularly art). Proust’s deflection of Rousseau’s focus on the “heart” and sentiment, as well as his critique of progress within society, nevertheless prepares turning points in the encounter with music that seem without precedent. Rousseau had traced a story going from nature to culture in the Essay on the Origin of Languages with music and the innocence of a self at the origin. In Book 9 of the Confesssions, he in fact described a project titled La morale sensitive or the Matérialisme du sage; to explore theoretically the way perceptions of the senses modify prior conceptions of ideas, feelings, and actions. He accomplishes this poetically in his last work, the Rêveries d’un promeneur solitaire, and proto-​musicologically in the Dictionnaire de musique. Whether or not Proust read in the dictionary, he devised for his own novel a continual examination of the way in which encounters through the senses alter impressions and relate to memory:27 the experience of tasting the madeleine in the first volume opens up the entirety of the hero’s past from childhood, superimposing past and present, leading in the last volume to the project of writing a novel. But the path to creation is littered with false starts in the reception of music, on the one hand, and with an overwhelming history of genius, on the other. How to find a path toward creation and originality is a puzzle that the novel seeks to address.

26. Madame Proust to Marcel, Correspondance, 1, 129. 27. See Rousseau, “Livre neuvième,” Confessions, I, p. 409.


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MUSIC Proust can be both quite delicate and quite mercilessly ironic when such characters as Mme Verdurin (for music) and Mme de Guermantes (for art), who attempt in different ways to show off superficial knowledge of art and an appreciation of music.28 Madame Verdurin, for example, the tyrannical hostess of the “little clan” in Un Amour de Swann (who will later become the Princesse de Guermantes in le Temps retrouvé), exhibits reactions physically. She takes figurative expressions of the emotions literally: becoming overwhelmed either by music in Wagner’s The Walkyrie29 or the Prelude to Tristan, or other emotions: dislocating her jaw at one point by laughing too hard.30 Madame Verdurin responds to the fictive composer Vinteuil’s music with “neuralgia all down my face,”31 burying her head in her hands to protect against weeping from the

28. For a discussion of Mme de Guermantes and painting, see my “I Am [Not] a Painting: How Chardin and Moreau Dialogue in Proust’s Writing,” in Proust and the Arts, ed. Christie McDonald and François Proulx (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 40–​59. 29. See Proust et la musique, a colloquium presented at the Foundation Singer Polignac, 2016; many presentations are online (https://​www.sin​ger-​polig​​fr/​conce​rts-​d-​atel​ier/​ ateli​ers-​2016-​2017/​pro​ust-​et-​la-​musi​que). Also Mathias Auclair, “La Walkyrie de 1893 à l’Opéra de Paris,” in Musiques de Proust, ed. Cécile Leblanc, Françoise Leriche, and Nathalie Mauriac Dyer (Paris: Hermann, 2020), pp. 51–​60; Akio Wada, “Proust et la critique wagnérienne,” ibid., pp. 60–​76. 30. “Si le pianiste voulait jouer la chevauchée de La Walkyrie ou le prélude de Tristan, Mme Verdurin protestait, non que cette musique lui déplût, mais au contraire parce qu’elle lui causait trop d’impression. ‘Alors vous tenez à ce que j’aie ma migraine& vous savez bien que c’est la même chose chaque fois qu’il joue ça. Je sais ce qui m’attend! Demain quand je voudrai me lever, bonsoir, plus personne!’ S’il ne jouait pas, on causait, et l’un des amis, le plus souvent leur peintre favori d’alors, ‘lâchait’, comme disait M. Verdurin, ‘une grosse faribole qui faisait esclaffer tout le monde’, Mme Verdurin surtout, à qui—​tant elle avait l’habitude de prendre au propre les expressions figurées des émotions qu’elle éprouvait—​ le docteur Cottard (un jeune débutant à cette époque) dut un jour remettre sa mâchoire qu’elle avait décrochée pour avoir trop ri.” I, 186. 31. S earch, I, p. 291; Du côté de chez Swann, I, pp. 202–​203.



beauty of the music. Her response to the andante of Vinteuil’s sonata is equally off rhetorically: “the andante . . . breaks every bone in my body. The Master [Meistersingers] is really too priceless.” [“[il] me casse bras et jambes. Il est vraiment superbe, le Patron!”].32 The narrator digs in, pointing to Madame Verdurin’s private fervor in which music stands in for the “most sublime” of prayers. Yet it is the disconnect between Madame’s quasi-​religious zeal, her odd expressions, and the narrator’s ironic distance (mistaking her snoring during the music for her dog’s) that distracts the reader; it is after all Madame Verdurin who discovers the musical genius of Vinteuil. Rousseau explained that music, in his hypothetical theory of the development of society, had lost its capacity in contemporary society to evoke “les affections de l’âme,” but it could still in fact act on the body,33 giving such examples as a Chevalier Gascon who, upon hearing a bagpipe, could not prevent himself from peeing, and women who broke into tears upon hearing a certain tone others could not. “I know a woman of a certain status in Paris, who cannot listen to music without being seized by a convulsive and involuntary laugh.”34 Madame Verdurin’s outsized physical sensibility to music echoes Rousseau’s demonstrating, whether intentionally or not, that migraines, crying, or laughing as an effect of listening, all demonstrate the power of music even for those who misunderstand it. With Proust, a real question arises about how to mark the difference between inauthenticity, in pastiche for example (Madame Verdurin, Rousseau’s lady of condition), and the depth of creation

32. S earch, I, p. 291; Du côté de chez Swann, I, p. 203, also p. 211. 33. See my “The Falling Art of Music,” in Rousseau and Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 274–​292. 34. My translation. “Et je connais à Paris une femme de condition, laquelle ne peut écouter quelque musique que ce soit sans être saisie d’un rire involontaire et convulsif.” Rousseau, “Musique,” Dictionnaire de musique, O.C. 1995, V, p. 924.


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which surpasses it, between success and failure. Failure for the narrator, it becomes evident, is due to the impossibility of rivaling with contemporary works and artists, or imaginary ones (Bergotte the writer, Vinteuil the composer, Elstir the painter), with the dispersion of references and allusions throughout the novel; it is also due to the inadequacy of comprehension in the moment. When in the first volume the hero stands before a hawthorn bush straining to retain its exquisite perfume, as it disappears and reappears, he compares it to certain musical intervals as they come and go: “it was in vain that I lingered beside the hawthorns—​breathing in their invisible and unchanging odor, trying to fix it in my mind (which did not know what to do with it), losing it, recapturing it, absorbing myself in the rhythm which disposed the flowers here and there with a youthful light-​heartedness and at intervals as unexpected as certain intervals in music . . . like those melodies which one can play a hundred times in succession without coming any nearer to their secret.”35 Grasping for the fullness of comprehension, associating breath and melody, comes close to Emmanuel Levinas’s definition of philosophy, when he suggests that the seeming deficiency or impossibility of totalizing meaning is far from a failure; it is in fact the condition of philosophical and literary work.36 From Madame Verdurin’s reflexive responses to the hero’s search for the meaning of art in general and music in particular, a way opens to a significant comparison to Wagner. Association of 35. S earch, I, p. 194. “Mais j’avais beau rester devant les aubépines à respirer, à porter devant ma pensée qui ne savait ce qu’elle devait en faire, à perdre, à retrouver leur invisible et fixe odeur, à m’unir au rythme qui jetait leurs fleurs, ici et là, avec une allégresse juvénile et à des intervalles inattendus comme certains intervalles musicaux, . . . comme ces mélodies qu’on rejoue cent fois de suite sans descendre plus avant dans leur secret.” “Du côté de chez Swann,” Recherche, p. 136. 36. Richard Kearney and Emmanuel Levinas, “De la phénoménologie à l’éthique,” Interview, Esprit (juillet, 1997), p. 130.



Vinteuil’s sonata with Tristan and Isolde comes together at a key moment in the novel crossing the line between physicality and spirituality in music. Let me set the scene for this example in La Prisonnière (Scene, III, 664ff). Waiting for Albertine, the obsessive object of his love and jealousy, the hero plays Vinteuil’s Sonata on the pianola. The music takes him back to his childhood at Combray, not so much to jealous anxieties about Albertine but to the Méséglise side, the côté Guermantes, where he had desired to become a writer. What is the relation between great art and life, he asks himself, as there seems to be a chasm between the two? Suddenly, a dreamy passage, very different from Wagner, reminds the hero of “Tristan,” like a kind of distant family resemblance between Vinteuil and Wagner (like an ancestor whom a grandchild would not have known). He puts the score of Wagner’s opera on the pianola—​fragments of which would be played that afternoon in a concert (at Lamoureux’s)37—​and intuits a kind of knowledge that love does not render of another: “As the spectrum makes visible to us the composition of light, so the harmony of a Wagner, the color of an Elstir, enable us to know that essential quality of another person’s sensations into which love for another person does not allow us to penetrate.”38 Wagner’s music 37. N., p. 665: Genesis of this passage: Cahier 73, “festival Wagner” au concert Lamoureux, Esquisse XVII, p. 1167. The hero sits at the pianola to play several pieces that would be heard at the concert. “La musique, elle, m’aidait à m’oublier et par là à descendre en moi-​même, à y découvrir de nouveau la vérité que j’avais cherchée en vain dans la vie, dans le voyage, dont pourtant nostalgie m’était donnée par ce flot sonore qui faisait mourir à côté de moi ses vagues ensoleillées. Diversité double. Comme le spectre extériorise pour nous la composition de la lumière, l’harmonie d’un Wagner, la couleur d’un Elstir nous permettent de connaître cette essence qualitative des sensations d’un autre dans laqelle hélas l’amour ne nous fait pas pénétrer” (Esquisse XVII, 1167–​1168). This part is almost the same as the final text. 38. S earch I, p. 206. “Comme le spectre [spectrum] extériorise pour nous la composition de la lumière, l’harmonie d’un Wagner, la couleur d’un Elstir nous permettent de connaître cette essence qualitative des sensations d’un autre dans laquelle l’amour ne nous fait pas pénétrer” (La prisonnière, III, p. 665).


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in particular takes comprehension beyond sensation to essential knowledge. The narrator is not, however, without his own resistance to Wagner. Parodying Nietzsche’s rejection of the great composer in The Case of Wagner, he draws on religious imagery of the stations of the cross leading not to Parsifal or Tristan but rather to Bizet’s Carmen, alluding as well to the comic opera the Postillon de Longjumeau by Adolphe Adam—​an absurd apotheosis of a work first performed in 1836.39 But Proust evokes the insistent and evanescent leitmotifs (themes related to characters, situations, things) as authentic points of neuralgia, like the painful return of the little phrase for Swann associated with his love for Odette. Now, however, the neuralgic points go beyond the realm of mere Madame Verdurin’s melodramatic physical reactions to become a way toward discovery, showing, for example, how something from the natural world intervenes in art, here an orchestral passage: the song of a bird, the ring of a hunter’s horn, and most importantly here, a shepherd’s pipe. What is striking is how sound arriving from the outside moves to the highest musical level and yet still retains its originality. Many great works of the nineteenth century remain unfinished, reports the narrator, who admires how Wagner could introduce a theme retrospectively and, despite discovering its unity in hindsight, could make it seem necessary: such unity was not inauthentic, even though it came after the fact (as with the prefaces of Balzac and Michelet). This is the writerly goal: to make the contingency of the present into a determination for the future. The most remarkable example for Proust of how Wagner added leitmotifs comes in the Shepherd’s tune with the solo of the English 39. See the analysis of Cécile Leblanc, Proust écrivain de la musique: l’allégresse du compositeur (Paris: Brepols, 2017), pp. 535–​536.



horn at the end of the prelude in the first scene of the third act of Tristan et Isolde: Before the great orchestral movement that precedes the return of Isolde, it is the work itself that has attracted towards itself the half-​forgotten air of a shepherd’s pipe. . . . So, no doubt Wagner himself was filled with joy when he discovered in his memory the shepherd’s tune, incorporated it in his work, gave it its full wealth of meaning.40

Both the late composer-​conductor Pierre Boulez and the musicologist Jean-​Jacques Nattiez have brought attention to this passage as one of the most admirable descriptions of Wagner’s process, an example of how deeply Proust had understood Wagner: the way in which the whole is constituted around a central core—​bringing music and literature together. It is also an example of how forgetting and remembering nourish the creation of art. Proust points to Wagner’s imagined reaction, filled with joy when he recovers the shepherd’s tune from his own past, the Ranz des vaches,41 and composes the English horn solo of some forty uninterrupted bars. Rousseau described the Ranz in his Dictionnaire de musique as a traditional Helvetic tune so beloved by the Swiss, and 40. S earch, V, 208. “Avant le grand mouvement d’orchestre qui précède le retour d’Yseult, c’est l’œuvre elle-​même qui a attiré à soi l’air de chalumeau à demi oublié d’un pâtre. Et, sans doute, autant la progression de l’orchestre à l’approche de la nef, quand il s’empare de ces notes du chalumeau, les transforme, les associe à son ivresse, brise leur rythme, éclaire leur tonalité, accélère leur mouvement, multiplie leur instrumentation, autant sans doute Wagner lui-​même a eu de joie quand il découvrit dans sa mémoire l’air du pâtre, l’agrégea à son œuvre, lui donna toute sa signification” (La prisonnière, 1988, III, p. 667). 41. For an extensive discussion of the importance of the ranz des vaches, see Jean Jacques Nattiez, Musical Analyses and Musical Exegesis: The Shepherd’s Melody in Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, ed. and trans. Joan Huguet (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2021), pp. 269–​284.


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forcefully evocative of nostalgia, that it was not allowed to be played for the military troops because that they would begin crying, or desert, or die, if they heard it—​so much did it incite homesickness for their homeland in them. The Ranz does not simply have the effect of music, but more crucially as a trigger for memory (signe mémoratif). As Rousseau writes: “Music does not act precisely as music, but as a sign of memory.” [“La Musique alors n’agit point précisément comme Musique, mais comme signe mémoratif.”]42 Contesting Rameau, over the primacy of melody or harmony, Rousseau maintains that music in general and melody in particular were among the vestiges of human society’s innocent origins. As a pure expression of time lost to the past, melody for Rousseau was important: language and music were fused at the origin in the social theory of Rousseau’s Essay on the Origin of Languages. Rousseau believed that if the Ranz had lost its effect, it was because humans no longer lived in the first simplicity of their lives.43 The power of invoking a bucolic past through art (of, say, a Canaletto, Carl Rottmann, Caspar David Friedrich, or Friedrich Krätzschmer’s covers for Franz Liszt’s musical scores) and music (Beethoven, Liszt, or Meyerbeer before Wagner) links the Ranz with the ability to unleash affective, involuntary memory. Proust would have received this topos if not directly from Rousseau, through its popularity across the first half of the nineteenth century. From the eighteenth century on, composers wrote and rewrote versions of the Ranz (depending on regions and musical traits) enabling a memory sign to bring back a past that is both close and far away. Mme de Staël referred to a “passion of memory,” and for George Sand, an avid reader of Rousseau, the Ranz was a

42. Rousseau, “Musique,” Dictionnaire de musique, OC, V, p. 924. 43. See Mathieu Schneider, L’utopie suisse dans la musique romantique (Paris: Hermann, 2016), p. 33.



common comparison and point of reference. In a letter to Pauline Viardot, a friend and superb singer, Sand wrote: “music, the most perfect of all languages,”44 and to Meyerbeer, “music can express everything”] (LV, 2:92345). A direct line from Sand channels Rousseau to Proust.46 Musical growth in Les Maîtres Sonneurs, the novel the hero’s grandmother gifts to him instead of Rousseau’s works, parallels moral and psychological growth. Most important is the interaction in musical communication with moments of experience in the past.47 The Ranz contributed thus both to a romantic theory of music and the definition of Romanticism.48 In the passage on Tristan, the narrator insists on the moment not only when Wagner finds joy in remembering the sound of the shepherd’s pipe, but the moment when he was composing the English horn solo for his own work in Tristan. Complicating Proust’s

44. “Musique . . . , c’est dans cette langue-​là, la plus parfaite de toutes, que je voudrais exprimer mes sentiments et mes émotions,” 5 mars 1849, Correspondance, 9: 63, cited in David Powell, While the Music Lasts: The Representation of Music in the Works of George Sand (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2001), p. 106. I thank Martine Reid for this reference and suggestions about George Sand. 45.  “La musique peut tout exprimer.” George Sand, Lettres d’un voyageur, in Œuvres autobiographiques, ed. Georges Lubin (Paris: Gallimard, 1970–​71), 2, p. 923. 46. David Powell writes: “The memory of music, the remembrance of music heard, is an experience Sand will repeatedly try to incorporate into her works, a query she bequeaths to Proust. . . . The human capacity, on the other hand, to relive and thereby, on the other, to anticipate emotions and feelings and even events through the personal experience of listening to music, even in the most social settings, provides Sand with material for delving into both the human psyche and the nature of human relationships.” David Powell, While the Music Lasts: The Representation of Music in the Works of George Sand (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2001), p. 18 (see also p. 212). 47. I am indebted to my friend and former colleague, Jean-​Jacques Nattiez, for the analyses and conversations about the evocations of music, during a seminar on “Music and the Theory of the Text” at the University of Montreal (1981–​1983?). 48. Jean Starobinski wrote: “Exil, musiques alpestres, mémoire douloureuse et tendre, images dorées de l’enfance: cette rencontre de thèmes ne conduit pas seulement à une théorie ‘acoustique’ de la nostalgie; elle contribue à la formation de la théorie romantique de la musique et à la définition même du romantisme.” Jean Starobinski, “Le concept de nostalgie,” Diogène, n. 54, 1966, p. 105 (pp. 92–​115).


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view that life and work should be separate, this description fuses the life of the composer with the work and its creation, superposing past and present, to explain the creative process. If Wagner’s entry onto the French scene reanimated an aesthetic grounded since Rousseau by placing music at the origin and center,49 Proust was ready to take on through his narrative the debate about music and literature: the quest to find the path to writing through the arts and, in the end, through music. In the paragraph that follows the description of the shepherd’s pipe and English horn solo, the narrator side-​steps the impossibility of rivaling with Wagner, to state that originality in art may not be solely based on surpassing unattainable genius but also the result of great hard work in between artistic genres. The narrator continues about Wagner: This joy moreover never forsakes him. In him, however, the great melancholy of the poet is consoled, transcended—​that is to say, alas, to some extent destroyed—​by the exhilaration of the fabricator. But then, no less than by the similarity I had remarked just now between Vinteuil’s phrase and Wagner’s, I was troubled by the thought of this Vulcan-​like skill. Could it be this that gave to great artists the illusory aspect of a fundamental, irreducible originality, apparently the reflection of a more than human reality, actually the result of industrious toil? If art is no more than that, it is no more real than life and I had less cause for regret.50

49. See Philippe Lacoue-​Labarthe, Musica ficta (figures de Wagner) (Paris: Christian Bourgeois editeur, 1991), pp. 38–​44é. 50. Th  e Captive, in In Search of Lost Time, V, trans. C. K. Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, reviewed by D. J. Enright, p. 209.



Hard work alone could not defuse the anxiety of idolatry or unattainability of a “Vulcan-​like skill” as the way to creativity. Reaching back through Vinteuil in the comparison with Wagner, and to Rousseau, the narrator prepares to take another step in the discovery of great art. Through joy, Proust’s hero experiences involuntary memory and the return of experience in the present (when an accidental trigger of the senses brings together past and present), similar to what the shepherd’s tune provided for Wagner: a way to incorporate memory fragments into a future work, only this time in writing.

FROM SEPTET TO WRITING The narrator reflects on Vinteuil’s great (invented) work, the Septet, in which his life seems to live on through the instruments, as music holds the contradiction of “permanent novelty”51 with each new performance. Unlike the person Vinteuil, who was timid, sad, and driven crazy by his daughter, the music has the effect of creating felicity, happiness (bonheur) both in those who listen to it (Fr. III, 578; Eng. III, 338) and in the creator himself: the joy (“joie”) had given him “the wherewith to discover others, led the listener on too from one discovery to another,” “a wild joy which gave him the strength to discover, to fling himself upon others which they seemed to call for, enraptured, quivering as though from the shock of an electric spark when the sublime came spontaneously to life . . . like Michelangelo strapped to his scaffold and from his upside-​ down position hurling tumultuous brush-​strokes on to the ceiling

51. “Durable nouveauté” (Search, V, 338; Recherche, III, 758).


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of the Sistine Chapel.”52 The sublime here, the electric shock of this music, is neither the post-​Auschwitz encounter with unintelligibility addressed by Adorno after World War II, nor the Kantian triumph of Enlightenment reason over an overwhelming external force (nature, for example). Rather, Proust’s sublime comes from the way in which music engenders a kind of joy that drives the artist to exquisite hardship in making his art—​like upside-​down Michelangelo hurling brushstrokes. The movement toward creation propelled by passionate joy leads to explorations of what is unique within the composer: from the sonata to his major late septet, Vinteuil quests for what is new in finding his own “voice,” what is most profoundly of his own. “This song, different from those of other singers, similar to all his own, where had he heard it?”53 It is here that the metaphor of traveling toward an unknown country comes back: “Each artist seems thus to be the native of an unknown country, which he himself has forgotten, and which is different from that whence another great artist, setting sail for the earth will eventually emerge.”54 This country, like the shepherd’s song in Rousseau’s Ranz des vaches and Wagner’s memory, is like an external utopian space which has become internalized: “Certain it 52. S earch, V, p. 339. It is joy that propels discovery “de trouvaille en trouvaille” “puissant dans les couleurs qu’il venait de trouver une joie éperdue qui lui donnait la puissance de découvrir . . . quand le sublime naissait de lui-​même de la rencontre des cuivres, haletant, grisé, affolé, vertigineux, tandis qu’il peignait sa grande fresque musicale, comme Michel-​ Ange attaché à son échelle et lançant, la tête en bas, de tumultueux coups de brosse au plafond de la chapelle Sixtine” (Search, III, p. 759). It is the “joie éperdue,” which enables “la puissance de découvrir,” “le Bonheur” which are the conditions for creating (Search, III, 757–​758) “Les forces accrues qu’elle lui avait données pour en découvrir d’autres” (Search, III, 758). 53. S earch, V, p. 342. “Ce chant, différent de celui des autres, semblables à tous les siens, où Vinteuil l’avait-​il appris, entendu?), La prisonnière, III, 761. 54. S earch, V, 342. “Chaque artiste semble ainsi comme le citoyen d’une patrie inconnue, oubliée de lui-​même, différente de celle d’où viendra, appareillant pour la terre, un autre grand artiste” (III, 761).



was that Vinteuil, in his latest works, seemed to have drawn nearer to that unknown country.”55 It is a change in sound for the musician, or color for the painter, that announces the approach of this place, close to the memory of the “patrie intérieure.” The audience would be able to recognize that “it was a question of the transposition of profundity into terms of sound.”56 And the narrator concludes that “The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is; and this we can do with an Elstir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from star to star.”57 Music is the ideal and origin of something that has disappeared and may appear again through art: “And, just as certain creatures are the last surviving testimony to a form of life which nature has discarded, I wondered whether music might not be the unique example of what might have been—​if the invention of language, the formation of words, the analysis of ideas had not intervened—​the means of communication between souls.”58 The result of this inspiration leads in the final volume of the Recherche to an involuntary

55. S earch, V, p. 342. “Tout au plus, de cette patrie, Vinteuil, dans ses dernières œuvres semblait s’être rapproché. . . .” (III, 761). 56. S earch, V, 342. “Qu’il s’agissait d’une transposition, dans l’ordre sonore, de la profondeur” (III, 761). 57. S earch, V, 343. “Le seul véritable voyage, le seul bain de Jouvence, ce ne serait pas d’aller vers de nouveaux paysages, mais d’avoir d’autres yeux, de voir l’univers que chacun d’eux voit, que chacun d’eux est; et cela nous le pouvons avec un Elstir, avec un Vinteuil, avec leurs pareils, nous volons vraiment d’étoiles en étoiles.” Search V, 762; La prisonnière, III, p. 762. 58. S earch, V, 344. “Et de même que certains êtres sont les derniers témoins d’une forme de vie que la nature a abandonnée, je me demandais si la musique n’était pas l’exemple unique de ce qu’aurait pu être—​s’il n’y avait pas eu l’invention du langage, la formation des mots, l’analyse des idées—​la communication des âmes” (III, 762–​763).


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memory and the determination to write a novel, leaving unresolved whether it is the novel we have just read or a book to come. Proust counters Rousseau in the sense of a meeting or an encounter, in which chess-​like countermoves revive the obsolete meaning of the verb “to counter,” singing an accompaniment to a melody, and result in engagement despite omission and deflection. Toward the end of Le temps retrouvé, the narrator appears to disdain intellectual works and works that take on social and political “relevance.” Reacting against the kind of utilitarian art that Romain Roland, the Nobel Prize winner of 1915’s novel Jean Christophe suggests (in which the story of a musical genius enables views on music, society, and politics), the narrator rails against social realist writing: “Hence the temptation for the writer to write intellectual works—​a gross impropriety. A work in which there are theories is like an object which still has its price-​tag on it.”59 A sketch for this comment suggests the way forward for the writer: “Sensibility furnishes the matter to which intelligence brings light. It is combustible (to put somewhere).”60 What precisely then is combustible in the encounter between the senses and the intelligence? A copy of Sand’s novel, François le champi, in the Guermantes’ library, which throws the hero back to childhood, provides a segue to the analogy of the young veteran of war whose tears are unleashed as he buries his father and hears the musical fanfare of his regiment (an echo of the ranz). The exquisite sense of pain and pleasure leads Proust’s narrator and hero, as they begin to converge toward the end of the novel, to the epiphany of the metaphor meant to guide his aesthetic theory: 59. T  ime Regained, Search, VI, p. 278. “Grande indélicatesse. Une œuvre où il y a des théories est comme un objet sur lequel on laisse la marque du prix.” Temps retrouvé, IV, p. 461. 60. My translation. “La sensibilité fournit la matière où l’intelligence porte la lumière. Elle est combustible (mettre cela quelque part).” Proust, Esquisse XXX, IV, p. 844, my emphasis.



Truth—​and life too—​can be attained by us only when, by comparing a quality common to two sensations, we succeed in extracting their common essence and in reuniting them to each other, liberated from the contingencies of time, with a metaphor.61

Moving from life to work, from the reception of art in music to its making through writing, such is the goal of Le temps retrouvé. Yet the link between both is crucial and also missing: the narrator will go on to write the book to come, or he has just delivered to us the book we have read. Either way, it is the spark between the known and the unknown (that incomprehensible catalyst for the artist), between music (and art) and writing, that in the end eludes him and us. Points of neuralgia in the reception of great music bring together pain and pleasure in “an ineffable joy which seemed to come from paradise. . . .”62 Reading François le champi with his mother in the past had “electrified him” [IV, 643], just as the musical sublime has, and, without closure, found an equivalent in the publication of La recherche du temps perdu. Is it any wonder then that shortly before his death, when a reviewer compares his work to the monumental importance of Rousseau (as autobiographer and philosopher), Proust espouses the legacy of this writer whom he has also reread subrosa?

61. T  ime Regained, p. 290. “On peut faire se succéder indéfiniment dans une description les objets qui figuraient dans le lieu décrit, la vérité ne commencera qu’au moment où l’écrivain prendra deux objets différents, posera leur rapport, analogue dans le monde de l’art à ce qu’est le rapport unique de la loi causale dans le monde de la science, et les enfermera dans les anneaux nécessaires d’un beau style. Même, ainsi que la vie, quand en rapprochant une qualité commune à deux sensations, il dégagera leur essence commune à deux sensations en les réunissant l’une et l’autre pour les soustraire aux contingences du temps, dans une métaphore” (IV, TR, 468). 62. Th  e Captive, Search, V, p. 347. “Une joie ineffable qui semblait venir du Paradis. . . .” La prisonnière, III, 764. See also p. 1146.


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We could say of Rousseau for Proust what Nietzsche said of Wagner, even as he renounced his influence: that he was indispensable to the philosopher/​writer who was not free to ignore him.63 Although Nietzsche detested Rousseau’s notions of sentiment and empathy, he affirmed a link between joy and music: “How little is needed for happiness! The note of a bagpipe.—​Without music life would be a mistake.”64 Proust thus counters Rousseau from the pastiche of Legrandin to the inspiration for writing through music as origin without end.

63. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and the Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kaufmann (Vintage, 1967), p. 164. 64. Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 9.


Chapter 4

Proust’s Intermittent Seriality, or What Is a Literary Event? PAT R I CK B R AY

In many ways, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is the antithesis of a serialized novel. Proust only published one conventional novel over seven book-​length volumes, and this work’s thousands of pages and endless sentences have made many less dedicated readers wonder when it will stop, let alone start up again. And yet seriality is absolutely central to the workings of the novel. The question of what repeats, and what does not, ties together the multiple disparate strands of Proust’s thought. Being attentive to this novel’s seriality in the broadest sense can help us understand how it makes the case for the singularity of aesthetic works, not simply as mimetic representations, but as unique objects, as events as I will argue in the conclusion, that call to the reader to return continually to its complex sentences and haunting images. Indeed, the serial drive of In Search of Lost Time is to be found just as much on the side of the reader as that of the novel’s diegesis. In Search of Lost Time, as a monumental novel, has often been described as the last great French work of the nineteenth century, Patrick Bray, Proust’s Intermittent Seriality, or What Is a Literary Event? In: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Edited by: Katherine Elkins, Oxford University Press. © Oxford University Press 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780190921576.003.0005

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the heir to Honoré de Balzac’s Comédie humaine and Émile Zola’s Rougon-​Macquart massive novel series. The fact that Proust’s novel inherits many technical aspects from these writers but marks a departure from them has been interpreted as the shift to French modernism or as the turning point between the novel of the nineteenth century and that of the twentieth century.1 However, I would argue that Proust’s novel rethinks seriality, both as an organizing principle of narrative over time and, more crucially, as it relates to questions of identity, desire, and aesthetics in ways that borrow from Balzac’s and Zola’s recurring characters, all the while giving to seriality in its broadest sense a conceptually coherent framework. Balzac’s characters, for instance, reappear haphazardly throughout the Comédie humaine and create a tension between representing a type (say, Bianchon as Balzac’s go-​to Parisian doctor) and representing a mysterious universe beyond that of the narrative (Vautrin, the criminal who rebels against any fixed category). Seriality allows Balzac to project the illusion of a world outside his fictional creation. By contrast, Zola’s vision of the Rougon-​Macquart, the family that dominates his eponymous twenty-​novel series, relies on the emerging science of genetics to rationalize the behaviors of family members and structure their narratives. Literature and (a certain understanding of nineteenth-​century) science provide a coherent explanation in Zola’s novels for how traits repeat across social types and within a family. Proust’s characters, however, recur within the same novel across several volumes, but they borrow their characteristics and actions from other characters and even from other novels, seemingly without reason. They obey different logics from

1. See Antoine Compagnon’s Proust entre deux siècles (Paris: Seuil, 2013), in particular the debate between the organicist or the fragmentary nature of the work of art which Proust inherited from the nineteenth century.



the capitalist/​realist logics of Balzac or the genetic/​naturalist logics of Zola, in the end showing more affinity with the works of Gustave Flaubert in that narrative is subsumed to the aesthetics of failure and incompletion.2 Given the different cultural valences and publishing practices of serial novels in France and the United Kingdom, much recent scholarship on serialization (by scholars such as Peter Garrett, Lauren Goodlad, Sean O’Sullivan, and others) has focused on Victorian literature and also on English language television and media studies to the exclusion of other forms of serialization and other regions and languages.3 Yet, as Bettina Lerner reminds us, the French serialized novel (roman feuilleton) began in 1836, almost simultaneously with a translation of a Spanish novel Lazarillo de Tormes and Balzac’s novel La Vieille Fille, which is to say Balzac conceived and published several volumes of the Comédie humaine as a series before he started publishing some of the novels in periodicals.4 Soon, other authors like Alexandre Dumas and Eugène Sue would take up the serial novel to expand the reading public and make fortunes selling popular novels. While the rise of a national consciousness across classes in the nineteenth century was facilitated by this new mass serial-​book reading audience, it is difficult to imagine anything further from Proust’s difficult sentences and rarefied subject matter. 2. See Proust’s critical assessment of Flaubert, which highlights his predecessor’s mastery of style in the service of creating a time of reading and the tension of the blank. Marcel Proust, “À Propos du ‘style’ de Flaubert,” in Contre Sainte-​Beuve, Pastiches et mélanges, Essais et articles, ed. Pierre Clarac (Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, 1971) 594. 3. See Peter Garrett, The Victorian Multiplot Novel: Studies in Dialogical Form (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980); Lauren Goodlad, The Victorian Geopolitical Aesthetic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); and Sean O’Sullivan, “Old, New, Borrowed, Blue: Deadwood and Serial Fiction,” in Reading “Deadwood,” ed. David Lavery (London: Tauris, 2006), pp. 115–​129. 4. Bettina Lerner, “A French ‘Lazarillo’: Translation and Popular Literature in Nineteenth-​ Century France,” Nineteenth-​Century French Studies 38, no. ½ (Fall–​Winter 2009–​2010): 9–​23.


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This isn’t to say that Proust envisioned an elitist readership (on the contrary, he claimed that popular literature was destined more for the members of the Jockey Club than the working classes),5 but he wasn’t likely to find a periodical willing to publish In Search of Lost Time in installments for the mass market, though he did attempt to convince the editors of the Mercure de France and Le Figaro to publish the “novel” portion of his Contre Sainte-​Beuve, which they of course refused to consider.6 Proust’s single novel, across its seven volumes and several thousand pages, does in fact incorporate elements of the serialized, even popular, novel. The many sections and subsections afford internal series or serializations, complete with dramatic plot reversals, cliffhangers, and of course recurring characters and family groups. To take only the most famous example, “Un Amour de Swann,” the second section of the first volume can be read as a stand-​alone third-​person novel that also creates a motif of jealous love that is repeated several times in the rest of the novel by characters who do 5. “L’idée d’un art populaire comme d’un art patriotique si même elle n’avait pas été dangereuse, me semblait ridicule. S’il s’agissait de le rendre accessible au peuple, en sacrifiant les raffinements de la forme, ‘bons pour des oisifs,’ j’avais assez fréquenté de gens du monde pour savoir que ce sont eux les véritables illettrés, et non les ouvriers électriciens. A cet égard, un art populaire par la forme eût été destiné plutôt aux membres du Jockey qu’à ceux de la Confédération générale du travail; quant aux sujets, les romans populaires ennuient autant les gens du peuple que les enfants ces livres qui sont écrits pour eux.” (The idea of a popular art like that of patriotic art, even if it weren’t dangerous, seems to me ridiculous. If it were about rendering art accessible to the people, by sacrificing the refinements of form, “good only for the idle classes,” I have spent enough time around the upper class to know that they are the truly illiterate people, and not, say, electricians. In this regard, an art that is popular in its form would be meant more for the members of the Jockey Club rather than for those of the CGT labor union; as for the subject matter, popular novels bore the common people as much as children are bored by books written for them.) (All translation my own.) Marcel Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu, IV, Bibliothèque de la pléiade (Paris: Gallimard, 1989), pp. 466–​467. 6. Christine Cano describes Proust’s evolving strategies and compromises to publish his novel, including in the early stages as a serial, in Proust’s Deadline (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), pp. 26–​27.



not know Swann’s story. Moreover, the end of Swann’s “novel” finds him cured of his love for Odette, and yet, like in a soap opera, we next find him years later married to this woman who was not “his type.” The unexplained temporal and logical gap resembles the same one Proust had noticed in Flaubert’s L’éducation sentimentale after Frédéric witnesses Napoléon III’s coup-​d’état. Just as in Flaubert, political upheaval and emotional upheaval are intertwined, and ultimately escape narrative description. The most “Proustian” feature of serial novels, however, is their relationship to the passing of time. Usually written progressively as they are published, serial novels adapt to changing political and social climates, often responding to readers’ evolving tastes or the author’s own personal development. Balzac changed political allegiances from the left to the right over the long course of his Comédie humaine. Zola began writing the Rougon-​Macquart before the end of the Second Empire, only to subsequently claim that as an artist he “needed” the fall of Napoléon III as an inevitability and then expanded his series from ten to twenty novels.7 The serial novel participates in public debate and in turn this “actualité” (or current affairs) becomes reintegrated into the fictional world of the novel. The serial novel doesn’t appear all at once fully formed, but rather its publication is imbued with a presentness, an era, an extended timeframe. Proust’s novel, of course, makes time its central organizing principle, but the length of time it took to publish such an ambitious work ended up transforming the shape, size, and even conception of the whole. When the first volume was published in 1913, Proust was a relatively obscure writer who paid the editor Grasset for the publication of his own book. The beginning of World 7. Émile Zola, Preface to La Fortune des Rougon, in Les Rougon-​Macquart, ed. Henri Mitterand, Vol. 1. (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), p. 4.


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War I interrupted the publication of the second volume of the novel, and Proust managed to double the size of the middle section, while retaining the final volume mostly intact.8 The second volume, A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur, now with the more prestigious publishing house Gallimard, won the Prix Goncourt in 1919 and made Proust and his novel famous. He continued writing and expanding the novel, as a sort of internal serialization or accordion where new volumes could expand infinitely from existing patterns within the “frame” of the first and last volumes and also create new patterns, until he died in 1922 with the unpublished volumes appearing over several years. What we might call the novel’s “covert seriality” as one very long novel not only reveals how longer narratives are all, in some sense, serial in how they repeat stylistically and thematically, but also how this covert seriality in turn demands serial consumption patterns of the reader. Readers of the first volume in 1913 had no idea of the novel’s trajectory and, of course, encountered a novelist without the aura Proust would take on in later years. The greatness of the work became evident slowly, with each new volume and with the perspective of time. The “lost time” of the Belle Époque that was searched for in 1913 was indeed definitively lost after World War I. Like a popular serialized novel, Proust’s work framed an era and made the passing of time perceptible for its contemporary readers. Subsequent readers, however, more often than not read selectively, rereading earlier volumes and sometimes skipping sections, the way Netflix viewers might watch an episode of Seinfeld or Friends without feeling compelled to watch every season in succession. In the end, 8. See Christine Cano’s Proust’s Deadline (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006) for a detailed account of the novel’s publication, especially in regards to Proust’s own sense of mortality, but also how Proust originally pushed for publication of the novel as a single volume before embracing the multivolume format.



the serial elements of the novel allow for a personalized reading approach that is very much aligned with the novel’s own representation of the time of reading, which explicitly asks the reader to look to the “inner book” within themselves, thereby connecting the act of reading and rereading this book with our own lived experiences.9 We can say, then, that more than a plot device designed to pique the reader’s interest, seriality is fundamental to the novel’s structure and composition. In fact, the unique form Proust’s novel takes, of a fictionalized autobiography of a man who narrates his coming to writing, means that the patterns of the narrator’s thoughts are reflected in the novel’s stylistic choices and even the way the reader approaches the novel’s series of characters, and “theories” (the famous “lois générales” continuously put forth and then abandoned by the narrator).10 The novel’s form, whether a unified whole or one in a series, mirrors the narrator’s subjectivity as he struggles to understand himself as an individual within a family and a society, 9. “Quant au livre de signes inconnus (de signes en relief, semblait-​il, que mon attention explorant mon inconscient, allait chercher, heurtait, contournait, comme un plongeur qui sonde), pour la lecture desquels personne ne pouvait m’aider d’aucune règle, cette lecture consistant en un acte de création où nul ne peut nous suppléer, ni même collaborer avec nous. Aussi combien se détournent de l’écrire!” (As for the inner book of unknown signs (of heightened signs, it would seem, that my attention, exploring my unconscious, went searching for, hitting up against, traced the contours of, like a diver who probed the depths), for the reading of which no one could help me with any rule, this reading would consist of an act of creation which nothing could substitute for us or even collaborate with us. And so how many have turned away from writing it!) (Le Temps retrouvé, in A La Recherche du temps perdu, vol. IV [Paris: Gallimard, 1989], p. 458). 10. As Christie McDonald writes, “Proust develops a principle of individuation as the basis of memory and art, as that which both demands and resists generalization. Truth resides in the reconstruction of events without precedent, where nothing ever repeats itself exactly. By probing the way in which associations seem to guide thought, by translating the simultaneity of associations into the necessarily successive, temporal sequences of writing, Proust attempts to generalize the ungeneralizable. Out of individual experience, he wishes to tease some general quality resembling a scientific law and still retain what is unique.” The Proustian Fabric: Associations of Memory (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), pp. 1–​2.


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before realizing his vocation as a writer. His life passes before him in a seemingly endless succession of unrelated incidents, only bearing meaning retrospectively. Even a nonserial novel is made of breaks within narrative where descriptive and theoretical passages alternate with passages full of dialogue and plot. Proust’s first attempt at his novel, the drafts of which were published after his death as Jean Santeuil, was in part a failure because it devoted too much attention to involuntary memory, resembling something like a jumble of very long “madeleine” scenes. Maurice Blanchot has argued that Proust discovered the need for breaking up the intensity of involuntary memory with long passages of emptiness, of the everyday, in order to capture the intermittent nature of memory, of time, of subjectivity; for Blanchot, emptiness, conveyed by “the densest continuity” of less pure everyday material and which composes the bulk of the novel, is itself in continual development and movement, turning around itself like a sphere and reflecting the more profound movement of memory.11 The “pure time” of involuntary memory requires, on a stylistic level, the emptiness of continuity created by diegetic breaks and serial returns (Blanchot’s “sphere”), while on a conceptual level, involuntary memories themselves are drawn from unexceptional moments in the past that take on meaning only because of their return and their illumination of the nature of time. To help explain the complex interplay of the passing of chronological time or the diegetical time of fictional narrative and the punctual epiphanies of involuntary memory, we can turn to one of the titles Proust considered for the novel, “The Intermittences of the Heart,” which reveals another aspect of Proust’s thinking 11. Maurice Blanchot, “L’expérience de Proust,” in Le livre à venir (Paris: Gallimard, 1959), pp. 33–​34.



about time that departs from the definitive title In Search of Lost Time. The alternate title shows how emotions relate to time, how our relationships with other people do not progress linearly, but come and go seemingly at random intervals, as Marcel calls it, “cet anachronisme qui empêche si souvent le calendrier des faits de coïncider avec celui des sentiments” (this anachronism which so often prevents the factual calendar from coinciding with the sentimental calendar) (III, p. 153). Proust introduces his doctrine on the intermittences of the heart to explain Marcel’s poignantly delayed mourning of his grandmother, occurring years after her death (and in turn resonating with Gérard de Nerval’s poem “La Grand-​mère”). One volume and four hundred pages after the scene of her prolonged illness and death, the narrator unexpectedly feels the pain for the loss of his grandmother while untying his shoes, as he unconsciously repeats the gesture she had done helping him undress at the same hotel in Balbec the first summer the narrator spent on the coast. Her illness and death, along with his frivolous lifestyle and the passing of time, had led him to forget his grandmother, and just as importantly, his younger self that she had brought out in him: Car aux troubles de mémoires sont liées les intermittences du cœur. [ . . . ] Mais si le cadre de sensations où elles [nos douleurs] sont conservées est ressaisi, elles ont à leur tour ce même pouvoir d’expulser tout ce qui leur est incompatible, d’installer seul en nous, le moi qui les vécut. Or comme celui que je venais subitement de redevenir n’avait pas existé depuis ce soir lointain où ma grand-​mère m’avait déshabillé à mon arrivée à Balbec, ce fut tout naturellement, non pas après la journée actuelle que ce moi ignorait, mais—​comme s’il y avait dans le temps des séries différentes et parallèles—​sans solution de continuité, tout de 112

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suite après le premier soir d’autrefois, que j’adhérai à la minute où ma grand-​mère s’était penchée vers moi.12 (III, pp. 153–​154)

Marcel explains that this “bouleversement de toute ma personne” (the upheaval of my whole being) (p. 152) caused by the sudden presence of his grandmother shocked him because he encountered one of his former selves, a self who knew nothing about all that had happened to him since, as if time were made up of “different and parallel series.” In order to remember, one has to forget; in order to rediscover a lost self, a lost emotion, one has to have lived multiple, even parallel, lives. If in exceptional circumstances a past situation is repeated (“le cadre de sensations [ . . . ] est ressaisi”), then the past self who had lived that experience is brought back with all its singular desires and perceptions. The passing of time, conceived of as forming parallel series of selves, preserves the past even as it protects the present from the overwhelming work of mourning. In Search of Lost Time reproduces the effect of Marcel’s “doctrine” of the intermittences of the heart through the use of structures borrowed from serial novels. Scenes from the beginning of the novel are remembered hundreds, even thousands of pages later, for example when the narrator encounters a copy of George Sand’s François le champi in the final volume and recalls when his mother had read it to him in the first volume. Often there are transitions

12. “For memory troubles/​disorders are linked to the intermittences of the heart. [ . . . ] But if the perceptual environment where [our sorrows] were preserved is recovered, they [the sorrows] have in turn this same power to purge anything that is incompatible with them, to install alone within us the self who lived them. Now since the self that I had just suddenly become once more had not existed since that long ago evening when my grandmother had undressed me upon my arrival at Balbec, it was completely natural, not after the present day about which this self was unaware, but—​as if there were in time different and parallel series—​without loss of continuity, immediately after that first evening in the past, that I attached myself to the minute where my grandmother had leaned towards me.”



lacking between volumes (for instance, between Albertine disparue and Le Temps retrouvé) and even between sections within volumes (“Un Amour de Swann” standing apart from the rest). The slow publication rate meant that readers waited years for the next volume to appear, adding more time for the reader to forget the details of the early sections. Proust’s serial parataxis abruptly severs ties between sections just as Marcel’s different and parallel selves coexist separately. The intermittences of Proust’s seriality dissolve any overarching narrative thread. By the final volume, the narrator himself has lost his way and discloses that he has spent years in a “maison de santé” (clinic or sanatorium) recovering from some unnamed chagrin. The impossibility of continuity in a series (whether series as publication or as the series of individuals that make up the Proustian self) undoes the causality inherent to classical narrative fiction. As Jacques Rancière has argued, fiction since Aristotle has put forth a coherent notion of causality that starts with a beginning, leading to a middle, and concluding with an end.13 History, on the other hand, relied on a chronological perspective, where one event succeeded the other, indefinitely. With the rise of new scientific and social scientific discourses in the nineteenth century, fictional models of narration and causality became dominant as historians and scientists studied the evolution of species, events, and concepts. According to Rancière, literature, subsequently, sought micro-​narratives that put into question the link between an individual (the hero) and his or her actions. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (the novel about “nothing”) or Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (in which Marcel for the most part only observes the world) privilege minute detail and stylistic precision over grand narratives and action. Seriality allows Proust to 13. Jacques Rancière, Les Bords de la fiction (Paris: Seuil, 2017).


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avoid accumulation in narrative, in favor of a fragmented narrative with fragmented, partial characters. The most emblematic of Proust’s characters, Albertine, disrupts the flow of the narrative and the structure of the whole novel. As one of the “band” of young girls Marcel encounters on the beach in Balbec, Albertine enters the novel indistinguishable from the other girls. She belongs neither to the Guermantes’ Way nor to Swann’s Way, in a sort of zone all to herself within the novel’s geography. Much of the expansion of the novel during and after the war was dedicated to Albertine’s story, with two volumes revolving largely around her. She thus inspires a large portion of the internal serialization of the novel, all the while escaping any narrative thread. Marcel’s obsession with Albertine, the “être de fuite” (being of flight/​fugitive being) leads him to learn as much about her as possible in order to tell more and more stories that rationalize her behavior and contain his fears that she secretly prefers women. The complexity of her personality, her fleeting desires, and constant movement can only be captured by a series of still images, reminiscent of a nineteenth-​century chronophotograph. Indeed, Marcel makes the connection to photography and Albertine at the moment when he first kisses her—​as he approaches her cheek, he sees multiple Albertines appear: Les dernières applications de la photographie [ . . . ] je ne vois que cela qui puisse, autant que le baiser, faire surgir de ce que nous croyions une chose à aspect défini, les cent autres choses qu’elle est tout aussi bien, puisque chacune est relative à une perspective non moins légitime. Bref, de même qu’à Balbec, Albertine m’avait souvent paru différente, maintenant, comme si, en accélérant prodigieusement la rapidité des changements de perspective et des changements de coloration que nous offre 115


une personne dans nos diverses rencontres avec elle, j’avais voulu les faire tenir toutes en quelques secondes pour recréer expérimentalement le phénomène qui diversifie l’individualité d’un être et tirer les unes des autres, comme d’un étui, toutes les possibilités qu’il enferme, dans ce court trajet de mes lèvres vers sa joue, c’est dix Albertines que je vis; cette seule jeune fille étant comme une déesse à plusieurs têtes, celle que j’avais vue en dernier, si je tentais de m’approcher d’elle, faisait place à une autre.14 (II, p. 660)

Unlike his past self, brought back or “reborn” in isolation from the other selves in a series of Marcels, the narrator attempts to collapse all of the “ten Albertines” into one with a kiss. As opposed to the slow realization of his mourning for his grandmother, requiring hundreds of pages and a minute analysis of one feeling, the kiss, “accelerating prodigiously the speed” with which we engage with another person’s different aspects, only manages to project a monstrous image of a multiple-​headed goddess. The optical illusion, the multiple perspectives on Albertine, lets the real Albertine escape his embrace. The totality, or accumulation, of selves or images of the other doesn’t correspond to a stable being that can be comprehended.

14. “The latest developments of photography [ . . . ] are the only thing that I see that can, as much as a kiss, bring forth from what we believed to be something with one definite aspect, a hundred other things that it may equally well be, since each is related to a no less legitimate perspective. In short, just as in Balbec, Albertine had often appeared to me different, now as if, by prodigiously accelerating the speed of changes of perspective and coloring that a person shows us over the course of different encounters, I had wanted to make them all hold together in a few seconds in order to recreate experimentally the phenomenon which diversifies the individuality of a being and to pull out, one after another, as if out of a box, all the possibilities that it encloses, in the short journey of my lips to her cheek, it is ten Albertines that I saw; this single young girl being like a goddess with ten heads, the head that I had seen last, if I tried to approach it, would give way to another.”


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Albertine plays a crucial role near the end of the novel, in volume five, La Prisonnière, when Marcel attempts to define the uniqueness of works of art within a series. She serves as counterpoint or counterexample and yet also what motivates Marcel in his ramblings. What is fascinating in this rather long passage is that the tension between Marcel’s theories of singularity in a work of art and Albertine’s serial questions reflects the central tension of the structure of In Search of Lost Time, only resolved, if it is ever resolved, in the final volume. In this section of the novel, Marcel has invited Albertine to live in his Parisian apartment, rather scandalously since they are not married and she is of a different social sphere. Constantly jealous of her, he keeps close watch of her activities, in effect imprisoning her in a gilded cage. Within the passage that interests us, she plays the pianola, a type of player piano where one can modulate the sounds for emphasis. While she plays, as it were, on the instrument, Marcel reflects upon the nature of music and art, seemingly to the reader, but as it turns out, he is speaking out loud to Albertine. The beauty of the passage comes from a sort of free indirect discourse where the reader can hardly distinguish between the narrator of the novel and the Marcel of the narration, which is to say between a detached and seemingly objective philosopher-​novelist and a crazed jealous lover. As she plays, he muses about the “modeling” necessary to make sense out of the “nebulous” sounds (P III, p. 874). It takes multiple times listening to the same music to create a structure or model that would create meaning out of seemingly random noises. Yet the narrator acknowledges that his intellect (“intelligence”) inherently transforms these sound sensations into something alien from the music: “[j’aimais] pouvoir, au cours de ces exécutions succéssives, rejoindre les unes aux autres, grâce à la lumière croissante, hélas! dénaturante et étrangère de mon intelligence, les lignes fragmentaires 117


et interrompues de la construction, d’abord presque ensevelie de la brume.” (I liked to be able, during these successive sessions, to join together, thanks to the increasing light, alas! denaturing and strange of my intellect, the fragmentary and interrupted lines of the [musical] construction, which at first were almost shrouded in haze) (p. 874). The clarity that comes from understanding a piece of music after multiple listenings may only be illusory, as the construction of “interrupted” (intermittent) sections of music phrasing depends on the whims of our intellect, which for Proust is always partial and prone to error. The rest of the passage illustrates the dangers of putting words to and constructing meaning around the event of a work of art or literature, as the narrator’s mad jealousy regarding Albertine leads him to make more and more outlandish associations between works of literature and Albertine’s supposed romantic trysts. Interrupting his monologue about music, Albertine asks him if his theories of repetition and singularity apply to literature as well. Given how Marcel has only talked about musical and sculptural forms that escape linguistic description and intellectual understanding, her question would seem to reveal a logical inconsistency with his idea of the unique world of art (and herself as the bearer of a unique truth). Albertine’s question to Marcel points to the essential difference of literature from the other arts as one based on the repetition of language. For Marcel, great authors only have one idea, which is repeated throughout their works: “j’expliquais à Albertine que les grands littérateurs n’ont jamais fait qu’une seule œuvre, ou plutôt réfracté à travers des milieux divers une même beauté qu’ils apportent au monde.” (I explained to Albertine that the great writers only ever made a single work, or rather refracted through different mediums a selfsame beauty that they bring into the world) (p. 877). Albertine interrupts Marcel again to quote back to him his assertion 118

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that Mme de Sévigné has a “Dostoyevsky side” to her writing, and so she questions whether there can be anything singular or unique to an author’s work—​Marcel finally admits the foolishness of his idea (pp. 880–​881). The end of the passage finds Marcel horrified that he might be repeating Swann’s superficial aestheticizing of women, yet the reader might remember a passage two thousand pages earlier, when Swann forced Odette to play Vinteuil’s “petite phrase” on the piano while kissing him, in a scene that anticipates Albertine’s pianola playing even as Marcel himself seems to have forgotten (I, p. 230). The organic unity of a work of art, or a body of work, which Proust asserted before he began writing In Search of Lost Time, is here put into question as seriality itself, either within a work or the serial repetition of tropes across authors, reveals new and incompatible aspects of the literary text. The final volume, Le Temps retrouvé, written at the same time as the first volume, conceptualizes the intuitions about involuntary memory Marcel had with the madeleine scene, the mourning scene with his grandmother, and other scenes in order to understand how different iterations of our past selves are brought back to the present to reveal essences or “un peu de temps à l’état pur” (a little bit of time in its pure state). As opposed to the obsessive intellectual pursuit of repeatedly constraining Albertine’s selves into some imaginary Albertine, involuntary memory is triggered by a sudden jolt, an event, that forces a past sensation to return to the present as present. In other words, involuntary memory consists of a sensation from two different times experienced simultaneously. It requires an initial series of successive sensations that are not perceived consciously, but when superimposed, invite the intellect (or conscious) to create a link and conceive of an essence. Marcel then realizes that this creative act is analogous to a work of art, specifically a metaphor which brings two separate objects together and poses a link 119


between them. Cinema, for Proust, is not an art (and of course, in this he is comically wrong), because it only shows a series of images without folding them back and creating metaphors the way literature does, which is to say superimpose sensations. To conclude, this is where I think theories of the event can be useful for understanding Proust’s work as being about both seriality and the search for a singularity outside of the chronological passing of time. Events are inherently paradoxical, and what I am calling a literary event is almost an oxymoron. In its simplest definition, an event is a certain configuration in a defined place and a defined time. Paris–​Mai ’68. New York–​9/​11. Events then have to be recognized as such. Recognizing an event means naming it and identifying its singularity, the fact that it is unlike what preceded it and was not predicted in the past. As Derrida writes, Quand arrive un événement, il est illisible. Sa singularité est irréductible. Ça arrive, mais ça n’arrive qu’à son bord, car pour que l’événement soit lu, il faut qu’il s’efface. APORIE: Un événement est unique, mais nous ne pouvons dire qu’il y a de l’événement que s’il est cité, répété, et alors il a perdu ce qui fait sa singularité, son idiome, son unicité. L’événement se perd lui-​même, il s’ex-​approprie.15

When an event happens, we necessarily lack words to describe it, because of its very uniqueness, yet to name the event as event, we

15. “ When an event happens, it is illegible. Its singularity is irreducible. It happens, but it only occurs at its border/​the edge, since for the event to be read, it must efface itself. APORIA: An event is unique, but we can only say that there is an event if it is cited, repeated, and then it has lost what makes its singularity, its idiom, its unity. The event loses itself, it ex-​ appropriates itself.” Jacques Derrida, Déplier Ponge: entretien avec Gérard Farasse (Lille: Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2005), pp. 34–​35.


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borrow from already existing words and necessarily erase its singularity. Events, once described, become part of a series, a pattern, a repetition. We lend to them causes and effects that tame the uniqueness of the event for our own purposes and desires, like Marcel explaining Albertine’s behavior. Literature as the art of language betrays events by inscribing them into the iterations of recognized words, and yet also makes this betrayal visible by showing the art, the artificiality, of literary language and the gap between the event and its representation. Alain Badiou’s work on events, similarly, proposes that an event as singularity violates the laws of set theory, being a set of one.16 Therefore an intervention must happen to redefine a situation for the one to be part of a multiple. We reinscribe the singular into a series—​Marx for example showing in his 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte how 1848 borrowed from 1789, which borrowed from Roman antiquity, but that this borrowing of costumes and characters masks the uniqueness of the event.17 To return briefly to Proust’s serial novelistic inspirations, Balzac and Zola, from the beginning of this essay, their works sought to describe the range of responses to political and social upheaval in the 1820s–​1840s and in the 1850s–​1870s, respectively. Seriality allowed for a nearly limitless expansion of characters and plotlines, but literary events—​the simultaneous naming of an event and the revelation of literature’s betrayal of an event’s uniqueness—​are rare in their works, which are circumscribed by the narration of historical forces. Proust’s novel complicates the literary event further, in ways that resonate with Derrida and Badiou, but depart from Balzac and Zola. An involuntary memory, whether the madeleine or the paving 16. Alain Badiou, Being and Event, trans. Oliver Feltham (London: Continuum, 2006), p. 176. 17. Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York: International Publishers, 1963).



stones of Venice, brings back a specific sensation of a past place and time, but leaves the narrator speechless, unable to say what the sensation is or why he feels such joy in the experience. Only after the fact can his intellect search his memory and connect the sensation felt in the present to a past place and time, which is to say to name and locate the event. As he says several times, being involuntary, the memory escapes the traps his intellect falls into like the ones we saw with Marcel’s jealousy. And yet the experience of the event is a trompe-​l’oeil as he says, because the past place and time coexist with the present, disrupting the unity of the event even as it reveals that each moment was separate and distinct in time. Involuntary memory reveals the sensation, or the essence, as singular and outside of time. To paraphrase Derrida’s paraphrase of Shakespeare via Marx in Spectres de Marx, time is out of joint, where the question of every event is a question of how the phantoms of the past erupt into the present, as a revolution.18 In Search of Lost Time presents us with a series of apparently unrelated and disconnected passages following a loose chronology, where causality seems absent. However, like Merlin, the narrator begins the novel already at the end of his life, with his observations and his metaphorical writing style infused in the descriptions of his youth. Just as an event crystallizes past iterations that before the event seemed unremarkable, Marcel’s story is a long series of unfortunate events without much meaning until the retrospective end and the discovery of his vocation as writer. We thus have a structure that allows for nearly infinite events to emerge, not necessarily just within the novel, but for the reader in his or her “interior book of

18. Jacques Derrida, Spectres de Marx (Paris: Galilée, 1993), p. 31.


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signs.”19 The sheer mass of the novel, with its million words and endless series, carries us along, metonymically attaching us to the places described and the places where we read each passage over the years it takes to finish the novel. The question of the event in In Search of Lost Time may, in the end, come down to how its seriality, its internal ruptures and repetitions, require us to read it again and again—​this book that is never the same, lacking in internal coherence, this book that reflects time passing with each successive reading.

19. Proust’s structured novel, in its relationship to events and to readership, echoes Terry Eagleton’s idea of the event of literature: “One of the paradoxes of the literary work is that it is ‘structure’ in the sense of being unalterable and self-​complete, yet ‘event’ in the sense that this self-​completion is perpetually in motion, realised as it is only in the act of reading. Not a word of the work can be changed, yet in the vicissitudes of its reception not a word stays dutifully in place.” Terry Eagleton, The Event of Literature (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), p. 20.


Chapter 5

Swann’s Medical Philosophy R I CH A R D M O R A N

At one point in the midst of his agonies of obsessive jealousy over Odette, Swann is described as coming to a realization about his love and his suffering that is both philosophical and therapeutic, and which will be part of his equipment for living ever afterward. He realized at such moments that that interest, that gloom, existed in him alone, like a disease, and that once he was cured of this disease, the actions of Odette, the kisses that she might have bestowed, would become once again as innocuous as those of countless other women. But the consciousness that the painful curiosity which he now brought to them had its origin only in himself was not enough to make Swann decide that it was unreasonable to regard that curiosity as important and to take every possible step to satisfy it. The fact was that Swann had reached an age whose philosophy—​encouraged, in his case, by the current philosophy of the day, as well as by that of the circle in which he had spent much of his life, the group that surrounded the Princesse des Laumes, where it was agreed that intelligence Richard Moran, Swann’s Medical Philosophy In: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Edited by: Katherine Elkins, Oxford University Press. © Oxford University Press 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780190921576.003.0006

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was in direct ratio to the degree of skepticism and nothing was considered real and incontestable except the individual tastes of each person—​is no longer that of youth, but a positive, almost a medical philosophy, the philosophy of men who, instead of exteriorising the objects of their aspirations, endeavour to extract from the accumulation of the years already spent a fixed residue of habits and passions which they can regard as characteristic and permanent, and with which they will deliberately arrange, before anything else, that the kind of existence they choose to adopt shall not prove inharmonious.1 (SW 396–​397)

We can see in this passage the crossroads of many different themes that form the network of Proust’s Search as a whole. To begin with, there is the theme of illness and a medical perspective on life and on the vicissitudes of erotic love in particular. The description of romantic love as a “malady” is perhaps as old as Western literature itself, but it has several layers of significance in Search. Marcel Proust himself, of course, lived with illness his whole life and came from a family of distinguished physicians. The construction of the novel draws continually on both his formal or scientific knowledge of medicine, and his own experience of illness and continuing experiments with self-​medication. In the passage above, Swann’s attainment of a medical perspective on his love and jealousy is a discovery of both isolation and individuation (“existed in him alone”) and a reconception of his love as a condition purely internal to him. To think of his jealous love as a disease is to think of it as something 1. The English text cited is the Modern Library edition of In Search of Lost Time, in six volumes, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrief and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D. J. Enright (2003). I will use the following abbreviations: SW (Swann’s Way), BG (Within a Budding Grove), GW (The Guermantes Way), SG (Sodom and Gomorrah), C (The Captive), F (The Fugitive), and TR (Time Regained). The French edition used is the Gallimard “Blanche” edition (1987).



whose reality concerns him alone, has its origin only in himself, and not as a form of relatedness to something or someone outside of himself. Swann himself sees the medical perspective as a correction of his earlier, naïve perspective on his love for Odette, as a response to her special qualities, to the fascination with the unknown world of her daily activities when she is not with him. He now realizes that this interest and excitement and suffering really have nothing to do with Odette at all and that when he is cured of his disease, her daily activities will be as indifferent to him as “those of countless other women.” In a characteristic Proustian move of imaginative temporal displacement, he tells himself that “once he is cured” of this disease, then the question of Odette’s other life will cease to obsess him, and he seeks now in the present moment to inhabit the future perspective from which his present sufferings will seem to him absurd and evanescent. This is one of the ways in which the adoption of a medical perspective on his present sufferings is not only a cooler, more “scientific” perspective which may offer him some relief as a different point of view, a more dispassionate vocabulary, but is itself the practical application of a kind of therapy to himself. That is, the adoption of the medical perspective is also the exercise of temporal imagination he is applying to his present suffering: Think of this painful curiosity as a disease that will run its course, imagine now how you will feel later when you look back on all this from the safe haven of your recovery and see how small those concerns will seem to you. Your present suffering will seem as nothing to you, and you can borrow from this future perspective on yourself now. It is already an account you can draw on. The recommendation of a temporal redirection of attention from present suffering to retrospective relief and indifference is part of the same therapeutic perspective that recommends a redirection of attention from outside to inside. The truer, undisturbed 126

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perspective on his jealous love for Odette is to see it not as entangled in all the complexities of the world in which he encounters her, the unknowable reality of her life apart from him, but rather as purely a phenomenon taking place within him. From a medical standpoint we relate to jealous love (one’s own or that of someone else) as an internal condition, and bring it under the explanatory framework of disease, diagnosis, and treatment. At the same time we relate to it as “internal” in two related philosophical senses. Metaphysically, we are urged to see all that concerns us as originating merely “in ourselves” or as modifications of our experience; and as a matter of practical philosophy, we should come to see that all objects of desire that we conceive of as “outside ourselves” and independent of our wills (with consequences ranging from frustrating to calamitous) can only really matter to us insofar as they affect our experience, and hence it is that which we should focus on. Odette is the occasion for a malady, something Swann contracted, and hence her actual importance for Swann is simply as the proximate cause for what really matters, which is the condition of his internal state. The response to a malady is to treat it, manage it, and eventually to eliminate its cause. We are told in this passage that Swann’s “subjective” realization is “not enough” for him to regard his curiosity as unimportant and not worth trying to satisfy. Instead, he will still seek to satisfy it, but now only as a means of managing the pain that it causes him, and not because he sees any other value in knowing about the daily actions of Odette. He knows that such knowledge would do him no good even if it were obtainable, that it could not make any difference to Odette’s own affections, and that it could only give him the illusion of power over her. He also knows that his quest for such knowledge will never arrive at a stable resting point, that the trail of signs will forever remain ambiguous and reinterpretable, and hence 127


that this curiosity can only be a means of keeping his suffering fresh and renewed. He realizes there is no stable truth to be found, and even if it could be found it would have no genuine value for him. But his discovery of the purely internal nature of his love enables him to detach the question of the value of what he seeks (knowledge of the details of Odette’s daily life) from the question of whether it remains important to him to take every possible step to satisfy his desire to know. For he can treat his painful curiosity as both a desire for something without value and yet also as a need that must be satisfied one way or another once he sees it as a purely internal condition, pertaining to him alone, something to be managed, anticipated in the budget of his expenses, the way that he “made allowance for the fresh outbreak which a damp climate might cause in his eczema.” That is, after his medical-​philosophical realization, Swann will still seek to satisfy his curiosity but now in a different mode, from a position “external” to it, for reasons unconnected with the value of the knowledge he desires. From this new perspective on his painful curiosity satisfying it is conceived of as managing it, controlling it, and if possible, eliminating it. The adoption of an external observer’s position toward one’s own passions and interests, detached from what those passions and interests are themselves directed upon, is connected with Swann’s characteristic irony, his habit of seeming to express his own aesthetic and philosophical opinions within quotation marks.2 Both the irony and the “medical philosophy” in our passage are also associated with a certain time of life and with a certain social milieu. The philosophy in question is not simply a personal stance toward one’s 2. “Sometimes, in spite of himself, he would let himself go so far as to express an opinion on a work of art, or on someone’s interpretation of life, but then he would cloak his words in a tone of irony, as though he did not altogether associate himself with what he was saying” (SW 297).


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own passion and distress but is said to be “encouraged . . . by the current philosophy of the day,” one that measures intelligence by the degree of skepticism regarding anything beyond the “individual tastes of each person.” This skeptical, ironic stance toward life is associated with the sophisticated world of the Princesse des Laumes (Oriane, later the Duchesse de Guermantes) and contrasted with the more naïve perspectives of other social worlds in Search (most notably the world of Combray). And it is a philosophy that is associated with a certain stage of life. The passage says that “Swann had reached an age whose philosophy [ . . . ] is no longer that of youth, but a positive, almost a medical philosophy.” In this way, Swann’s realization is part of the general Proustian theme of the different stages of life, the difference in temporal perspectives and how one stage of life appears from the perspective of a later one. More specifically it is an instance of the theme of a move from a kind of naïve faith to a form of disillusion or disenchantment, which shapes the larger path of the Narrator’s story, as well as that of his alter ego, Charles Swann. *** In the project of Search, the narrative of disillusion turns out to be not the story itself but one phase of the story, reframed and called into question by a different perspective that is more encompassing, from both a literary and a philosophical point of view, even if never fully resolved. The “medical philosophy” adopted by Swann is an instance of the invocation of Philosophy in the novel, that Proust the author both depicts and distances himself from. Many of the novel’s characters are given to explicitly philosophical expression of one sort or another, and quite often it is the philosophical observations of the Narrator himself that we are meant not only to see through, but to understand as examples of how philosophy and philosophical 129


sophistication can play a distorting role in the lives of his characters, rather than a clarifying or enlightening one. In many of the more metaphysical or skeptical pronouncements of the Narrator we can see Proust working with a figure who functions in the overall structure as an Unreliable Philosopher as well as an Unreliable Narrator. The passage concerning Swann’s “medical philosophy” is one of the more explicit in which the Narrator identifies a philosophical stance (not far from one he will express in his own voice on other occasions) and distances himself from it, identifying it with a particular character’s response to life’s defeats and disappointments. Throughout the novel the Narrator is given to invoking “general laws,” philosophical, psychological, and sociological in character, but as readers we are not to take them at face value any more than similar sounding statements from his friend Bloch or the Baron de Charlus. There is external evidence as well for the caution with which the reader must approach the more explicitly philosophical themes in Search, in a famous letter Proust wrote to Jacques Rivière in 1914, where he says, “Only at the end of the book . . . will my position be revealed. The one I put forward at the end of the first volume, in that excursus on the Bois de Boulogne [a central scene of disenchantment] is the opposite of my conclusion. It is just a step, in appearance subjective and dilettante, towards the most objective and committed of conclusions.”3 He disavows the attitude of a “disenchanted skepticism” that he realizes will be read into the book and says, “I did not want to analyze this evolution of a belief system abstractly, 3. I am here translating “objective et croyante” somewhat loosely, as ‘objective and committed’. Existing English citations have rendered it as “objective and optimistic” or “objective and engaged,” but neither of those is really accurate. Later in the letter Proust refers to his “croyances intellectuelles,” again by way of contrast with a superficial reading of the project of Search. I am grateful for consultations about the letter with Virginie Greene.


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but rather to recreate it, to bring it to life. I am therefore obliged to depict errors, without feeling compelled to say that I consider them to be errors; too bad for me if the reader believes I take them for the truth.”4 Proust’s own confidence in the final structure of his book is remarkable here when we consider that by the time of this letter only the first volume had appeared and it would not be until after the war that any more of the book could be published. Swann’s philosophical realization, encouraged by the philosophy of his day, and which is no longer that of youth, has a metaphysical, an epistemological, and a practical dimension. It is thus at the crossroads of the different forms of solipsism under investigation in the novel. Metaphysically this philosophy tells us that what is real, or at least all that can really matter to us, is a question of what can make a difference to our internal states, to our forms of experience. Epistemologically, it is a form of methodological skepticism which says that knowledge itself consists in the destruction of illusions; the path to truth is the path of disillusion. Only through the undermining of our attachments to what, from a distance, we naively assumed to be marvelous or enchanting, do we arrive at the view of reality as it is in itself, shorn of the glamour that we have projected upon it. This road is painful but unavoidable. It is a perspective not simply forced upon us by the frustration of our desires but is recommended to us as a practical policy from the therapeutic philosophical point of view. For once we have convinced ourselves of the purely subjective nature of our attachments, of our love and

4. Letter to Jacques Riviére, February 6, 1914, Correspondance, ed. Philip Kolb, Tome XIII (Plon, Paris, 1985). Both Vincent Descombes and Joshua Landy begin their important studies of Proust by citing this letter. Vincent Descombes, Proust: Philosophy of the Novel, trans. Catherine Chance Macksey (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), and Joshua Landy Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).



suffering, we will be able to concentrate on the “fixed residue” of our tastes and habits, and seek harmony within the only domain where we can have any real control. The Narrator describes such a program of deliberate disenchantment toward the end of the second volume, echoing the “medical” language of the Swann passage we began with. And it is, after all, as good a way as any of solving the problem of existence to get near enough to the things and people that have appeared to us beautiful and mysterious from a distance to be able to satisfy ourselves that they have neither mystery nor beauty. It is one of the systems of mental hygiene among which we are at liberty to choose our own, a system which is perhaps not to be recommended too strongly, but gives us a certain tranquility with which to spend what remains of life, and also—​ since it enables us to regret nothing, by assuring us that we have attained to the best, and that the best was nothing out of the ordinary—​with which to resign ourselves to death. (BG 721)

As the progress of the novel shows, the Narrator will intermittently apply this solution to the problem of existence to the distant allure of Gilberte and her glamorous parents, to the “beautiful and mysterious” world of the Guermantes, and the false prestige of Literature itself in the final volume (TR 38). But his attitude toward this system of “mental hygiene” is never a stable one. Swann’s detachment of his painful curiosity about Odette’s daily activities from the idea of any genuine value in what he might learn about them is the first step in adopting a perspective on his desire as something purely internal to him, and once he does this he can see that his solution lies not in attaining his heart’s desire in the world beyond his will but in seeking the termination of his desire itself. In the course of 132

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his own painful attachments the Narrator is attracted by this form of therapy but also pulls back from it. On his walks in Combray he dreams of girls who may answer to the fantasies he has drawn from books and to the urging of his own desires, and he credits Bloch with “opening up a new era” and “altering the value of life” for him when Bloch informs him that these dreams “were not a mere fantasy which corresponded to nothing outside myself,” but that real girls existed who would respond to his desire. His joy in this revelation is in the reality of the object of his desire, not necessarily in the prospect of its gratification. For a desire seems to us more attractive, we repose on it with more confidence, when we know that outside ourselves there is a reality which conforms to it, even if, for us, it is not to be realised. And we think more joyfully of a life in which (on condition that we eliminate for a moment from our mind the tiny obstacle, accidental and special, which prevents us personally from doing so) we can imagine ourselves to be assuaging that desire. (BG 396–​397)

A few pages later in the same volume he is once again captivated by the vision of a country girl seen in passing, and he returns to the philosophical recommendation of a perspective on desire as purely internal, and thus in theory more tractable than the fugitive, refractory beings in the external world. But as before, he shows that he has not at this point attained the stage of disillusion represented by Swann or the Princesse des Laumes, or the “system of mental hygiene” that renders one immune to regret. As for the girl, I never came across her again, any more than I came across those whom I had seen only from Mme de Villeparisis’s 133


carriage. Seeing and then losing them all thus increased the state of agitation in which I was living, and I found a certain wisdom in the philosophers who recommend us to set a limit to our desires (if, that is, they refer to our desire for people, for that is the only kind that leads to anxiety, having for its object something unknown but conscious [l’inconnu conscient]. To suppose that philosophy could be referring to the desire for wealth would be too absurd). At the same time I was inclined to regard this wisdom as incomplete, for I told myself that these encounters made me find even more beautiful a world which thus caused to grow along all the country roads flowers at once rare and common, fleeting treasures of the day, windfalls of the drive, of which the contingent circumstances that might not, perhaps, recur had alone prevented me from taking advantage, and which gave a new zest to life. (BG 400)

Seeing them and losing them produces in him an anxiety which needs assuaging. A familiar form of philosophical wisdom would recommend that he address the internal source of this anxiety and bring his desire within limits. There is nothing he can do about the girl seen in passing whom he will never see again, but with some effort he can do something about his internal state, which is after all the only reason the thought of this girl is a source of anxiety in the first place. At the same time, however, he finds this familiar wisdom incomplete, for reasons he describes in similar terms to the “new era” that Bloch opened up for him in reanimating the faith that “outside ourselves there is a reality that conforms” to his desire, for it enables him to find the world more beautiful, whether or not he will ever again see that passing figure. *** 134

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The philosophy Swann has arrived at is said to be “encouraged . . . by the current philosophy of the day,” and here Proust is reflecting on his own intellectual milieu, and part of the philosophical landscape in France in the decades around the turn of the century. It is an ancient and familiar form of philosophical wisdom, a particular view of the nature of human desire, that the Narrator is alternately attracted to and distances himself from. If we think of desires in general on the model of hunger or thirst, as internal states of need or lack, which are experienced as sources of tension demanding relief, then it may be natural to see the satisfaction of one’s desire as equivalent to the cessation of that desire. It is a short step from there to questioning the point of binding oneself to that wheel of Ixion in the first place, since the very force that drives us only aims at its own elimination. Schopenhauer was a philosopher familiar to Proust and who enjoyed a great popularity in the intellectual circles of Paris when he was coming of age, and he gives a classic formulation of this stance. All satisfaction, or what is commonly called happiness, is really and essentially always negative only, and never positive. It is not a gratification which comes to us originally and of itself, but it must always be the satisfaction of a wish. For desire, that is to say, want, is the precedent condition of every pleasure; but with the satisfaction, the desire and therefore the pleasure cease; and so the satisfaction or gratification can never be more than deliverance from a pain, from a want. [ . . . ] When everything is finally overcome and attained, nothing can ever be gained but deliverance from some suffering or desire; consequently, we are only in the same position as we were before this suffering or desire



appeared. What is immediately given to us is always only the want, i.e., the pain.5

In this passage we see the role played by assuming that “what is immediately given” is the experience of the subject, the want or the pain, and that the lesson in practical reason to be drawn from this assumes this subjective, experiential starting point. That is, we do not start from the position of thinking about the external objects of our desire and what may seem attractive or marvelous about them, but rather from our internal experience of painful need and the motive for relieving ourselves of that suffering one way or another. We thus are already thinking from within a skeptical perspective on the beauty or reality of what exists “outside ourselves” and encouraged to think of what is marvelous or beautiful in what we pursue as being merely the projections of our internal state of need. This subjectivist view of the value of what we pursue is not argued for here but is encouraged by the assumption of the examples of hunger and thirst as paradigms of desire. Whatever is immediately attractive to us about the glass of water we are reaching for is entirely dependent on the experience of our own state of thirst; apart from our experience of lack the proximate appearance of a glass of water would mean nothing at all. Once this line of thought has secured the starting point of a subjective point of view on desire, as an internal condition that seeks relief, then a kind of practical solipsism will recommend itself, akin to Swann’s “medical philosophy.” Schopenhauer draws this lesson from the Stoics.

5. Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, trans. E. F. J. Payne, vol. I, § 58 (New York: Dover, 1969), p. 319.


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In general, the Stoic view can also be expressed as follows. Our suffering always springs from an incongruity between our desires and the course of the world. One of these two must therefore be changed and adapted to the other. Now as the course of things is not in our power, we must regulate our wishing and desiring according to the course of things, for the will alone is within our power.6

The practical recommendation here depends on a distinction between an Inside and an Outside in two different ways. Once we have conceived of our desires themselves as internal conditions, and indeed as painful conditions seeking relief or elimination, then the thought is available to us that we should rightly be indifferent between actually attaining the object of desire and eliminating the desire itself in one way or another. That is, with desire conceived of internally this way, we should see it as equivalent for our well-​ being whether the object of desire is attained or whether we were never troubled by the desire in the first place.7 But in fact this “equivalence” is in appearance only. Seeking the attainment of the object is not really “just as good” as the absence of desire itself, for properly understood the “equivalence” favors the course of managing or abandoning desire over seeking actual fulfillment in two different ways. First, given that the actual attainment of the object of desire will only temporarily appease our appetite which will then renew itself and require replacement objects ad infinitum, we can see the ultimate pointlessness of seeking satisfaction without. The elimination 6. Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, vol. II § 16; “On the practical use of our reason and on Stoicism,” p. 158. 7. And indeed Schopenhauer cites Seneca to this effect in a footnote on the same page: “It is all the same whether you lack desire for something or have that thing. Of highest importance in either case is the same thing: you will not be tormented.” Seneca, Epistles 119, 2.



of desire itself solves the problem at the root and does not send us off on a hopeless cycle of temporary satisfaction and renewal of frustration. Second, in seeking fulfillment for our desires outside ourselves, we render ourselves hostage to fortune, dependent on the contingent availability of what we need and our powers to get it, especially when the object of desire is not simply some “thing” but is the fugitive, unknowable soul of another conscious being [l’inconnu conscient]. The perspective on desire as a purely internal condition recommends redirecting our attention to a realm where we supposedly have greater control than we do with respect to the people and objects in the world independent of us. Hence in the case of incongruity between our desires and the course of the world, we will always have reason to prefer the course of seeking to adjust or eliminate our desires to the risky, frustrating course of seeking to bend the world to our wills.8 Schopenhauer’s view of desire has ancient sources in both Western and Eastern philosophy, and he drives it to the pessimistic conclusion that desire and striving in general are pointless attempts to fill up what will only empty itself again, a hopeless attempt to appease a purely inner tension by attachment to external objects. The obstacles to their attainment and the fact that they will need constant 8. Descartes gives a classic formulation of this practical maxim in his Discourse on Method, with which Proust would doubtless have been familiar. “My third maxim was always to try to conquer myself rather than fortune, and to change my desires rather than the order of the world, and generally to accustom myself to believing that there is nothing that is completely within our power except our thoughts, so that, after we have done our best regarding things external to us, everything that is lacking for us to succeed is, from our point of view, absolutely impossible.” Descartes, Discourse on Method (1637), trans. Donald Cress (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998), Part Three, p. 14. This formulation enables us to see the connection between the “inner” perspective of the Cartesian Ego (arrived at by reduction, through a process of methodological doubt) and the Stoic recommendation of “medical” perspective on desires as purely internal conditions of the person (arrived at by reduction, through reflection on the frustrations of their fulfillment, and disillusion with the perceived value of the objects of desire).


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replacement guarantee that life will always contain a preponderance of pain over pleasure.9 In our original passage about Swann, we are told that his new philosophical perspective on his love and suffering was “encouraged by the philosophy of the day, as well as by that of the circle in which he spent much of his life, the group that surrounded the Princesse des Laumes” (SW 396). And indeed the “pessimism” of Schopenhauer and Eduard von Hartmann had been part of Parisian intellectual life since the so-​called “pessimism controversy” in Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It had entered into fashionable society in France in part through the lectures of Elme-​Marie Caro, a popular lecturer at the Sorbonne, and author of Le Pessimisme Au XIXe Siecle: Leopardi, Schopenhauer, Hartmann (Ed. 1878), and Ferdinand Brunetière, anti-​Dreyfusard man of letters and author of Le Pessimisme dans le Roman, in Revue des Deux Mondes, 70, no. 4 ( July–​August 1885).10 Caro was a habitué of the salon of Emmanuela Potocka, where Proust himself and Robert de Montesquiou were also visitors. Proust published a sketch of her salon in Le Figaro, and in the novel Caro’s position in fashionable society is gently mocked as one of the cultural reference points for the snobbish and avant-​garde younger Mme. Cambremer (sister of Legrandin).11 The fashion for philosophical pessimism 9. Schopenhauer found demonstrations of this as a general principle of nature in vivid examples, one of my favorite being the following, addressed to his optimistic opponent: “A quick test of the assertion that enjoyment outweighs pain in this world, or that they are at any rate balanced, would be to compare the feelings of an animal engaged in eating another with those of the animal being eaten.” “On the Suffering of the World,” in Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms, ed. and trans. R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Penguin, 1970), p. 42. 10. The controversy in France had not died out by 1914 when Georges Palante published his more political critique of Brunetière in his pamphlet, Pessimisme et Individualisme, 1914 (Alcan). 11. “From that moment she had realised that, by virtue of the transmutation of solid bodies into more and more subtle elements, the considerable and so honourably acquired fortune that she had inherited from her father, the finished education that she had received, her assiduous attendance at the Sorbonne, whether at Caro’s lectures or at Brunetière’s, and at the



was sufficiently well-​known in this world that even the pedantic Professor Brichot can dismiss it as merely modish in the course of interrupting the Baron Charlus.12 *** When the Narrator is either contesting the perspective of disillusion or comparing his present disillusion with the earlier perspective of youth and naïveté, he often retains the quasi-​spatial language of a contrast between seeing his desires as “purely internal” to him and seeing them as corresponding to something or existing “outside” himself. The famous earlier scene of reading in “Combray” is framed in terms of the “naïve” perspective of youth confronting the prospect of disillusion and failure to emerge from a purely internal, solipsistic perspective. For even if we have the sensation of being always enveloped in, surrounded by our own soul, still it does not seem a fixed and immovable prison; rather do we seem to be borne away with it, and perpetually struggling to pass beyond it, to break out into the world, with a perpetual discouragement as we hear endlessly, all around us, that unvarying sound which is no echo from without, but the resonance of a vibration from within. We try to discover in things, endeared to us on that account, the spiritual glamour which we ourselves have cast upon them; we are disillusioned, and learn that they are in themselves barren and devoid of the charm which they owed, in our minds, to the association Lamoureux concerts, all this was to vanish into thin air, to find its ultimate sublimation in the pleasure of being able one day to say: ‘my aunt d’Uzai’ ” (SG 295–​296). Mme Patocka is one of Proust’s sources for the Princesse des Laumes (Oriane). 12. “ ‘I know that Balzac is all the rage this year, as pessimism was last,’ Brichot interrupted” (SG 611).


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of certain ideas; sometimes we mobilize all our spiritual forces in a glittering array so as to influence and subjugate other human beings who, as we very well know, are situated outside ourselves, where we can never reach them. (SW 119)

Later in the “Combray” section, during his solitary walks in the country along the Méséglise way which take him past Montjouvain, he is already chastened and takes a retrospective view on his former romantic dreams, similar to the temporal perspective Swann aspires to but has not yet reached in our passage. He says: I no longer believed that the desires which I formed during my walks, and which were not fulfilled, were shared by other people, that they had any reality outside of me [de croire vrai en dehors de moi]. They now seemed to me no more than the purely subjective, impotent, illusory creations of my temperament. They no longer had any attachment to nature, to reality, which from then on lost all its charm and significance.13

These words are immediately followed by the recounting of “another impression which I received at Montjouvain,” his traumatic witnessing, beyond disillusioning, of the scene of “sadism” between Mlle. Vinteuil and her unnamed friend. Finally, in recounting his love for Gilberte toward the end of Swann’s Way, the Narrator alludes to the redirection of attention inward adopted by Swann, 13. On this one occasion I have used the Lydia Davis translation of Swann’s Way (New York: Penguin, 2002; Prendergast general editor, p. 162), instead of the Modern Library edition, p. 223. The Davis translation does a better job of capturing the perspective of “before and after,” and the crucial difference between the question of the fulfillment of a desire and its “reality.” This distinction corresponds to what Ronald de Sousa calls the distinction between the “satisfaction” and the “success” of a desire. See his “Rational Homunculi,” in The Identities of Persons, ed. Amelie Rorty (Berkeley: University of California, 1976).



associating it with abandoning the perspective of youth and a naïve faith in reality in favor of an internal focus on the cultivation of one’s tastes. Doubtless the various reasons which made me so impatient to see her would have appeared less urgent to a grown man. As life goes on, we acquire such adroitness in the cultivation of our pleasures, that we content ourselves with the pleasure we derive from thinking of a woman, as I thought of Gilberte, without troubling ourselves to ascertain whether the image corresponds to the reality, and also with the pleasure of loving her without needing to be sure that she loves us too; [ . . . ] . But at the period when I was in love with Gilberte, I still believed that Love did really exist outside ourselves. (SW 569–​570)

For a “grown man” [un homme mûr] the concern with either the reality or the reciprocity of love will seem less urgent, since life will have taught one to cultivate a more inward-​looking, self-​sufficient perspective on the pleasures of life and the conditions of their realization. On the face of it, however, it is not immediately clear how we should interpret the Narrator’s description of a loss of faith in his own love or desire having a reality “outside himself.” A “naïve” position prior to Swann’s disillusioned “medical” perspective on his desire does not involve the denial that his desire is, after all, his own and does not exist apart from him. The philosophy Swann adopts is described as the philosophy of men who no longer “exteriorize the objects of their aspirations,” but the language of Inside and Outside gives us a misleading picture of the distinction that really matters here, which is that between the desire as state and the object of the desire, and from this the significance of the distinction between the 142

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satisfaction of a desire and the cessation of the desire. As a matter of logic, the desire for something is satisfied by the realization of that something, what the desire is directed upon, in the same way that the expectation of someone or some event is satisfied by the coming of that person or event. What satisfaction of a desire or expectation means will vary according to the kind of desire or expectation and “object” in question. Desiring a glass of water is normally satisfied by drinking it, consuming it (though, of course, one might desire it for someone else or some other purpose); desiring Grandmother’s recovery from her stroke is satisfied by her recovery; desiring the love of Gilberte is satisfied by being loved by Gilberte. When we take as our paradigms of desire appetites like hunger or thirst, it can be natural to confuse the satisfaction of the desire with the quenching or elimination of the desire. Desires of this sort present themselves as distinctive experiences, the pangs of hunger or thirst, and often enough as painful experiences of lack which we would just as happily do without. This easily leads to the idea of both the desire and its satisfaction as themselves forms of feeling or experience: the desire as the experience of thirst and its satisfaction as the feeling of relief. And from this view of both desire and fulfillment as forms of felt experience, it may indeed be equivalent to me whether my thirst is quenched by an actual drink of water or whether my thirst can be eliminated in some other way. My concern is primarily with my internal state and what may bring relief. The glass of water or any other external object is just a means to that end. In thinking of desire this way we are already blurring the distinction between the satisfaction of a desire as the attainment of its object or as the relief from one’s desire itself (Schopenhauer: “but with the satisfaction, the desire and therefore the pleasure cease”), for one might be relieved of one’s desire for a drink of water without ever getting one, just as one might succeed in getting a drink without actually quenching one’s thirst. 143


For most of our desires and aspirations, however, there is less temptation to see them as experiences in the first place, and we are correspondingly less likely to confuse the satisfaction of our desire with either a distinctive experience of relief or with what relief brings (i.e., the end of the distressful feeling of desire itself). We seek something when we find it valuable or useful or marvelous in some way; we aspire to something when we find it worthwhile or enchanting. Proust’s Narrator wants to attract Gilberte’s attention, he wants her to fall in love with him; he wants his Grandmother to recover after her stroke; throughout the novel he dreams of being a great writer someday. These desires (which we may call “evaluative” desires, following Gary Watson’s classic discussion14) may sometimes have feelings associated with them, but there is little temptation to think of them as feelings themselves. There is nothing “it is like” to want to be a great writer someday, and even less so is the satisfaction of any such desire to be understood as a feeling or subjective experience of any kind. Satisfaction is found in reality, and not in the management of his internal state. The Narrator does not want the illusion of becoming a great writer or of being loved by Gilberte, but the actual realization of his aspiration. For the different logical “objects” of desire the subject’s relation to them is not one of consumption, and likewise their “satisfaction” is not equivalent to their elimination. The Narrator’s desire for his grandmother’s health is not extinguished upon her initial recovery, and his desire to write does not disappear with the execution of his first attempt in Dr. Percepied’s carriage watching the shifting perspectives of the steeples at Martinville (SW 254–​257).

14. Gary Watson, “Free Agency,” in his Agency and Answerability: Selected Essays (Oxford: Clarendon, 2004), pp. 13–​32.


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The purely internal picture of desire recommended by Swann’s “medical philosophy” and enshrined in Schopenhauerian pessimism begins by detaching the state or condition of desire from its object, from what it is directed upon. The states of hunger or painful curiosity or discouraged ambition can be identified and described without reference to their corresponding objects. As such, we lose the logical sense of satisfaction as the realization of the object and can only fall back on a notion of “satisfaction” as the quelling of that original state, by whatever it might be that causes that relief. This is the gist of Wittgenstein’s criticism of Russell’s empiricist conception of the relation of desire to its object. For Russell, a desire is an experienced internal state and the question of its “satisfaction” is an empirical question of what will in fact bring that state to quiescence.15 There is thus no logical but only a causal relation between what a particular desire is, as an item of psychological reality, and what will “satisfy” it, in the sense of quell it. Against this Wittgenstein stresses the internal relation between desire and its object, as of the same kind as the internal relation between an expectation and its fulfillment or an order and what counts as carrying it out. He makes a well-​known riposte to Russell’s view in Philosophical Remarks from 1930: I believe Russell’s theory amounts to the following: if I give someone an order and I am happy with what he then does, then he has carried out my order.

15. “A hungry animal is restless until it finds food; then it becomes quiescent. The thing which will bring a restless condition to an end is said to be what is desired. But only experience can show what will have this sedative effect, and it is easy to make mistakes.” B. Russell, The Analysis of Mind (London: Allen & Unwin, 1921), p. 32.



(If I wanted to eat an apple, and someone punched me in the stomach, taking away my appetite, then it was the punch I originally wanted.)16

In our current context we need the idea of the “internal” or “logical” notion of satisfaction (of a desire, an expectation, etc.) if we are to distinguish it from the psychological notion of the satisfaction or not of the person; and we need that in order to so much as describe the theme of disappointment in Proust. Early in Search the Narrator seeks entry into the fabled world of the Guermantes and the Faubourg Saint-​Germain, and this desire is satisfied beyond his own dreams by his actually gaining such entry and being a favorite in those circles. But of course he himself is not satisfied once he begins to apprehend the emptiness and vanity of that world. This disparity between the realization of one’s aim and finding satisfaction in that realization is one of Proust’s great themes. Restricted to the purely psychological notion of “satisfaction,” we would have to count the long periods of discouragement when the Narrator abandons any hope of embarking on a literary career as satisfactions of that ambition. *** The deep thematic continuities between the work of Proust and of Freud were already being explored before Proust’s death in 1922 (by which time Freud had already achieved considerable fame), even though there is no evidence that either author read any of the 16. P  hilosophical Remarks, ed. Rush Rhees and trans. Raymond Hargreaves and Roger White (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), § 22. Wittgenstein returns to this in the sections on intentionality in Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1956): “Saying “I should like an apple” does not mean: I believe an apple will quell my feeling of nonsatisfaction” (§ 440).


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work of the other. As contemporaries working in isolation from each other, they share much of a common philosophical and even scientific culture, not least of which is the influence of Schopenhauer.17 In the end, however, it is Proust who has the wider and more critical perspective on several of these shared themes, including the conception of desire and its fulfillment. Part of what makes Schopenhauer’s view of the life of desire a “pessimistic” one is that, given the idea of desire as an internal condition seeking relief, all that “satisfaction” of a desire can ever accomplish is to temporarily bring the person back to their original state before the desire disturbed their equilibrium. Schopenhauer presents this purely psychological conception of desire and satisfaction as a recommendation for the conduct of life, with a metaphysical foundation to be sure, but as something following from a clear-​eyed observation of the life of striving itself. Freud enshrines this same idea in his theory of drives, but as a conclusion following immediately from the perspective on them as objects of scientific study, and the physical laws that govern the natural world. One of the fundamental principles of Freud’s metapsychology, early and late, goes by various names over the course of his writing. In his unpublished “Project for a Scientific Psychology” (1895), under the influence of Fechner and Helmholtz, he refers to the “principle of neuronal inertia,” according to which a mental system is “a contrivance for counteracting the reception of quantity (Q~) by getting rid of it.” In later works such as “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes” (1915), he refers to the “principle of constancy” or the “pleasure principle,” and he returns to this theme later in Beyond the 17. An important medical-​scientific point of connection is the neurologist Jean-​Martin Charcot, who is mentioned several times in Search and whose lectures on hypnosis at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris were a profound influence on the young Freud when he visited in 1885–​1886.



Pleasure Principle (1920), under the name of the Nirvana Principle, the return to a state of zero excitation. And toward the end of his career, in the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis of 1932, he returns to the theme of the “conservative characteristic of instincts” and takes the connection with Schopenhauer to be clear enough to his audience to be the source of a possible objection: “You may perhaps shrug your shoulders and say: ‘That isn’t natural science, it’s Schopenhauer’s philosophy!’ But, Ladies and Gentlemen, why should not a bold thinker have guessed something that is afterwards confirmed by sober and painstaking detailed research?”18 It is in “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes” [Trieben und Triebschicksale]19 that Freud gives his most explicitly foundational, one might say metaphysical, expression of the Schopenhauerian conception of desire and its satisfaction, which at the same time serves as a thermodynamic account of how the organism is forced to depart from a position of “primary narcissism” and begin to form a conception of the distinction between the “inner world” and the “outer world.” He begins with the “biological” postulate that “the nervous system is an apparatus which has the function of getting rid of [beseitigen] the stimuli that reach it, or of reducing them to the lowest possible level; or which, if it were feasible, would maintain itself in an altogether unstimulated condition” (p. 4). Adapting from Helmholtz, Freud will call this the “principle of constancy.” Nervous stimuli from either without or within are disturbances in the condition of the organism, and the nervous system acts to preserve or bring it back to its previous state of quiescence or equilibrium. As 18. J. Strachey, trans. (New York: Norton, 1965), p. 95. 19. J. Strachey (1915), trans., “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIV (London: Hogarth Press, 1914–​1916): On the History of the Psycho-​Analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works, pp. 109–​140.


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though describing a version of the young Proustian hero trying to accommodate himself to sleeping in a strange hotel room for the first time, Freud invites us to “imagine ourselves in the situation of an almost entirely helpless living being, as yet unoriented in the world, which is receiving stimuli in its nervous substance.” The influx of stimuli is a problem for the organism which is easily overwhelmed and which perceives the stimulus as a threat to its integrity, its fragile ego boundaries.20 The stimuli reaching it from outside can in principle be dealt with by taking flight, removing oneself from the source. But when the source of the stimulus is within (as is the case with the pangs of hunger, thirst, or other “Trieben”), no such flight will avail, and the organism will have to either alter the world or alter its own internal state to “master the stimulus” and return to equilibrium. It is from these materials, Freud says, that the initial distinction between the “external” and the “internal” worlds is first generated for the organism. Here we see the mutual reinforcement of a developmental solipsism, where the very idea of an external independent world is confronted as a problem since it reveals to us our ineliminable dependency on what we do not control (Freud’s “primary narcissism”), and a metaphysical solipsism in the difficulty of conceiving of the relation of the “self ” to the “world,” once each has been defined by the exclusion of the other, and a practical solipsism (as in Swann’s “medical philosophy”) which takes a purely internal perspective on both desire itself and the satisfaction of desire, seeing them both as strictly internal conditions. Freud takes a purely psychological notion of “satisfaction” to follow directly from this biological postulate. “The aim [Ziel] of an instinct is in every instance satisfaction [Befriedigung], which can 20. Chapter One of Leo Bersani’s Marcel Proust: The Fictions of Life and of Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) is particularly good here.



only be obtained by removing the state of stimulation at the source of the instinct. But although the ultimate aim of each instinct remains unchangeable, there may yet be different paths leading to the same ultimate aim.”21 The “ultimate aim” is the discharge of stimulus, which makes for the affinity between the “principle of constancy” and the later “pleasure principle,” since such quenching or reduction of tension will often be experienced as pleasurable. While Schopenhauer’s internal conception of desire provides no room for a conception of the satisfaction of desire apart from the quelling of the psychological state of desire, Freud takes it as a matter of scientific principle that understanding of drives or desires has no use for any logical relation between desire and its object, and hence, as with Russell’s theory, it will be a fully empirical question what object “satisfies” (in the sense of eliminates) a particular drive or desire. The object [Objekt] of an instinct is the thing in regard to which or through which the instinct is able to achieve its aim. It is what is most variable about an instinct and is not originally connected with it, but becomes assigned to it only in consequence of being peculiarly fitted to make satisfaction [Befriedigung] possible. (SE 14, p. 122)

The object of a drive is not originally connected with it at all. As an internal condition, the drive is complete in itself and can be individuated and identified without reference to what it is directed upon (some actual state of affairs). Indeed, on this picture the 21. It may be argued that Freud’s notion of “Trieb” is not at all the same as the ordinary notion of “desire,” and Freud himself does not use the term interchangeably with terms like “Wunsch” or “Verlangen.” This is true enough, but it does not, I feel, affect the main point, once Freud helps himself to the notion of the “aim” of a “Trieb” and its “satisfaction,” and aligns both of these with his “Principle of Constancy.”


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“object” of the drive, say the apple that is desired, really functions simply as the external mechanism for the reduction or elimination of the drive itself. Here in Freud we can witness the construction of a purely psychological notion of desire and its satisfaction. With the detachment of desire from its object, and hence the construction of a notion of “satisfaction” detached from the actual realization of the object (the state of affairs), the pursuit of an “object” in Freud’s terms is undertaken not for the sake of that realizing that possibility but as a means to the end of reducing or extinguishing the drive or desire itself. As applied to the experience of thirst, one may indeed pursue a drink of water as instrumental to a self-​referring end, the aim of eliminating one’s thirst one way or another. But as applied to desires or aspirations generally, such as the Narrator’s desire for Gilberte’s attention, or his aspiration to be a great writer someday, we cannot understand his situation or the risk of disappointment without the distinction between the logical and the psychological senses of satisfaction. The Narrator’s relation to these aspirations is not as the instrumental means to assuage or eliminate some internal condition. His desire can only be satisfied by the realization of those very objects. They are aimed at for their own sake as different kinds of good thing, and not as “different paths” to the more general aim of adjusting his internal state. If the Narrator’s relation to these desires were governed by the purely psychological conception of desire and satisfaction, then he would embrace the advice to be indifferent between actual satisfaction and the illusion of satisfaction of these desires, so long as it made the same difference to his internal state; and he would be indifferent between the satisfaction of his desire to be a great writer and his discouragement and eventual loss of that desire altogether. But of course Proust makes it clear that his unnamed Narrator is not just as well off but rather is diminished with the loss of these desires and ambitions, and that he (the Narrator) 151


arrives at this perspective on himself and on desire in general as reaction to discouragement and despair, not unlike Swann’s, and that he applies this perspective to himself for similar therapeutic purposes. *** Where Proust parts company with the medical perspective of Freud and Schopenhauer is that while they present it as the settled truth about the nature of human drives and the conditions of their satisfaction Proust shows this to be a partial attitude at best, and one that we can see a character (whether Swann or the Narrator himself) adopting as a response to the stresses of life and as a strategy for managing them. Throughout the novel Proust places the forms of skepticism, disillusion, or solipsism in a wider context of philosophical alternatives and responses to life, in perpetual contestation with each other, like the perspectives of Youth and Age, Naïveté, and Sophistication. Without an appreciation of this wider conceptual space and the tensions within it, we cannot understand the novelistic as well as the philosophical depiction of such central themes as “Grieving and Forgetting,” as for example in the Narrator’s reaction to Swann’s recommendation to him of the perspective on dealing with loss and disappointment he has come to adopt. He is visiting Balbec with his grandmother for the first time, finding it difficult to accommodate himself to a strange hotel room, reflecting on his resistance to new surroundings, and associating that with the resistance to imagining life after the eventual death of his parents, and his thoughts turn to a previous conversation with Swann about his unhappy love for Gilberte, Swann’s daughter. When Swann had said to me, in Paris one day when I felt particularly unwell [particuliérment souffrant]: “You ought to go off 152

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to one of those glorious islands in the Pacific; you’d never come back again if you did.” I should have liked to answer: “But then I shall not see your daughter anymore; I shall be living among people and things she has never seen.” And yet my better judgment [ma raison] whispered: “What difference can that make, since you are not going to be affected by it? When M. Swann tells you that you will not come back he means by that that you will not want to come back, and if you don’t want to that is because you will be happier out there.” (BG 339)

Despite what his reason seems to be telling him, as with the contemplation of a future existence in which his mother and father would have no part, he resists: “it was by way of consolation that my mind [ma raison] was offering to my heart a promise of oblivion which succeeded only in sharpening the edge of its despair: And our dread of a future in which we must forgo the sight of faces and the sound of voices which we love and from which today we derive our dearest joy; this dread, far from being dissipated, is intensified, if to the grief of such a privation we reflect that there will be added what seems to us now in anticipation an even more cruel grief; not to feel it as a grief at all—​to remain indifferent; for if that should occur, our old self [notre moi] would have changed.

Swann is offering the Narrator a perspective on his suffering as a condition “existing in him alone” which can do him no harm once he has forgotten all about it. And his raison seems to concur. What, really, could be the point of resisting the end of his suffering? It is not clear that Proust’s language of different selves going out of and coming into existence really captures the anxiety, the sense of 153


loss here. After all, the Proustian Narrator is a character who lives in time, who conceives of himself as a temporal being who grows and changes, who dreams of fundamental changes in his life such as finding the love he has read about in books, visiting Venice someday, and finally settling down to work and assuming his literary vocation. It is not change itself or the prospect of becoming a different person but specifically the “promise of oblivion,” the elimination of his love itself, along with its suffering, that he resists. Earlier we saw how Swann seeks to “borrow on the account” of the future indifference he can anticipate and use that to assuage his sufferings now. If he can predict that one day you will cease to care and that the activities of Odette will be as indifferent as those of countless other women, you can seek to inhabit this future perspective now and thereby weaken his attachment and its sufferings. In the midst of his own sufferings, the Narrator anticipates a similar indifference, a similar oblivion, but the thought fills him with dread. Rather than being a future perspective which he seeks to inhabit now, the thought of such consolation itself only sharpens the edge of his despair, appears to him as “an even more cruel grief.” He dreads not only being forever separated from Gilberte, but the fact that sometime in this future he will have forgotten her completely and ceased to suffer over her. If he sees this as a calamity, it is not one that has befallen him yet, at the time of his reaction to Swann’s suggestion. And at the later time of oblivion he will not consider it a calamity, since he will no longer even be aware of it. And that is precisely what he fears, the prospect of a personal calamity that he will not experience as one. The entire thematics of “grieving and oblivion” in the later parts of the novel are shaped by this tension and this need for a temporal perspective on one’s life that is not confined to present or future experiences. Grieving is a response to the defeat of one’s aspirations, the loss of one’s attachments, the pain of which is experienced as 154

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the only form of memory left for how those attachments have defined one’s life. From this perspective the contemplation of the end of grief itself will be more threatening than the original loss itself. In the penultimate volume, after Albertine has fled, and the Narrator dispatches his friend Saint-​Loup to Mme Bontemps for any news: I even enjoyed a few moments of agreeable calm in imagining Venice, and beautiful unknown women. As soon as I was conscious of this, I felt in myself a panic terror. This calm which I had just enjoyed was the first apparition of that great intermittent force which was to wage war in me against grief, against love, and would ultimately get the better of them. This state of which I had just had a foretaste and had received the warning, was, for a moment only, what would in time to come be my permanent state, a life in which I should no longer be able to suffer on account of Albertine, in which I should no longer be in love with her. And my love, which had just seen and recognized the one enemy by whom it could be conquered, forgetfulness, [l’oubli] began to tremble, like a lion which in the cage in which it has been confined has suddenly caught sight of the python that is about to devour it. (F 603)

In this python, the Narrator sees a threat that is literally unimaginable from the perspective Swann had been recommending to him, a threat which requires a notion of “satisfaction” and “dissatisfaction,” realization and failure, beyond the adjustment of one’s internal states. Whether presented in metaphysical or scientific guise, or as a good enough solution to the problem of existence, what I’ve been characterizing as Swann’s “medical perspective” and its philosophical antecedents constructs this blind spot that is unable to so much as conceive of the calamity the Narrator apprehends with 155


such fear.22 Throughout Search Proust both speaks from deeply within, and stands outside of, a set of philosophical assumptions current in his time and shared by Schopenhauer, Freud, and others, but not questioned by them. He sees better than they do how a certain skeptical, disenchanted perspective represented in Swann and others, and which presents itself in the guise of a disillusioned acceptance of the truth of our condition, is itself a consoling illusion, adopted as a compensation for life’s disappointments once we are cast out of primary narcissism. Here it is Proust who has a finer sense of the difference between philosophy and ideology, and how in the lives of characters and societies the philosophical impulse finds itself pressed into service of constructing a standpoint on life outside the common world of dependency and loss.23

22. After the death of Albertine, the Narrator refers back to Swann’s earlier advice about moving to Oceania, thousands of pages earlier: The newcomer [l’être nouveau] who would find it easy to endure the prospect of life without Albertine had made his appearance in me, since I had been able to speak of her at Mme de Guermantes’s in the language of grief without any real suffering. The possible advent of these new selves, which ought each to bear a different name from the preceding one, was something I had always dreaded, because of their indifference to the object of my love—​long ago in connection with Gilberte when her father told me that if I went to live in Oceania I would never wish to return, [ . . . ] And the “medical” theme is sounded in the following sentence: Yet he was bringing me on the contrary, this newcomer, at the same time as oblivion an almost complete elimination of suffering, a possibility of comfort—​this being, so dreaded yet so beneficent, who was none other than one of those spare selves which destiny holds in reserve for us, and which, paying no more heed to our entreaties than a clear-​sighted and thus all the more authoritative physician, it substitutes in spite of us, by a timely intervention, for the self that has been too seriously wounded. (F 804) 23. This paper has benefitted from comments by Matt Boyle, Byron Davies, Vincent Descombes, Beri Marušić, Jake McNulty, Adela Pinch, Kyle Stevens, and David Zapero-​Maier.


Chapter 6

The Shadow of Love The Role of Jealousy in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu R O B E RT B. P I P P I N

But then at once his jealousy, as though it were the shadow of his love, presented him with the complement, with the converse of that new smile with which she had greeted him that very evening—​and which now, perversely, mocked Swann and shone with love for another—​of that droop of the head, now sinking on to other lips, of all the marks of affection (now given to another) that she had shown to him. (S 392)1

1. I am very much indebted to Joshua Landy for many discussions about Proust and to the participants in a seminar on Proust’s novel taught with Josh at Chicago in spring 2019. The English text cited is the Modern Library edition of In Search of Lost Time, in six volumes, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrief and Terence Kilmartin, rev. D. J. Enright (New York: Random House, 2003). The French edition cited is the Folio Classique version of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, in seven volumes (Paris: Gallimard, 1990). Abbreviations used: S: Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way); JF: A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (Within a Budding Grove); CG: Le côté de Guermantes (The Guermantes Way); SG: Sodome et Gomorrhe (Sodom and Gomorrah); P: La Prisonnière (The Captive); AD: Albertine Disparue (The Fugitive); TR: Le temps retrouvé (Time Regained). Mais aussitôt sa jalousie, comme si elle était l’ombre de son amour, se complétait du double de ce nouveau sourire qu’elle lui avait adressé le soir même—​et qui, inverse maintenant, raillait Swann et se chargeait d’amour pour un autre,—​de cette inclinaison de sa tête mais renversée vers d’autres lèvres, et, données à un autre, de toutes les marques de tendresse qu’elle avait eues pour lui. (p. 387) Robert B. Pippin, The Shadow of Love In: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Edited by: Katherine Elkins, Oxford University Press. © Oxford University Press 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780190921576.003.0007


PHILOSOPHY AND THE NOVEL In academic philosophy, the subdiscipline “moral psychology” concerns itself with the analysis of concepts involved when a person’s motives for actions, presumably what explains for her and for others what she did and why, include considerations of what ought to be done, what one is obliged to do, what would be good to do, what the morally proper thing to do is, and so forth. There have been philosophers who deny that anyone ever really acts on such motives, or at least on them alone, and that debate is a major one in moral psychology. But it is not its exclusive focus. A typical concern in this sort of enterprise might very well be jealousy, whether we understand well what we mean when I say that I or anyone acted “out of jealousy.” When we say this about ourselves, it is usually an embarrassing admission, especially when the action interferes with what another would otherwise have done. That is, there does not seem to be any good or admirable action motivated by jealousy. It falls into the same box as acting out of pettiness, or greed, or vanity. When we ask someone close to us, “Are you jealous?” it is often light-​heartedly mocking, as if being in such a state is foolish or childish. We don’t usually mean that we are proud or even indifferent to having acted with such a motive, and when we say it of another, we sometimes imply that acting on such a motive is pitiable, sad, or weak; perhaps a sign of a bad character or psychological instability. So the appeal to jealousy has both a matter-​of-​fact/​explanatory role and a morally tinged, judgmental role. The latter is especially true when we feel that another has given us no reason to believe that she has pledged any faithfulness to us, and yet we nevertheless feel that complex of anxiety, disappointment, sadness, and sometimes anger—​jealousy—​when we learn of her liaisons with someone 158

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else.2 The invocation of jealousy to explain a deed has an even more critical edge when someone who has pledged faithfulness to one, and has given no grounds whatsoever for any suspicion of betrayal, is nevertheless constantly suspected of betrayal. Othello is the paradigm instance here, and there is something both horrific and deeply sad when we see how easily he is led into paranoid jealousy by Iago. Jealousy, then, in itself and as a judgment about someone, is a rich and easily recognized phenomenon in any moral psychology. It is also a theme that appears and reappears with remarkable frequency in Proust’s novel, although the most sustained and often surprising passages occur in Swann’s Way, Within a Budding Grove, and The Captive. Not only do we see characters subject to the feeling of jealousy, and some who act on the basis of such a motive, but the topic itself is a frequent theme of the narrator’s reflections. It would not be unusual to hear from a devoted reader of the novel that “Proust can teach anyone interested in moral psychology a good deal about jealousy: what it is, why people experience it, how and why it can take over and destroy a relationship.” This, the bearing of the novel on a philosophical issue, is particularly so because jealousy does not seem suitable for any definitive Socratic definition. Reaching a high enough level of abstraction to suggest necessary and sufficient conditions for the concept’s determinacy must inevitably thin out its various connotations to such an extent that we lose

2. I understand jealousy to be the distress and anxiety we feel when someone has something we wish very much we had, whether that something is a material good or some kind of intimacy with another, or simply time spent with another we wish would be spent with us. This is usually distinguished from envy, which arises simply because another has something and we want them not to have it; we resent the fact that they have it and it would please us if they ceased to have it, whether we benefit from depriving them of it or not. Understood this way, envy comes close to evil itself, and the paradigm case is Iago. There are almost no examples of envy in the novel, a possible exception being the machinations of Mme Verdurin, especially when she sets out to destroy Charlus’s relationship with Morel.



hold of its experiential concreteness and so falsify the concept considerably in order to define it precisely. Imagination of some considerable inventiveness is called for in getting the phenomenon in view, so why not rely on a genius at imagining, one of the greatest novelists ever? It would also not be so unusual if that person went on to say that “for Proust,” there is no love without jealousy, that the image in the epigraph above, of love with its shadow, jealousy, is “for Proust” on the way to demonstrating either through what he shows us or by means of Marcel’s extensive reflections on the topic, that love is, must be, always accompanied by such a shadow, that what we call love is itself inseparable from jealousy; they are two sides of the same coin. All of this poses the two questions to be discussed below. What is the ubiquitous role of and significance of jealousy in Proust’s novel? And could Proust’s treatment bear on philosophical issues like “What is jealousy?” and “What does the existence and frequency of the emotion show us about romantic love or even human nature?” Attempting to answer any such question, especially the latter, immediately runs head-​long into a very famous barrier. À la recherche is a novel, not a treatise. We learn what Swann feels and thinks, what Marcel experiences and his various theories, what concerns Saint-​ Loup about Rachel, Charlus about Morel, and so forth. While love may be inseparable from jealousy for these characters, there is no reason to generalize from their experiences, and there are loving relationships in the novel—​Elstir’s for his wife, the long-​term relationship between Norpois and Mme de Villeparisis, Vinteuil’s daughter and her unnamed “friend,”3 Marcel’s grandmother’s for

3. Actually none of the lesbian relations seem shadowed by jealousy. See E. Ladenson, Proust’s Lesbianism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999).


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him4—​that are not tormented by jealousy. If the novel as a whole has in some way adopted a perspective on the relation between love and jealousy, the work necessary to flesh it out that will also scrupulously respect the uniqueness of the individual characters, and the literary form of the perspective itself, will be considerable. And that barrier to any easy translation into philosophical content is significantly higher in this novel than in almost any other. The form Proust created is that of a fictional narrator, inspired by a moment of involuntary memory, recollecting his past life as he struggles to become a writer. At one point the narrator suggests that we can call the subject of this narration, Marcel (P 91). This “Marcel” develops into the narrator, and the book we are reading seems to be some sort of memoir by Marcel of the life that led this fictional narrator to his vocation, the future novelist he thinks he has become in the last volume. The young Marcel’s views change over the course of the years covered by the novel, so we cannot even identify “what Marcel thinks” with the settled views of the narrator in the final volume, and we certainly can’t identify either voice, the developing Marcel’s or the mature narrator’s, with Proust himself. Joshua Landy has helpfully suggested that we distinguish three separate texts that all have different functions in the novel, what he calls a “récit,” Marcel’s memoirs, his autobiography (probably what we are reading); the “oeuvre,” Marcel’s future novel, a fictionalized autobiography; and Proust’s novel itself, a work of fiction with some borrowed autobiographical details.5 The key and still very controversial point is that

4. This is true of the saintly grandmother, but Marcel is not completely free of jealousy. When she does something for herself, fuss with herself for a photo by Saint-​Loup, and is obviously pleased by the prospect, Marcel cannot hide his irritation with her, his jealous resentment that she is not absolutely devoted to him and him alone ( JF 500ff.). 5. Joshua Landy, Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception and Knowledge in Proust (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 43.



in the fictional world of Marcel, his memoir of his development into what we are reading, is not the novel he now (at the Princesse de Guermantes’s matinée) plans to write, and neither can be identified with Proust’s novel. The common view that what we are reading is an account of how Marcel became Marcel Proust and that the narrator’s memoir is Proust’s novel, does not stand up to scrutiny.6 So, while it is true that Marcel and the narrator are given to extensive philosophical reflection about time, art, society, love, and jealousy, the status of those reflections is, to say the least, not obvious. (All works which present philosophical reflections in a literary form7 generate the same set of questions, magnified in Proust’s novel by the complexity of the point-​of-​view issue.) Proust himself is certainly aware of, and irritated by, the tendency of readers to identify Marcel’s and the narrator’s views as his own. In a much cited 1914 letter to Jacques Rivière, he points out that the views expressed in the early novels are actually the opposite of what he himself believes, that ignoring this difference would be like equating Wagner’s philosophy with what happens in Parsifal, and,

6. There are many other such reasons for distinguishing the texts this way, many ably pointed out by Landy. Marcel tell us at the final Guermantes matinée that he has not started writing his novel (in his fictional world, everything we have read is biographically true, not a novel), that literature has played no part in his life thus far. He has, though, written parts of his memoir. (Françoise finds the pages in The Captive.) When he looks forward to his future novel, he tells us that his intellect will correct the errors of the senses, many of which errors we have been reading about. The novel is all in the future; he worries that he will not have time left to finish it. Proust started sketching his novel at thirty-​seven; Marcel is now old, possibly dying. 7. This was already an issue when philosophy began, with Parmenides’s poem and Plato’s dialogues, and is especially prominent in modern fiction, in the work of Diderot, Nietzsche, Musil, Mann, and in such genres as Sartre’s novels and plays and Camus’s novels and the work of such novelists as Iris Murdoch and J. M. Coetzee. (The great peculiarity of Proust, compared with all of these, is that the narrator’s philosophical reflections are addressed exclusively to the reader, not to other characters.)


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I did not want to analyze this evolution of a belief system abstractly, but rather to recreate it, to bring it to life. I am therefore obliged to depict errors, without feeling compelled to say that I consider them to be errors; too bad for me if the reader believes I take them for the truth.8

Proust even seems to take some perverse pleasure in deliberately confusing these issues even more than they need to be, as in The Captive. And yet, my dear Charles Swann, whom I used to know when I was still so young and you were nearing your grave, it is because he whom you must have regarded as a young idiot has made you the hero of one of his novels that people are beginning to speak of you again and that your name will perhaps live. If, in Tissot’s picture representing the balcony of the Rue Royale club, where you figure with Galliffet, Edmond de Polignac and Saint-​Maurice, people are always drawing attention to you, it is because they see that there are some traces of you in the character of Swann. (S 262)9

Here the narrator (himself a fiction in Proust’s novel) begins by addressing a fictional character, Swann, and so the references of the

8. S elected Letters, 1910–​1917, vol. 3, ed. Philip Kolb, trans. Terence Kilmartin (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), pp. 232–​233. 9. Et pourtant, cher Charles Swann, que j’ai si peu connu quand j’étais encore si jeune et vous près du tombeau, c’est déjà parce que celui que vous deviez considérer comme un petit imbécile a fait de vous le héros d’un de ses romans, qu’on recommence à parler de vous et que peut-​être vous vivrez. Si dans le tableau de Tissot représentant le balcon du Cercle de la rue Royale, où vous êtes entre Galliffet, Edmond de Polignac et Saint-​Maurice, on parle tant de vous, c’est parce qu’on voit qu’il y a quelques traits de vous dans le personnage de Swann. (p. 189)



second-​person-​singular pronoun refer back to Swann, but in the last sentence, Swann is distinguished from someone else, someone the character is based on. Of course, in Proust’s novel, not here in the narrator’s reflections, both “characters” are fictitious.10 (All of this is not to mention that the narrator, having himself introduced this roman à clef convention, then also tells us, “In this book in which there is not a single event which is not fictitious, in which there is not a single personage ‘a clef ’, where I have invented everything to suit the requirements of my presentation . . .”) (S 225–​226).11 Proust is playing the same game when he has the narrator explain that he did put one real character in the novel, two actually, the Larivière couple, who selflessly helped out their daughter-​in-​law. We learn from the memoirs of Proust’s housekeeper that she did have such cousins, but the narrator says they are the “real” cousins of a fictional character, Françoise, and none of what the narrator tells us is true of the couple is in fact true.12 None of these barriers to any philosophical inference based on the novel, however, are meant by Proust to be insurmountable. As he also put it in that same letter to Rivière, if I “had no intellectual beliefs, if I were simply trying to remember the past and to duplicate actual experience with these recollections, ill as I am I wouldn’t

10. Charles Haas is still nowhere in view, if we take seriously the fictional status of what we are reading. Indeed even if a “Charles Haas” were to show up in the novel, there would be no reason to think a real historical person was referenced. Nevertheless, it is impossible to avoid the impression that the only voice who could have expressed this duality between Swann and some other “you” is Proust himself, as if he wants deliberately to confuse the relation between the two. This is Bersani’s claim and he offers an interesting exploration of why. L. Bersani, Marcel Proust: The Fictions of Life and Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 180–​192. 11. This is not credible either. There are real people everywhere in the novel—​Dreyfuss, the King of Greece, the Prince of Wales, the Goncourt brothers. Not every event is made up (there is after all the First World War) and not every character. 12. Céleste Albaret, Monsieur Proust (New York: NYRB Books, 2003).


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take the trouble to write.”13 At this point, then, we should consider ourselves forewarned about any easy identification of anything expressed in the novel with Proust’s views, but not so cautious of irony that we ignore Proust’s intention that the novel have something to do with his “intellectual beliefs.”14 With that in mind, consider the problem of jealousy.

LOVE AND JEALOUSY The issue of jealousy slips into the novel unobtrusively even for the very young Marcel at Combray (a boy of about six or seven) and not just because he is jealous of the time his mother spends away from him after he has been sent to bed. He relates a favorite pastime, watching the changing slides of a magic lantern show projected on his bedroom walls, as he listens to his great-​aunt recount the story of Golo and Geneviève de Brabant, itself an early connection with the magic of the Guermantes name. It is not a story suitable for or 13. S elected Letters, 1910–​1917, vol. 3, pp. 232–​233. 14. For example, there is no good reason to think there is some gap between the narrator’s views in Time Regained about time, memory, the self, and especially, art, and Proust’s own views, and plenty of reason, given what Proust wrote in his own name, to take the views “straight,” without irony. Even in this case, though, we should be cautious. In the midst of an episode of extensive theorizing by Marcel, in a novel some great percentage of which is the articulation of theories, laws, ideas, ideals, and “spiritual essences,” he notes that “A work in which there are theories is like an object which still has its price-​tag on it” (TR 278). This can only mean either that what he produces, what we are reading, is not a work of art, or it is an inferior one, with price tags, neither of which is credible; or, there are no theories stated with direct assertoric force by the author anywhere in the novel. There are plenty of theories in the novel but none are “the novel’s.” Another warning. (A more radical interpretation would be that the way we read and qualify “theories” expressed by literary characters, tying our interpretation to the issue of why that character would say that, for example, is the way any philosophical theory ought to be, first of all, considered. Something like that appears to be Nietzsche’s proposal for a new “philosophy of the future” in which psychology is “the queen of the sciences.”)



even comprehensible by such a small boy, although he understands enough to know that Golo had an “infamous design” and that what he did was “a crime.” In this thirteenth-​century story, Geneviève, the faithful wife of Siegfried, a high official of the empire, was falsely accused by Siegfried’s majordomo, Golo, himself a rejected suitor of Geneviève, of adultery, an accusation motivated by his jealousy and the rage it engendered. She is saved by the man who is supposed to execute her and must hide out alone with her son (Marcel’s fantasy, no doubt)15 until found by Siegfried and vindicated. So the young boy learns from the story how easily jealous doubt can be aroused, and how treacherous the issue is, how fraught with the possibility of false accusations and paranoia. Moreover, since the projections of Golo onto the walls in effect “color” everything Marcel sees (“even the doorknob”) with this story of jealousy, and since that image recurs a couple of times,16 it would seem that we are being alerted to the importance of the theme of jealousy for much of what will now be narrated, as if all illuminated “in its lights (or, better, shadow).” And so it is. There are four major love affairs in the novel:

1. Swann and Odette, 2. Marcel and Albertine, 3. Robert de Saint-​Loup and “Rachel when from the Lord,” and 4. Charlus and Morel.

15. Marcel tells us that the Golo story made his mother all the dearer to him and prompted him to examine his conscience regarding his mother, as if he had something to be guilty of, has somewhat identified himself with “fake adultery news” Golo. This strange reaction occurs simultaneously with his father abandoning his Oedipal role by permitting the mother to sleep with Marcel, and manifests his own willingness to be manipulative to gain time and attention from his mother. 16. See especially TR 342.


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There are others—​Marcel and Gilberte, Marcel and the Duchesse (unrequited), Vinteuil’s daughter and her friend, Robert and Morel—​but these four occupy far and away the most attention by the narrator. They all share the same peculiarities. They cross class boundaries for one thing; two aristocrats and two commoners; two wealthy “high society” bourgeois and two not wealthy or socially prominent, one a courtesan. The beloveds are all bisexual, for another thing. And the relationships are all characterized by jealousy, although Charlus is the least consumed by it, and is even proud of Morel’s feminine conquests. (This changes with the letter from Léa, a lesbian who has written to Morel that he was “one of them” [P 282ff.]. Thereafter Charlus joins the jealousy club.) The jealousy is all a function of a general state of unknowingness about the other, a great anxiety, even anguish, that one can never really know who the other is, whether the other’s self-​presentation and declarations of affection are trustworthy, what one’s status in the eyes of the other really is. This latter similarity, a state of anxious epistemological uncertainty, seems connected to the first two commonalities. In such a state of uncertainty, an unequal position, socially and financially, can serve to make the beloved dependent on the lover and so, the lover might reason, more dependably faithful. This is, of course, a bad bargain. The attention one receives is even more untrustworthy if “bought,” and it decreases the likelihood that one will have and be able to trust what one most wants, being loved.17And so such a relationship can increase, rather than moderate, jealous suspicions. And the fact that the beloveds are bisexual intensifies the unknowingness and so anxiety of the lovers, since the nature of that affection,

17. I realize that Marcel is forever saying that the views and experiences and even the identity of the beloved do not matter, are of no concern to him, but that is, as we shall see, among the more glaring instances of self-​deceit in a novel saturated by that phenomenon.



even what they actually do, is portrayed as unimaginable by men who do not share that form of love.18 In short, as has often been pointed out by commentators, love is treated in the novel largely as an epistemological problem, as inseparable from the desire to know and (in a less prominent way) to be known, and so, once posed this way, the inevitable uncertainties in such self-​and other-​knowledge make the anguish of jealousy equally inevitable. Love is in fact so characterized by anguish, pain, and misery that Ortega y Gasset may have been right when he said that Swann in Love shows us every kind of human feeling except love.19 He may have been prompted to say this because very little of what is commonly accepted as the nature of romantic love is on display in the novel. This category—​common understandings of love—​includes multitudes, ranging from the reductionist, the view that romance is a strategic idealization of what is basically animal lust, nature’s reproductive imperative, to quite idealized accounts. (An even more cynical version of the former: Swann and Marcel are men who simply want to deny the other any status as an equal free subject. They want instead to objectify them and to possess them as if objects of ownership. They are both simply neurotic, sexist men.)20 In the idealized accounts, the beloved has qualities that inspire affection and desire for intimacy and acknowledgment 18. As Ladenson (1999) points out, we get no sense (from the accounts we get of Albertine’s liaisons or Odette’s or Morel’s, who is characterized by his friend Léa as a male lesbian) that any of the lesbian relationships are haunted by jealousy, and in fact, Ladenson compellingly argues, they are rare examples in the novel of genuine mutuality. Ladenson, Proust’s Lesbianism. 19. “Le temps, la distance et la forme chez Marcel Proust,” in Hommage à Marcel Proust (Paris: Gallimard, 1927), p. 293. 20. Such a view seems to me facile and lazy; it ignores Proust’s deep, intricate, and nearly omnipresent reliance on irony. Anyone who has read through the thousands of pages of the book and come away with such a “reading” has obviously wasted a great deal of time. I will deal with the most cited passage in support of that view, Marcel watching Albertine sleep, below.


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from such an admired person. The qualities need not be virtues; they can be wit, cleverness, taste, but our admiration for the other’s possessing them is the key origin. The beauty that inspires love is as much physical as moral, in the broadest sense. A variation of sorts is what we might call Hegelian. Love is inspired by someone who, you think or hope, truly understands and appreciates you, as you understand and appreciate her (an emotionally intense version of “mutuality of recognition”). To understand and to be understood in that way invites even great intimacy, and so also sexual intimacy, but also the risk of a vulnerability to being wounded or judged. Hegel called this being oneself in another, such that dependence on and exposure to the other is not understood as a limitation but as a moment of self-​realization. This is something like what people mean when they say that they are completed by another; their life would be poorer without the other, or not complete; they couldn’t fully be who they are without the other. Nothing, it would seem, could be farther from the relatively joyless miseries shared by our four lovers. And readers can formulate what might seem to them the Proustian theory of love on the basis of this common distinctiveness. Here is a typical formulation of a key issue. Among all the modes by which love is brought into being, among all the agents which disseminate that blessed bane, there are few so efficacious as this gust of feverish agitation that sweeps over us from time to time. For then the die is cast, the person whose company we enjoy at that moment is the person we shall henceforward love. It is not even necessary for that person to have attracted us, up till then, more than or even as much as others. All that was needed was that our predilection should become exclusive. And that condition is fulfilled when—​in this moment of 169


deprivation—​the quest for the pleasures we enjoyed in his or her company is suddenly replaced by an anxious, torturing need, whose object is the person alone, an absurd, irrational need which the laws of this world make it impossible to satisfy and difficult to assuage—​the insensate, agonising need to possess exclusively. (S 326–​327)21

This is indeed typical, and a fuller statement of the supposed “Proustian theory” would have these four elements. (i) All romantic love is based on unavailability or indifference or the active hostility of beloved ( JF 597). (Obviously we do not fall in love with everyone indifferent or hostile to us, so there must be many other implicit necessary conditions at play: physical desirability, one’s type, some mystery that inspires erotic longing, whatever.) (ii) This sort of anguish about impossibility is the necessary, indispensable origin of love; no such anguish, no love. Love is even a kind of sickness; one falls in love the way one catches a cold.22 (A Marcel corollary: The person whom we love is to be recognized only by the intensity of the pain we suffer.)

21. De tous les modes de production de l’amour, de tous les agents de dissémination du mal sacré, il est bien l’un des plus efficaces, ce grand souffle d’agitation qui parfois passe sur nous. Alors l’être avec qui nous nous plaisons à ce moment—​là, le sort en est jeté, c’est lui que nous aimerons. Il n’est même pas besoin qu’il nous plût jusque—​là plus ou même autant que d’autres. Ce qu’il fallait, c’est que notre goût pour lui devînt exclusif. Et cette condition—​là est réalisée quand—​à ce moment où il nous a fait défaut—​à la recherche des plaisirs que son agrément nous donnait, s’est brusquement substitué en nous un besoin anxieux, qui a pour objet cet être même, un besoin absurde, que les lois de ce monde rendent impossible à satisfaire et difficile à guérir—​le besoin insensé et douloureux de le posséder. (p. 332) 22. Love is an “incurable malady” (“l’amour est un mal inguérissable “) (P 105).


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(iii) The beloved herself, who she is, her concrete individuality and qualities, matters little in love.23 She is just a vehicle for the projection of our fantasy, desires, needs. (Another corollary: The other’s feeling for us, as we experience it, is just our own feeling reflected back to us. She can be said to be “an inverted projection, a negative of our sensibility.” [ JF 647])24 (iv) Love in its passionate phase is largely fueled by, even indistinguishable from, jealousy.25 (Another corollary: the goal of love is possession, where this means dominating the attention and affection of the beloved, leaving no room for any other attentiveness or caring for any other, fully occupying her mind and her time.)

Aside from the problem of irony (these are Marcel’s views, and not, or at least not necessarily, Proust’s) and aside from the fact they reflect different stages in Marcel’s life, reflecting his experiences up to that point, he says a great many other things in the novel not consistent with such a “theory.” For example, contrary to (1), he once notes, If it is sometimes enough to make us love a woman that she looks on us with contempt, as I supposed Mlle. Swann to have done, while we imagine that she cannot ever be ours, it is enough, also, sometimes that she looks on us kindly, as Mme. de Guermantes

23. “. . . we never dream how small a place in it [our love] the real woman occupies” ( JF 597). 24. “ When we are in love with a woman, we project on her a state of our own soul” ( JF 563); we want to know the other, but “after a while we no longer distinguish [her] from ourselves” ( JF 648). 25. “To a woman who previously excited in us a mere paltry physical desire he instantly adds an immense value, foreign to her but confounded by us with her. If we had no rivals, pleasure would not transform itself into love” (TR 314).



did then, while we think of her as almost ours already. (S 249–​250)26

Also contrary to (1) is another passage from the same novel. “In his younger days a man dreams of possessing the heart of the woman whom he loves; later, the feeling that he possesses a woman’s heart may be enough to make him fall in love with her” (S 277). And there are plenty of passages, contrary to (3), that show us how self-​deceived and defensive the various pronouncements are about the irrelevance of the beloved’s relation to the lover is, as if she is a mere external screen for projection. Jealousy is moreover a demon that cannot be exorcised, but always returns to assume a fresh incarnation. Even if we could succeed in exterminating them all, in keeping forever her whom we love, the Spirit of Evil would then adopt another form, more pathetic still, despair at having obtained fidelity only by force, despair at not being loved. (P 129, my emphasis)27

The gist of such passages is the same: jealousy is not just an anxiety about a lack of “possession,” about the absence of the beloved, her possible greater intimacy with someone else. It is an anxiety about her relation to the lover, an uncertainty about one’s standing in her

26. S’il peut quelquefois suffire pour que nous aimions une femme qu’elle nous regarde avec mépris comme j’avais cru qu’avait fait Mlle Swann et que nous pensions qu’elle ne pourra jamais nous appartenir, quelquefois aussi il peut suffire qu’elle nous regarde avec bonté comme faisait Mme de Guermantes et que nous pensions qu’elle pourra nous appartenir. (S 175) 27. La jalousie est aussi un démon qui ne peut être exorcisé, et revient toujours incarner une nouvelle forme. Puissions-​nous arriver à les exterminer toutes, à garder perpétuellement celle que nous aimons, l’Esprit du Mal prendrait alors une autre forme, plus pathétique encore, le désespoir de n’avoir obtenu la fidélité que par force, le désespoir de n’être pas aimé.


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eyes, a need to know, to secure the knowledge, that one is loved, none of which is compatible with the “projection,” and the “her mere unattainability is enough to excite love” view. Consider Swann. To make Swann’s jealousy revive it was not essential that this woman should be unfaithful, it sufficed that for any reason she was separated from him, at a party for instance, where she was presumably enjoying herself. That was enough to reawaken in him the old anguish, that lamentable and inconsistent excrescence of his love, which held Swann ever at a distance from what she really was, like a yearning to attain the impossible (what this young woman really felt for him, the hidden longing that absorbed her days, the secret places of her heart). (JF 133)28

This distinctive anxiety about who they are in the minds of these women not only touches on one of the most general themes of the novel—​something like the existential dimension of unknowingness, or what it is like to live with the impossibility of satisfying a deep need to know—​it also helps explain two of the more mysterious and famous passages. And with the old, intermittent caddishness which reappeared in him when he was no longer unhappy and his moral standards dropped accordingly, he exclaimed to himself: “To think that I’ve wasted years of my life, that I’ve longed to die, that I’ve

28.  C’était assez pour réveiller en lui l’ancienne angoisse, lamentable et contradictoire excroissance de son amour, et qui éloignait Swann de ce qu’elle était comme un besoin d’atteindre (le sentiment réel que cette jeune femme avait pour lui, le désir caché de ses journées, le secret de son coeur) . . . (p. 95)



experienced my greatest love, for a woman who didn’t appeal to me, who wasn’t even my type!” (S 543)29

The bizarre paradox, that he has “wasted” his life, but for a great love (why would that be a waste?), and for a woman who did not appeal (ne me plaisait pas) to him (what could love mean if there were no pleasure in it? And what about all those obviously extremely pleasant “Cattleya” episodes?) is softened considerably by the narrator characterizing the moment as one of Swann’s “caddishness” (muflerie) and of a lowered moral standard. This is an indication that Swann’s whining here is dishonest, self-​deceived, is as defensive and self-​protective as is the general theory of love throughout the novel. What Swann is protecting himself from is his desperate dependence on Odette’s view of him, how vulnerable he is to what is revealed about that by when and why she is willing to lie and deceive. This is already indicated more honestly in the passages quoted above. Bersani is surely right that Swann is here engaging in a weak, defensive imitation of the “indifference” of the beloved, and it is just as transparent and unconvincing in his case as in most.30 The other strange event occurs at the beginning of The Captive, when Marcel seems to take a deeply perverse pleasure in Albertine being asleep, “as if a plant,” and believes that “her sleep realized to a certain extent the possibility of love: alone” (p. 84). The image we

29. Et avec cette muflerie intermittente qui reparaissait chez lui dès qu’il n’était plus malheureux et que baissait du même coup le niveau de sa moralité, il s’écria en lui−même: “Dire que j’ai gâché des années de ma vie, que j’ai voulu mourir, que j’ai eu mon plus grand amour, pour une femme qui ne me plaisait pas, qui n’était pas mon genre!” (p. 517) 30. Bersani, Marcel Proust, p. 63. This is also true of Swann’s aestheticization of Odette, his attempt to convince himself that his love for her is possible because she instantiates a Botticelli painting, and so he can possess her as one possesses an art object to be appreciated. This is transparently a way of protecting himself from the truth, that it is Odette who possesses him, not the other way around.


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are apparently encouraged to have is one of possession, domination, control, a free play of fantasy, and finally some form of sexual satisfaction while she is still asleep, all as if some corporeal realization of “the theory” that the beloved is a mere screen, a “silhouette.” But that image is undercut by what Marcel points to as the factor that provokes the anxiety that Albertine being asleep reduces: “when she was asleep, I no longer had to talk. I knew that I was no longer observed by her, I no longer needed to live on the surface of myself” (P 84, my emphasis; “je n’avais plus besoin de vivre à la surface de moi même,” p. 62). The fantasy is not that of his feasting his eyes on a passive subject. That is only a consequence of the real fantasy: not being looked at, which means both not having to be subject to a gaze he cannot penetrate, whose meaning he cannot fathom, and not having to play the role he thinks necessary to obtain her regard and love, not having to live on the surface of himself.31 He’s not so much feasting his eyes as enjoying hers being closed. This all does not mean that if Marcel were able to endure “being looked at” and all that that entails, and could penetrate the opaque gaze and find with certainty Albertine’s view of him, he would welcome the chance. On the contrary; such a revelation is both what he wants and what he fears, the fear being responsible for his self-​protective defensiveness. This is all made dramatically clear in the “kimono episode” in The Captive, when Marcel has a chance to read a possibly revelatory letter in Albertine’s kimono, but does not, in full knowledge of his own inconsistency (C 89).32

31. Obviously none of this excuses his behavior, although it does go to the relationship between self-​deceit and blame. 32. He is also aware of this paradoxical attitude; he knows that if he achieves what he desperately wants, knowledge of Albertine’s liaisons, it would destroy his love for Albertine and “almost kill” him, neither of which, of course, he wants. He knows he “adds sufficient uncertainty” to his search in order to “deaden the pain” (C 105).



Finally, reverting again to that 1914 letter to Rivière, in which Proust also mentions that, although the views that Marcel expresses, especially at the end of Swann’s Way (that time is lost forever) are errors, and that his own views will be clear in the last volume, we have to notice a strange absence in that discussion. What he discusses in that culminating reflection are themes that have appeared throughout: memory, time, the self, and above all art. But two issues that have greatly preoccupied him do not get this “my final view” treatment: society (and the related issues of snobbery, status, and vanity) and the love–​jealousy relationship. Jealousy is only mentioned half a dozen times in Time Regained, and the references are trivial, except for one, where he notes that the suffering caused by jealousy can benefit the artist, folding it into that other discussion.33 There is no return to that issue, which made up so much of Swann’s Way, Within a Budding Grove, The Captive, and The Fugitive. I suggest this is an indirect confirmation of the view that those “theories” are Marcel’s and to some extent Swann’s (implicitly Robert’s, and even more implicitly, an explanation of Charlus’s anxiety about Morel). Their views are psychologically revelatory and important in the novel, but not because they indicate any generalized theory of love and jealousy.34 It would not only be impossible to generalize from the views of such distinct characters, even their own views are inconsistent and self-​deceived. The gap between what they think they believe and what they actually believe is wide and obvious. As 33. And this reference just repeats what Marcel had expressed several times: that suffering is good for inspiring self-​knowledge and knowledge of others. 34. There are all sorts of reasons that undermine any possible such theory. See H. G. Picherit, “The Impossibly Many Loves of Charles Swann: The Myth of Proustian Love and the Reader’s ‘Impression’ in Un amour de Swann,” Poetics Today 28, no. 4 [Winter 2007]: 619–​ 652, for the best demonstration of this, and why the illusion of an objective theory of love is so important to what the novel does to a reader. His account of the different descriptions of the nine “first times” Swann fell in love and why is invaluable.


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we shall see, the fact that that sort of generalization is impossible does not mean that they do not have a general significance. That is, none of this means that we are just reading case studies of a few men whose egos are too fragile to bear the uncertainty and anxiety that attends any vulnerable exposure to another in intimate love. Their real anxiety in love is other than what they describe, and while that genuine anxiety is still fueled by the pathologies of narcissism, self-​serving self-​deceit, and manipulative behavior, it also manifests something of general significance about the world in which they suffer this way, the late modern world emerging right before and after the First World War.35

BEING JEALOUS OF ONESELF There is one great peculiarity in both the depicted experiences of jealousy and in the numerous analyses to which it is subject by Marcel. Contrary to a very widespread representation of the experience, it is never described in Proust’s work as provoking what we might normally expect: anger, even violent rage at a possible betrayal of one’s trust. In a great many literary representations, from Medea to Othello to Effie Briest to endless detective novels, such anger destroys people’s lives and provokes murderous reprisals. Yet 35. It would require a separate and unavoidably lengthy discussion to understand how Proust thinks of the relation between historical time and the distinctiveness within that time of characters’ emotional lives. Given how much of the novel is devoted to chronicling not just the decay and final dissolution of class boundaries (the realization that class is the “royaume du néant”) but also the impact of technology on Europe, and the political “jealousies” between France and Germany, and so forth, he must have intended to show why the anxiety of unknowingness should have assumed such a salient form (jealousy) in this world. My suggestion would be that it has something to do with distinctive modern forms of dependence and the vulnerabilities it creates, the conformism it requires, and the effects of expectations about romantic love in such a world.



it remains a deeply epistemological problem in Proust’s depiction, a matter of passive suffering, not active revenge. If jealousy were to be understood as motivated by an egotistical demand for omnipotent control of the beloved, for complete subjugation of the beloved’s ego to one’s own, this is what we might expect, jealousy being so often an impotent rage and tied to a motive of revenge. Jealousy is, of course, sometimes very much like this or exactly this. Marcel admits several times that there are many varieties of jealousy, that many causes provoke it, and that many implications can follow from it (P 28). The novel, though, is not concerned with those, but with this, let us call it, epistemological version. The absence of such a reaction in Proust thus suggests that he has a different understanding of jealousy. What is that understanding? Here I want to follow a brief suggestion made by Bersani but not pursued by him in the following way,36 and one also on the surface in Proust’s depiction, as we have already noted. Proust’s formulaic account occurs at the end of The Captive. Marcel is in the midst of a startling revelation that, during all the time and energy and emotional investment expended in keeping Albertine prisoner, he himself had been having multiple affairs with other women.37 He thus can imagine his jealousy about Albertine’s liaisons as her potential jealous anxiety about his own infidelities. Since Albertine is so opaque to him, he must imagine Albertine as his unfaithful self.

36. Bersani make the interesting link between this self-​jealousy and homosexuality. Bersani, Marcel Proust, p. 180ff. 37. This is one of many such startling revelations that need their own category. There are several such events in Marcel’s life that, given the volumes we have read about him, would seem crucial to understanding him. He has fought many duels? He makes frequent trips to brothels? Wait: he picks up little girls, invites them to his room to sit on his lap, and is arrested for it by the police? Charlus actually intended to murder Morel? I think many of these revelations are meant to disabuse us that we know these characters any better than anyone in the novel knows anyone, that anyone anywhere knows anyone very well.


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As he puts it, “As there is no knowledge, there is no jealousy except of oneself ” (P 519).38 But this image of being jealous of oneself, jealous of oneself both as and “in” the other, is significant in itself. For the image, while extraordinarily unusual, once so formulated, is perfectly apt for the novel’s treatment. In being jealous, that is, anxious, suffering because of the possibility of unfaithfulness, you are really anxious about the unavailability of the beloved’s image of you. You are jealous, in effect, of the affair the beloved is having with you, with that unknown you who cannot be reached, seen, known. Her view of you might be revealed in what she is willing to do, whom she is willing to see, and so an investigation of these matters is a pursuit as well and more importantly of her “you.” What she does and says in confidence to others expresses the seriousness and meaning of her image of you, of who she takes you to be, what you mean to her. It reflects a deeply familiar general anxiety in love, one usually held in bounds and subject to reassurance: does the other love me as I love her? Does she love me at all? Or does she love a me I have pretended to be in order to secure that affection? ln this form of jealousy, you are not so much anxious that you will lose her to others but that her possible liaisons with others imply a relation to you (or no relation, it could be, to you) which you have no access to. Despite the characterizations Swann and Marcel give of their jealousy, we have already seen what their anxiety is really about. In the “To make Swann’s jealousy revive” passage ( JF 133), it was already clear that that object sought was “what this young woman really felt for him, the hidden longing that absorbed her days, the secret places of her heart.” And in the 38. “Comme il n’est de connaissance, on peut presque dire, qu’il n’est de jalousie que de soi-​ même” (p. 371). (A separate study is needed of the meaning of the unusual modality of qualified assertion that pervades Marcel’s reflections. On peut presque dire is only one of hundreds of such qualifiers as “perhaps,” “it might be said,” “one might think,” and so forth.)



“jealousy is a demon” passage, Marcel admits that what is so upsetting in jealousy is “despair at having obtained fidelity only by force, despair at not being loved” (P 129). There is a moving passage in Swann’s Way when much of this becomes clear to Swann himself, as he reflects on the fate of his love for Odette. And Swann could distinguish, standing motionless before that scene of remembered happiness, a wretched figure who failed him with such pity, because he did not at first recognise who it was, that he had to lower his eyes lest anyone should observe that they were filled with tears. It was himself. When he had realised this, his pity ceased; he was jealous, now, of that other self whom she had loved, he was jealous of those men of whom he had so often said, without suffering too much: “Perhaps she loves them,” now that he had exchanged the vague idea of loving, in which there is no love, for the petals of the chrysanthemum and the letterhead of the Maison Dorée, which were full of it. And then, his anguish becoming too intense, he drew his hand across his forehead, let the monocle drop from his eye, and wiped its glass. And doubtless, if he had caught sight of himself at that moment, he would have added, to the collection of those which he had already identified, this monocle which he removed like an importunate, worrying thought and from whose misty surface, with his handkerchief, he sought to obliterate his cares. (S 475–​476, my emphasis)39 39. Et Swann aperçut, immobile en face de ce bonheur revécu, un malheureux qui lui fit pitié parce qu’il ne le reconnut pas tout de suite, si bien qu’il dut baisser les yeux pour qu’on ne vît pas qu’ils étaient pleins de larmes. C’était lui−même. Quand il l’eut compris, sa pitié cessa, mais il fut jaloux de l’autre lui−même qu’elle avait aimé, il fut jaloux de ceux dont il s’était dit souvent sans trop souffrir “elle les aime peut−être,” maintenant qu’il avait échangé


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This represents a kind of double unknowingness. You are frustrated because you feel shut out from her view of you, and there can always be plenty of possible indications that that view might not be what you think it is or would like it to be. If Marcel and Swann try to pull the beloved into their own fantasies of who she is, how she might satisfy their own needs, her living presence and her secret other life may and, it turns out in these episodes, do constantly undermine and conflict with that drama going on in your own head, and reveal that her view of what you are doing and her resistance to it in that other life, the one you don’t see (unless you can entomb her up in your house) are not controllable by you. However strong your projected fantasy, you are playing a role in her mental drama that inspires this form of jealousy, jealousy of you playing that role, that partner of hers you most want to control, indeed to be, but on your terms.40 This is a double unknowingness because, at least as Marcel sees it, your own self-​knowledge depends on such responsiveness from another, one you can distort by projection or make unavailable by inspiring a worry about jealousy that makes its availability to you even more difficult. (“As soon as jealousy is discovered, it is regarded by her who is its object as a challenge which authorises deception.

l’idée vague d’aimer, dans laquelle il n’y a pas d’amour, contre les pétales du chrysanthème et l’ ”en−tête’‘ de la maison d’or, qui, eux, en étaient pleins. Puis sa souffrance devenant trop vive, il passa sa main sur son front, laissa tomber son monocle, en essuya le verre. Et sans doute, s’il s’était vu à ce moment−là, il eût ajouté à la collection de ceux qu’il avait distingués, le monocle qu’il déplaçait comme une pensée importune et sur la face embuée duquel, avec un mouchoir, il cherchait à effacer des soucis. (pp. 162–​163) 40. This deep need to “see through the eyes of another” is precisely one of the main functions of art. It can satisfy this need, or at least suggest what it might be to satisfy it, as in one of the most famous and lyrical passages about art. “The only true voyage would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others . . . and this we can do with an Elistir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from star to star” (P 343).



Moreover, in our endeavour to learn something, it is we who have taken the initiative in lying and deceit” (S 73). And that deprives you of a major vehicle of self-​knowledge, this potential conflict between your self-​image and these challenges. (“. . . it is only with the passions of others that we are ever really familiar, and what we come to discover about our own can only be learned from them” [S 181]). This same surface/​reality distinction applies as well to the whole issue of “possession.” On the surface, the desire seems to be to end uncertainty about the beloved by totally possessing her, controlling not so much where she goes and whom she sees so much as her desires, to occupy her whole “mental space,” leaving room for nothing more. So we get pronouncements like “For the possession of what we love is an even greater joy than love itself ” (P 58). But that sort of possession, the surface version, ends up not possessing anything. If successful, the other has vanished, has been absorbed into the lover’s fantasy. There is an example of that in the novel, and again it is deeply and obviously ironic. She [Albertine] had called back into herself everything of her that lay outside, had taken refuge, enclosed, reabsorbed, in her body. In keeping her before my eyes, in my hands, I had that impression of possessing her altogether, which I never had when she was awake. Her life was submitted to me, exhaled towards me its gentle breath.

And again, possess what? What “life”? The reality of the fantasy involves the same paradox that what is sought is the possession of oneself, the self, that image of yourself in the beloved, who, one worries, is living in her without your control. That is why this passage precedes the one quoted above, where what is so satisfying to him is that her eyes are closed, not so much that his can look and analyze 182

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all they want. This corresponds to that cliché about love: that one is not in possession of oneself; the other is. And this is important in just the same double sense as jealousy is, fueled first by anxiety about whom exactly the beloved loves, if she loves at all, and second, by an even deeper anxiety about who one is, given that Proust has undermined the value of introspection throughout and, by showing us the near omnipresence of self-​deceit, no sort of self-​reporting is at all reliable. And in both cases the aspiration is just as impossible to fulfill. There is no certainty in these matters, no reassurance. Even aspects of snobbery are connected with this dynamic, with what is really at stake in jealousy. The fierce loyalty demanded by Mme Verdurin, and her avowed contempt for the Faubourg St. Germain, clearly betray an anxiety either that they have no view of her at all, that her status with them is “no status,” or that she is regarded with amusing condescension, or that members of her clan, if allied with other clans, could represent her in ways she cannot control. Hence, Marcel opines, “Mme Verdurin’s hatred is just a special, social form of jealousy” (P 370). She wants to engineer a world that reflects back to her only her elevated, idealized versions of herself, as when we cling to our own social group, gossiping about, hostile to, other groups. We seek to avoid, as with possession of the beloved, disconfirmation of our positive views of ourselves and our group, to engineer a reflection back to us of our own, usually self-​ deceived view of ourselves. Hence also her intense jealousy, especially of the world of Swann and ultimately of Charlus, in which she probably suspects she is considered a vulgar, middle-​brow, arriviste social climber. As in all the cases in the novel, snobbish indifference to others is a preemptive defense against their indifference and contempt for you. Indifference is a way of blocking their threat to you and your self-​image. Marcel comes to realize the pathetic and futile nature of this social striving. 183


A PHILOSOPHICAL DIMENSION? The characterization of love and jealousy in the novel, however common to a set of different characters, cannot be considered “Proust’s theory” of either. But as we have seen, there is an underlying dimension to the epistemological problematic that animates the anxiety or even anguish at the heart of the character’s experience, and that dimension does suggest a more general significance that might bear on the moral psychological issue of love and its overall normative dimensions: that is, its value and the proper attentiveness to and appropriate acknowledgment of its value in human life. That dimension involves what is so highlighted as to be exaggerated, almost to the exclusion of all else, in Proust’s narrative—​what we have been calling the epistemological dimension. Any love, aside from some amour fou, must inspire an attempt by each to know the other, and especially to know what one is for that other. What it is to be somewhat confident that “one knows another” as opposed to knowing a fact or something about an object is what is at issue. Of course, that need to know what one is for the other, and an attendant jealousy of that unknown “you,” need not overwhelm the experience, to the exclusion even of coming to know the other, genuinely and in no directly self-​related way; to understand who it is whom one has come to care so much about. Moreover, in any such attempt one’s own self-​knowledge is at stake, too. In trying to understand what the beloved makes of one, one measures against some conception of who one thinks one is, and finding in that measure some discordance between your view and hers, can either cause mere disappointment that one is not understood, or some realization that one is not who one took oneself to


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be; or simply to be stuck between such alternatives, with no obvious resolution in sight.41 One might accept that all this is true as an account of the focus for this theme in the novel, but note that it seems to leave everything, just as so stated, as an “issue raised,” that all we see in the novel are what would have to be called distortions of such a dimension, an anxiety about both sides of the issue, knowing her, and understanding who one is for her, as well as a serious (apparent) indifference to another dimension just as crucial. For that latter dimension is only possible if one lets oneself be known. If love is inseparable from a desire to know, it is also inseparable from a desire to be loved (as the passages we have cited, despite what Swann and Marcel might sometimes say, they both realize at some level), and that desire must reflect a willingness to be known.42 But in the Swann–​Odette and Marcel–​Albertine relationships, despite occasional guarded revelations to the other about how much the beloveds mean to the lovers, we see little realization of this and a massive amount of self-​deceived self-​protectiveness. And we have so little sense of the inner lives of the two beloveds that there is little evidence about how all these issues play out for them. Once again, we seem to have issues raised, and no guide about what, with things going wrong, it might be for them to go right. 41. Jealousy restricts this inquiry even more. Swann and Marcel seem limited in their ambition to knowing whether someone else is more important or as important as whoever one is for the beloved. Their search seems limited to “how important” (or not) one is for the other, yet another indication of the narcissism of both. 42. I have mentioned that, although there is no possible generalization to a Proustian theory of love, there are a number of other generalities at stake in the account of love and jealousy. Another is that Marcel’s epistemological version of the problem of love is an inflection of the broadest theme in the novel: the attempt to escape subjectivity, while remaining a subject. Marcel vacillates between a fantasy of merging with the world in a subject-​less identity, and a worry that he can never reach any foreign “other,” is trapped within his own subjectivity.



But we can take our bearings here from an important passage in Within a Budding Grove, a conversation between the young Marcel and Elstir. It is a “truth through (perhaps only through) error” passage that bears on this issue. It is something already signaled in Swann’s Way. While the kitchen-​maid—​who, all unawares, made the superior qualities of Françoise shine with added lustre, just as Error, by force of contrast, enhances the triumph of Truth . . . (S113, my emphasis)

Here is Elstir’s fuller account. “There is no man,” he began, “however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived in a way the consciousness of which is so unpleasant to him in later life that he would gladly, if he could, expunge it from his memory. And yet he ought not entirely to regret it, because he cannot be certain that he has indeed become a wise man—​so far as it is possible for any of us to be wise—​unless he has passed through all the fatuous or unwholesome incarnations by which that ultimate stage must be preceded. I know that there are young fellows, the sons and grandsons of famous men, whose masters have instilled into them nobility of mind and moral refinement in their schooldays. They have, perhaps, when they look back upon their past lives, nothing to retract; they can, if they choose, publish a signed account of everything they have ever said or done; but they are poor creatures, feeble descendants of doctrinaires, and their wisdom is negative and sterile. We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one 186

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can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.” ( JF 603–​604)43

So while there are few signs that Swann and Marcel have worked their way through error to truth (per aspera, ad astra), there are some.44 Swann seems to have cured himself of his poisonous jealousy, or at least he stops pestering her about it, and he settles into a bourgeois daily life that he actually seems to enjoy. This former star of the Faubourg set does not at all seem to mind that Odette’s salon must start “at the bottom,” and he praises his wife’s brilliance and the glamour of her guests (like various low-​level ministers) as if they were Guermantes, all with no hint of irony or condescension. He continues his endless affairs, but, in a telling scene, he realizes that he could, and used to plan to, wound Odette the way her past and perhaps recent past had wounded him, and this by throwing in her face all his recent liaisons. But he does not; he has no wish to wound her and is quite solicitous.45 And the very absence of any further reflection by Marcel on Albertine and her lesbian life in Time Regained indicates that he may have given up the goal of knowing for sure 43. Mais il ne doit pas absolument le regretter, parce qu’il ne peut être assuré d’être devenu un sage, dans la mesure où cela est possible, que s’il a passé par toutes les incarnations ridicules ou odieuses qui doivent précéder cette dernière incarnation-​là. Je sais qu’il y a des jeunes gens, fils et petit-​fils d’hommes distingués, à qui leurs précepteurs ont enseigné la noblesse de l’esprit et l’élégance morale dès le collège. Ils n’ont peut-​être rien à retrancher de leur vie, ils pourraient publier et signer tout ce qu’ils ont dit, mais ce sont de pauvres esprits, descendants sans force de doctrinaires, et de qui la sagesse est négative et stérile. On ne reçoit pas la sagesse, il faut la découvrir soi-​même après un trajet que personne ne peut faire pour nous, ne peut nous épargner, car elle est un point de vue sur les choses. (p. 427) 44. The most extensive treatment of this “method,” truth through error, is provided in Chapters Twelve through Sixteen in V. Descombes, Proust: Philosophy of the Novel, trans. C. C. Macksey (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992). 45. And he who, when he was suffering at the hands of Odette, would have looked forward so keenly to letting her see one day that he had fallen to a rival, now that he was in a position to do so took infinite precautions lest his wife should suspect the existence of this new love ( JF 134).



what she did, with whom she was, and so, we have suggested, what role he actually played in her life. This can only be speculation at this point, but both seem to have realized that the knowledge of the other they sought, while an inevitable need, is not attainable as some momentous insight, the discovery of some truth-​maker that resolves the question of who she is and who you are for her. That “discovery” model is a misconceived one, unsuitable in resolving any question we might have about the beloved.46 Knowledge of the other is some sort of diachronic and interactive process, and it is interpretive, not matter of fact. Marcel seems to realize that knowing whom Albertine was with will not be satisfying, will not tell him what any episode meant to her, and thereby what he meant to her. Accordingly, there can never be the certainty they both seek in knowledge of the beloved. There just is no certainty in such matters, no resolution, just continual, often fraught interpretive work, at some point requiring a large measure of trust. There is a good hint about what knowing another person amounts to, knowing a subject, that is, not an object, given in the reflections inspired by Marcel’s encounter with the late work of Vinteuil, in particular the septet he hears. He thinks the music convinces him, given the distinctiveness of the style, that the “individual did exist,” despite the evidence of “the sciences,” and could 46. So this is not a “skepticism about other minds” issue. That problem is based on the punctuated discovery model, either perceiving the other’s inner life, or inferring to what it must be. That form of skepticism is an essentially seventeenth-​century version, arising when a modern view of the body inspired the anxiety that it was a brute barrier to knowledge of the other’s mind, the immaterial mental. In Proust’s version, knowledge of the other is interpretive and, given the nature of the object, the self, necessarily diachronic, not punctual. The problem here is not mainly the body but falseness, inauthenticity, self-​deceit, as “barriers.” Proust’s version of skepticism is eighteenth century, in other words, inspired by Diderot and Rousseau, not Descartes. (This places the issue outside the realm Cavell made famous as the modern problem of skepticism. His is a seventeenth-​century version, too.)


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serve as a kind of “proof of the irreducible individual existence of the soul” (P 341). He knows Vinteuil by knowing this style, or what he calls the “accent” that is Vinteuil, all as others would know him.47 As the passage makes extensively clear, realizing this is only the first step in trying to understand what the accent or style amounts to, just what it tells him musically. (The temporal dimension of music, being able to “follow it” successfully in time, is also obviously relevant to getting it all right.) And again, such interpretive work is not terminable, just as what it would be to “know” Albertine or even himself would not be. Perhaps we are called back to the image of Golo projected by the magic lantern over everything, “accenting” everything with that distinct but shifting “color”; the self as a form of a world, but never an object in it like all others.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Albaret, Céleste. Monsieur Proust. New York: NYRB Books, 2003. Bersani, L. Marcel Proust: The Fictions of Life and Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Descombes, V. Proust: Philosophy of the Novel. Translated by C. C. Macksey. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992. Gasset, Ortega y. “Le temps, la distance et la forme chez Marcel Proust.” Hommage à Marcel Proust, Special issue of La Nouvelle Revue Française no. 112 (1923): 267–​279. Girard, R. Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure. Translated by Y. Freccero. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965. Ladenson, E. Proust’s Lesbianism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999. Landy, J. Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception and Knowledge in Proust. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

47. For a more extensive discussion of the “accent” view of the self, see Robert Pippin, “ ‘On Becoming Who One Is’ (and Failing): Proust’s Problematic Selves,” in The Persistence of Subjectivity: On the Kantian Aftermath (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 336–​337.



Picherit, H. G. “The Impossibly Many Loves of Charles Swann: The Myth of Proustian Love and the Reader’s ‘Impression’ in Un amour de Swann.” Poetics Today 28, no. 4 (Winter 2007): 619–​652. Pippin, R. “ ‘On Becoming Who One Is’ (and Failing): Proust’s Problematic Selves.” In The Persistence of Subjectivity: On the Kantian Aftermath. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, pp. 307–​338.


Chapter 7

In Search of Lost Weather DORA ZHANG

I’m interested in the weather. Who isn’t? —​Lisa Robertson, “The Weather: A Report on Sincerity”

In a 1905 lecture on “The Lesson of Balzac,” Henry James offers a literary history in the form of a weather report. His subject is the “the color of the air with which this, that or the other painter of life (as we call them all), more or less unconsciously suffuses his picture.” Unconsciously, that is, “because I speak here of an effect of atmosphere . . . an emanation of [the writer’s] spirit, temper, history . . . the particular tone of the medium in which each vision, each clustered group of persons and places and objects, is bathed.”1 How different is the climate in Fielding and Richardson, Scott and Dumas, Hawthorne and Meredith, George Eliot and George Sand, James marvels. Do we not feel the general landscape opened by each of them “not to open itself under the same sun that hangs over the neighboring scene, not to receive the solar rays at the same angle, not to exhibit its shadows with the same intensity or the same 1. Henry James, Literary Criticism (New York: Library of America, 1984), 2:125. Dora Zhang, In Search of Lost Weather In: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Edited by: Katherine Elkins, Oxford University Press. © Oxford University Press 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780190921576.003.0008


sharpness; not, in short, to seem to belong to the same time of day or the same state of the weather?”2 Although Proust could not have been included in James’s literary meteorological survey, he surely belongs in one. Few twentieth-​century writers have been more interested in the weather, and few works could more profitably be considered as “an effect of atmosphere” than À la recherche du temps perdu. Proust’s interest in the state of the skies is announced in the title of his work. As Michel Serres observes, “By chance or wisdom, the French language uses a single word, temps, for the time that passes and for the weather outside.”3 So it is that, although the great theme of À la recherche du temps perdu is famously time, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick quips in a late essay that it would be something more than a pun to translate it as “In Search of Lost Weather.”4 Like its Spanish and Italian cognates (tiempo and tempo, respectively), the French temps derives from the Latin tempus, meaning both “time” and “season.”5 The close imbrication of these terms is evident in the Recherche, where the wake-​up scenes that are so common throughout the novel are usually also attended by descriptions of

2. James, 2:125. 3. Michel Serres, The Natural Contract (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1995), p. 27. Compare this with Roland Barthes on the dual sense of the term: “Our French language—​which, in this respect as in others, is barbaric (because ‘civilized’)—​flattens the species onto the genus and censures the force of individuation, of difference, of nuance, of shimmering existentiality in the relationship between man and the atmosphere.” Barthes notes that French adds a causative, “what-​the-​weather-​is-​like [le-​temps-​qu’il-​fait]” in order to make clear “that what’s at stake in this notion is an active relation between the subject and the present.” The Preparation of the Novel (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), p. 37. 4. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Weather in Proust (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), p. 8. 5. As John Durham Peters notes, the dual sense of tempus is preserved in English in terms such as temporal and tempest. “Terms such as temperature, tempering, temp, and temperament show shared semantic fields across heat, harmony, rhythm, and mood.” The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), p. 244.


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the skies outside. Omitting the specificity of calendar dates, Proust prefers to mark the passage of time instead by the transformation of one season into another, as, for instance, the coming of autumn spells the imminent return from Balbec to Paris. And the seasonal rhythms of recurrence and intermittence are also classically those of the Recherche. On the one hand, the novel is characterized by a set of regular repetitions (of characters, relationships, events, settings), but on the other hand, it emphasizes discontinuity and the mutual impenetrability of any state (and each self) to a successive one. Just as we find it difficult to remember in winter what it is like in summer, Proust writes of a sudden change in the narrator’s mood, “The zone of melancholy which I then entered was as distinct from the zone in which I had been bounding with joy a moment before as, in certain skies, a band of pink is separated, as though a line invisibly ruled, from a band of green or black . . . I was now so remote from the longings by which I had just been absorbed . . . that their fulfilment would have afforded me no pleasure” (1:257–​258).6 Given their role as temporal markers, it is no surprise that atmospheric states should bear a close association with memory, especially of the kind most prized in Proust. Indeed, the potency famously associated with a certain pastry dipped in tea is also possessed in a much more mundane way by changes in the air.7 In The Guermantes Way when the narrator finds himself humming a

6. Alexandra Harris notes the difficulty of remembering weather conditions other than the ones we are in, Weatherland (London: Thames Hudson, 2016), p. 9. Citations of Proust, hereafter given in parentheses in the body of the text, refer to the edition of In Search of Lost Time translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, and revised by D. J. Enright, 6 vols. (New York: Modern Library, 2003), 1:257–​258. I have sometimes silently modified the translation. References to the French refer to the Gallimard Folio edition. 7. As Sedgwick puts it, “the very ordinary seriality of weather offers a kind of daily, ground-​tone pulsation of the mémoire involontaire—​anachronistic by definition—​that elsewhere sets off a very few moments of gemlike preciousness.” “Weather in Proust,” p. 8.



long-​forgotten tune on the first fine day portending winter’s end, he marvels, “So profoundly, and so unpredictably, does the atmosphere act on our organism and draw from dim reserves where we had forgotten them the melodies written there which our memory has failed to decipher” (3:187). Elsewhere in the same volume, an out-​of-​season day is explicitly granted the power of reincarnation. “Although it was simply a Sunday in autumn, I had been born again, life lay intact before me, for that morning, after a succession of mild days, there had been a cold fog which had not cleared until nearly midday: and a change in the weather is sufficient to create the world and ourselves anew” (3:472). What links the weather to the forgotten sensations capable of triggering involuntary memories is that they exceed the will. Even today, as human activity has altered the climate in increasingly catastrophic ways, it still remains true that on a day-​to-​day level, we cannot choose the conditions of the skies. What’s importantly shared among the disparate impressions capable of yielding truths for the Proustian narrator—​whether they’re past memories, like the madeleine, or present sensations, like “a cloud, a triangle, a clock, a flower, a pebble”—​is they’re not chosen but given: “their first characteristic was that I was not free to choose them, that they were given to me just as they were [qu’elle m’étaient données telles quelles]. And I sensed that this had to be the mark of their authenticity.” What is not chosen but given is that which can surprise us, and this surprise, in turn, guarantees the truth of an external reality independent of our minds.8 In the Recherche, contingency is the ineluctable sign of the real. And what could be more contingent than the weather? 8. As Joshua Landy writes, “We know that a world of perspective-​independent objects exists outside of our mind. The clearest proof is that life constantly manages to surprise us, defying any actual or even potential expectation on our part.” Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004), p. 78.


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Given Proust’s abiding interest in the state of the atmosphere, what sort of philosophy of weather can we discern in his novel? What would such a philosophy even look like? The weather forms the constant background of our lives and regulates its daily rhythms, but for all that, it has received little sustained philosophical attention. One reason for this silence, the cultural anthropologist Tim Ingold suggests, is a sort of ontological difficulty. “Between the materiality of nature and the agency of its human occupants, between the worlds of things and persons, there remains no conceptual space for those very real phenomena and transformations of the medium that we generally recognize as weather.”9 By referring to the weather as transformations of a medium, Ingold is following James. J. Gibson’s classic ecological approach to visual perception and his tripartite division of the inhabited world into “a medium, substances, and the surfaces that separate them.”10 For Gibson, substances are comprised of the solid stuff of earth, while surfaces are the interface between substance and medium, for instance, “the earth-​water interface at the bottom of a lake” or “the earth-​air interface” at the top.11 As for an environmental medium, its chief characteristics lie in what it enables. “It affords respiration or breathing; it permits locomotion; it can be filled with illumination so as to permit vision; it allows detection of vibrations and detection of diffusing emanations.”12 So the atmosphere, the medium we normally inhabit (the other one on our planet is water), allows us to breathe, move around, and transmit waves of light and sound so that we can see,

9. T. Ingold, “Visual Perception and the Weather,” Visual Studies, vol. 20:2, 2005, p. 103. 10. James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (Milton Park: Taylor & Francis, 1986), p. 16. 11. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, p. 16. 12. The sentence concludes, “it is homogeneous, and finally, it has an absolute axis of reference, up and down.” Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, pp. 17–​18.



hear, and smell; and what we call weather are just the fluctuations within it.13 As both a crucial part of meteorological systems and also “where” we tend to think of sunshine, rain, fog, and snow as being “located,” atmosphere—​and weather—​is a medium. Ingold writes, “As an experience of light, sound and feeling that suffuses our awareness, the weather is not so much an object of perception as what we perceive in, underwriting our very capacities to see, to hear and to touch.”14 Drawing on Merleau-​Ponty and Heidegger, Ingold argues that the “weather-​world” is the condition of possibility for the mutual constitution of people and the landscape. “The weather, in short, is the ‘world’s worlding’—​to adopt Heidegger’s expression—​and as such it is . . . the very temperament of being.”15 The idea that we do not perceive weather so much as perceive in weather, or perhaps through it, resonates with a Proustian sensibility. Like Heidegger’s Stimmung, a mood or atmosphere that is not in us so much as something we are in, the weather attunes us, and through this attuning, shows us the imbrication of the self and the environment.16 “We do not touch the wind, nevertheless things feel different when it is windy compared with when it is calm. For we touch in the wind. Wind is an experience of feeling, just as the brilliance or cloudiness of the sky is an experience of light.”17 If, as Merleau-​Ponty suggests in The Phenomenology of Perception, our awareness of ourselves is always 13. “The atmospheric medium, unlike the underwater medium, is subject to certain kinds of change that we call weather.” Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, p. 19. 14. T. Ingold, Being Alive (Milton Park: Routledge, 2011), p. 130. 15. Ingold, Being Alive, p. 130. 16. S timmung is “not simply a consequence or side effect of our thinking, doing and acting” but a primordial condition of our encounter with the world, prior to cognition and volition. “It is—​to put it crudely—​the presupposition for such things, the ‘medium’ in which our thinking, doing, and acting occurs.” Heidegger, Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), p. 67. 17. Ingold, “Visual Perception and the Weather,” p. 103.


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embodied and located in space, this includes the medium of the weather in which we find ourselves. As I have begun to indicate, thinking about the weather opens up onto a number of phenomenological, epistemological, and aesthetic problems.18 My reflections in this essay will center on the weather as an everyday experience of contingency, and as a medium of perception, one that can function as a figure for art. First, in spite of advances in meteorological science over the last century and a half, the weather remains famously unpredictable. How do we respond to this daily confrontation with uncertainty, when we cannot be completely sure that it won’t rain tomorrow, even if we trust that the sun will indeed rise? For Proust, this question is especially fraught for the childhood narrator, when certain key events, such as the direction of the family walk in Combray or his ability to see Gilberte at the Champs Elysées, is determined by the vagaries of the skies. But whereas in his subsequent romantic relationships, epistemological uncertainty is a cause of painful anguish, his response to the unpredictability of the weather offers a less fraught model of dealing with our nonomnipotence. Second, thinking of the weather as medium of perception in fact comes very close to Proust’s own description of the work of art. In Time Regained, he writes, “A name read in a book long ago contains within its syllables the strong wind and brilliant sunshine that prevailed while we read it. In this way, literature that contents itself with ‘describing things,’ with giving of them merely a miserable relief of lines and surfaces, is that which, while calling itself realist, 18. Needless to say, the weather also opens up problems of ecology and environment, which I regretfully leave aside here. See Michael Rubenstein and Justin Neuman, Modernism and Its Environments (London: Bloomsbury, 2020), for an illuminating consideration of modernism and weather from an ecological perspective, including a brief but suggestive discussion of Proust.



is the furthest removed from reality.” According to this logic, the ultimate aesthetic project is not to write a book but to recreate a climate. Taking the work as a climate or an atmosphere may give us a way to understand it outside the generic conventions of the novel, inviting us to rethink what the artwork can enable when conceived not as an object, or a narrative, but as a medium or an environment. If the Recherche can be taken as a kind of weather system itself, what does it mean to read for and amid the atmosphere of Proust?

“IF IT IS FINE” A lot can depend on the weather. Especially, it seems, for children in the signal works of high modernism. To the Lighthouse begins with Mrs. Ramsay, the beloved matriarch, saying, “Yes, of course, if it is fine tomorrow,” filling her son, James Ramsay, with “an extraordinary joy, as if it were settled.”19 But his father, looking out of the window, immediately deflates his hopes, issuing the verdict, “ ‘it won’t be fine.’ ”20 In Swann’s Way, the Proustian narrator’s father also makes predictions about the weather in deciding which of two “ways” to take on their family walks in Combray: the longer Guermantes way if the skies are fine and promise to stay that way, and the Méséglise or Swann’s way if the weather is uncertain. These two paths, which initially seem to the narrator diametrically opposed, function as thematic and structural throughways across the novel until they are revealed in the final volume to intersect. But if the symbolism of the two “ways” seems a little overdetermined, it is accompanied by an insistence on contingency in determining which of the two paths is 19. Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (San Diego: Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich, 1981), p. 3. 20. Woolf, To the Lighthouse, p. 4.


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taken. The variability of the family’s route (one traversing bourgeois society, the other leading to the highest reaches of the aristocracy), and thus the exposure to the different characters and worlds that will become so important to the narrator later in life, depends on the ordinary fluctuations of climate. At the same time, the unpredictable fact of rain or shine itself becomes itself a keen subject of interest, speculation, and description. As Gérard Genette observes, “the variations of the walks to Méséglise according to the degrees of ‘bad weather’ fill, or rather engender, a text of three pages.”21 According to a French proverb, “qui parle du temps perd son temps,” whoever talks about the weather wastes their time. In the Recherche, talking about the weather, which constitutes a not insubstantial portion of the time wasted, is also anything but unproductive. The weather is famously unpredictable. It is not hard to see why Karl Popper, in his 1965 essay, “Of Clocks and Clouds,” uses clouds to represent “physical systems which, like gases, are highly irregular, disorderly, and more or less unpredictable,” whereas clocks, on the other side of the spectrum, stand for “physical systems which are regular, orderly, and highly predictable.”22 The unpredictability of the weather is one reason its workings have been, across cultures and for most of human history, attributed to the divine.23 But the nineteenth century witnessed the ascendance of meteorology, whose empirical understanding of the atmosphere gradually displaced earlier forms 21. Gerard Genette, Narrative Discourse (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), p. 134. In the Modern Library edition of the Scott-​Moncrieff translation the detailed excursus runs to five pages, 1:211–​1:216. 22. Karl Popper, “Of Clocks and Clouds: An Approach to the Problem of Rationality and the Freedom of Man,” in Objective Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1973), p. 207. Popper’s subject, as his subtitle suggests, is the old one of freedom and determinism. He rejects both physical determinism (a nightmarish closed system) and indeterminism (an unsatisfying recourse to chance), arguing ultimately for a view of the physical world as “an open system,” p. 255. 23. Harris, Weatherland, p. 10.



of folk weather wisdom, making clouds seem, if not exactly like clockwork, at least more clocklike.24 The nineteenth century was, of course, also a period of transition from a largely rural, agrarian society to an industrialized, urban one, which meant that more people than ever were spending the bulk of their time indoors. According to a common historical narrative, by the time Proust wrote his novel in the early decades of the twentieth century, much of the magic had been driven out of the skies.25 But as John Durham Peters cautions, while “it would be tempting to define modernity as the exorcism of the atmosphere . . . efforts at a secular vision of weather and a disenchanted sky are very old, just as weather animism persists robustly into our time.”26 On balance, the Recherche’s weather interests tilt closer to the pole of animism (even the instruments used to read the weather, like the barometer, become little “personnages”) than that of empirical science.27 Sedgwick persuasively shows that the weather belongs to a resolutely nonesoteric vein of mysticism in Proust’s novel, but we do not even need to invoke any kind of mysticism in order to see how the weather continues to figure as the will of unknown powers into the twentieth century. In modernist novels, observing the weather seems to be a special interest of children, for whom the vagaries of the skies are like nothing so much as 24. Of course, this displacement was neither immediate nor linear. See Katherine Anderson, Predicting the Weather: Victorians and the Science of Meteorology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), and Fabien Locher, Le savant et la tempête: étudier l’atmosphère et prévoir le temps aux XIXème siècle (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2008). 25. Summarized in Kathryn Schulz, “Writers in the Storm,” The New Yorker, November 23, 2015, online. 26. Peters, The Marvelous Clouds, pp. 245–​246. “Probably more distinctive of modernity than a disenchanted sky is the idea that weather is a normal, routine affair susceptible to daily reporting.” “Weather as an essential human interest has always been a fundamental part of news in all forms, but a weather report given daily, regardless of drama, is a symptom of a modern telecommunications infrastructure” (p. 249). 27. Louis Dufour writes that the scientific aspects of the weather and meteorology do not seem to have interested Proust much. “Proust et la météorologie,” p. 340.


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expressions of the will of the gods—​or, their parents.28 This may be one reason why, according to one count, almost half of the eighty or so references to the weather in the Recherche occur in Swann’s Way.29 If meteorology is a distinctly modern approach to the vagaries of the skies in both Woolf and Proust’s novels, it is aligned not with sons but with fathers, who issue confident predictions about the weather grounded on empirical observation and modern science. Mr. Ramsay, the philosopher, “was incapable of untruth; never tampered with a fact; never altered a disagreeable word to suit the pleasure or convenience of any mortal being, least of all of his own children.”30 Similarly aligned with scientific fact, the Proustian father’s avid weather interests, unlike his son’s, lie more in prediction than in phenomenology. “My father would . . . study the barometer, for he took an interest in meteorology, while my mother, keeping very quiet so as not to disturb him, looked at him with tender respect, but not too hard, not wishing to penetrate the mysteries of his superior mind” (I:12).31 In this way, the authority of both paternal

28. Peters writes, “The weather, with its intermittent reinforcement and irregular patterns of blessing and bane, behaves like gods and parents—​one reason why we are so emotionally attached to it” (Marvelous Clouds, p. 244). This is double-​edged. James Ramsay’s rage at his father’s prediction of rain is at once the child’s rage at the omnipotence of parental (especially paternal) constraint and simultaneously fear at the fact that no one, not even parent-​ gods, can make the skies behave a certain way. 29. Dufour, “Marcel Proust et la météorologie,” p. 340. I’m not sure of Dufour’s criteria for determining which passages are “about” the weather, but beyond the ones that are indisputably so, perhaps most characteristic of Proust is the way in which he pervasively mentions details about the sun, the wind, or the quality of the air, in passing. 30. Woolf, To the Lighthouse, p. 4. 31. It is worth remembering that the idea of meteorology as a predictive science would have been relatively new at this point. In Le savant et la tempête, Fabien Locher details the resistance among French scientific institutions to issuing predictions about the weather—​and to making these widely publicly available—​prior to the 1860s, and notes that this resistance persisted in various ways into the twentieth century. Notably, on the same page that we learn of his interest in the barometer, we also learn that the father had been asking the new gardener all morning if the weather was going to improve (I:12), indicating that



predictions not only lies in their alignment with science but also stands in marked contrast to a maternal alignment with emotion, Mrs. Ramsay’s placating, probabilistic “if ’s” and the Proustian mother’s supportive willed ignorance and performed amazement at her husband’s genius. In the Recherche, the narrator’s father’s meteorological interests are further associated with another enterprise deeply concerned with anticipation and prediction: military strategy. He makes plans for the contingencies of weather on their family “sorties” as if he were a general leading his troops.32 Moreover, the Proustian father’s linking of science, military strategy, and weather is not accidental, either in the history of meteorology or the composition of the Recherche. In writing the novel, there was no greater contingency for Proust than the outbreak of the First World War. Originally planned in three installments, one volume devoted to each of the two côtés and then Le temps retrouvé, the intervention of this world-​historical catastrophe drastically altered the novel’s trajectory, while it also brought issues of predictability to the fore.33 Meanwhile, although it was established in the nineteenth century, meteorology’s prominence was cemented only as a result of the First World War, when war in the air made understanding the atmosphere and predicting its behavior a matter of paramount military importance.34 this was still a moment when the meteorological science coexisted with a more practical, observation-​based model of weather wisdom. 32. As Brigitte Mahuzier notes, “sortie” has not only the sense of an outing or a walk, but also refers to “a planned mission to escape a siege, in keeping with Combray’s image, the little medieval town with its military church.” “Proust’s Market, War, and Meteorology, or How to Negotiate the Unpredictable,” Contemporary French and Francophone Studies 19, no. 4 (2015): 401–​408, 403. 33. Mahuzier, “Proust’s Market, War, and Meteorology,” p. 402. 34. See Bernard Mergen, Weather Matters: An American Cultural History Since 1900 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008) and Peters, The Marvelous Clouds. Incidentally, weather observation during the First World War may have contributed to the development of


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THE EXTENUATION OF NONOMNIPOTENCE Mr. Ramsay’s pessimistic prediction makes James wish for “a poker, any weapon that would have gashed a hole in father’s breast and killed him, there and then” (p. 4). His father’s prediction that it will rain is, for James, tantamount to willing it to do so out of spite. But the Proustian narrator is much more sanguine about the determinative effects of the weather. Even though his father is the figure of prohibitive paternal law in the drama of the goodnight kiss, the decision about which path to take on their family walk causes little anguish. For all its importance in determining his trajectory across the Combray countryside, contingency appears here as a remarkably benevolent force. In the narrator’s other affairs, beginning with the mother’s goodnight kiss and culminating with Albertine’s imprisonment, the Proustian law of relationships brooks nothing short of total possession. Unpredictability, accident, and surprise must be warded off at all costs, even as the possibility of being caught off guard is precisely what generates a cycle of jealousy and paranoia that functions so powerfully as a narrative motor. But with regard

another of the century’s great philosophers of time—​during the war Heidegger worked as a military meteorologist on the Western Front, gathering information about wind speed and direction. “Watching the weather,” John Durham Peters suggests, “gives a new, historically specific cast to Heideggerian tropes of vigilance, hüten (guarding or watching), kairos, and observance. Time, as Heidegger’s central preoccupation, shows up as weather” (The Marvelous Clouds, pp. 242–​243). Peters notes that Heidegger was a Luftschiffer, “literally, a captain of the air” (p. 241). He adds that Sinn und Zeit translated into French, L’être et le temps, could be translated into English as Being and Weather, “or, using the homophone, Letter and Weather” (p. 243). L’être et le temps can’t help but recall L’être et le néant, and in another coincidence, Jean-​Paul Sartre served his military service in a meteorological office at Tours from 1929–​1931 and was drafted as an army meteorologist during the Second World War—​doing similar work to Heidegger, observing wind direction and speed—​in a small town near Strasbourg, before he was captured by the Germans in 1940. See Sartre, War Diaries: November 1939–​March 1940, trans. Quentin Hoare (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984).



to the weather, which remains a daily reminder of the limits of our control, the narrator exhibits a more benign way of relating to his nonomnipotence. Reading the relation to omnipotence psychoanalytically, Sedgwick notes that whereas in Freud, we “start out thinking we are omnipotent,” and “everything after that is the big, disillusioning letdown called reality,” in Melanie Klein’s framework, “omnipotence is a fear at least as much as it is a wish.”35 Rather than an “all-​or nothing understanding of agency,” “the sense that power is a form of relationality that deals in, for example, habits, negotiations, and small differentials, the middle ranges of agency” actually provides a kind of “relief and relaxation for the child.”36 If this is, as Sedgwick observes, “something that requires to be discovered over and over,” then our daily confrontations with the weather constitute a field in which we are able to continually realize the limits of our power—​ and experience not just the frustration but also the relief that can come with the “extenuation of omnipotence.”37 Of course, sanguinity may be easy in the case of Combray for both côtés are acceptable, each promising different pleasures. A moment that comes closer to James Ramsay’s anguish occurs toward the end of Swann’s Way, when the narrator’s ability to see Gilberte at Champs Elysées hinges on the weather remaining fine. “And so, if the sky was overcast, from early morning I would not cease to examine it, observing all the omens” (I:563). Thus begins a long paragraph detailing his anxious studies of every minute change in the “unsettled, 35. Sedgwick, “The Weather in Proust,” p. 19. 36. Sedgwick, “The Weather in Proust,” p. 20. 37. Sedgwick, “The Weather in Proust,” p. 20. “It is not surprising, then, that the ontologically intermediate, tutelary spirits in Proust have this chastening, merciful reality principle, the extenuation of omnipotence, among the good things in their gift.” “The Weather in Proust,” p. 20. She is referring to the various génie-​like figures in the novel, including Françoise. I am suggesting the weather might also serve a similar function.


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clouded sky.” Following closely the vicissitudes of the sun, the paragraph stages a tense drama of apparent relief followed by looming disaster, another rescue, and so on. So “the pulsation of a hesitant ray that struggled to discharge its light” fills the narrator with hope, only to be dispersed by a breath of wind. But then, “imperceptibly the stone whitened once more, and as in one of those uninterrupted crescendos which, in music, at the end of an overture, carry a single note to the supreme fortissimo by making it pass rapidly all the intermediate stages, I would see it reach that fixed, unalterable gold of fine days” (I:563–​564). Even though this section begins with anxiety, it is shot through with surprising confidence. And, against the odds, the narrator’s hope is borne out. After autumn gives way to winter “and the green hide which covered the trunks of the old trees was hidden beneath the snow . . . then suddenly—​inspiring my mother to say, ‘Look, it’s quite fine now, I think you might perhaps try going to see the Champs-​Elysées after all—​on the mantle of snow that swathed the balcony, the sun would appear and weave a tracery of golden threads and black shadows” (I:564–​565). Even on such cold winter days when he has abandoned all hope of seeing her, Gilberte suddenly appears, with the added advantage that only the two of them have come, “as though she had come there solely to please me in such weather” (I: 567). Even in this most fraught moment, the weather appears as a benign force. In fact, despite its long-​standing association with drama (evident in expressions like the “theater of the skies”), the Recherche is remarkably free of any extreme, or even particularly dramatic, weather events.38 There are no catastrophic hurricanes or floods in the novel, and rarely even do we read of any discomfort associated with it. Apart from more highlighted moments such as the walks in 38. See Napier Shaw, The Drama of Weather (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).



Combray or going to see Gilberte at the Champs Elysées, allusions to the weather throughout the novel are more commonly instances of very ordinary conditions determining events in unremarkable ways. As when “after dinner, alas, I was soon obliged to leave Mamma, who stayed talking with the others, in the garden if it was fine, or in the little parlour where everyone took shelter when it was wet” (I:12). The fact that so much of the weather mentioned in the novel is unremarkable and mentioned in passing underscores the quotidian ways in which the weather determines the details of our lives. The “weather-​world” that Ingold called a condition of possibility for the mutual constitution of people and landscape is also an omnipresent part of the ordinary framework of conditions within which possibilities are determined as such.

CLOCKS AND CLOUDS In one sense, a lot depends on the weather because it influences the course of events and the range of possibilities available at any given moment. But there is also another sense in which the Proustian narrator depends on the weather: in the diurnal fluctuations of the thermometer and the cyclical rhythms of the seasons, the weather has long been a comforting source of regularity. Although we cannot be certain it won’t rain tomorrow, in the Northern Hemisphere we can be pretty sure it won’t snow in June. Even as modern industrial societies that live predominantly indoors no longer set their clocks to the skies, for the narrator (especially in the pastoral setting of Combray or the seaside town of Balbec, but even in Paris) it remains in many ways a temporal expression of dependability.39 39. Serres writes, “The greatest event of the twentieth century incontestably remains the disappearance of agricultural activity of the helm of human life in general and in individual


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Indeed, only because of the fixed associations of particular months with particular climes can the interpolation of an April day in December function to import wholesale another world into the present one. The regularity of the seasons functions, too, to mitigate the threat of unusual temperatures that might otherwise be cause for concern. Thus, for the young narrator, the destructive potential of a storm is neutralized in summer, when “bad weather is no more than a passing fit of superficial ill-​temper on the part of the permanent, underlying fine weather” (1:214). In this way he is able to listen to the rain dripping on the lilacs during the summers in Combray without the least fear, unlike winters in Paris, when he watches the “poplar in the Rue des Perchamps praying for mercy, bowing in desperation before the storm” (1:215). Although it is easy to emphasize the mercurial unpredictability of the weather—​ features that are certainly important in Proust’s novel and that seem more aligned with industrial and secular modernity over the stable regularity of romantic pastoralism, we should not overlook the fact that depending on the weather looks both to its changeability and its regularity.40 If the Recherche tends to emphasize more the pole of variability, it is in many ways because the narrator is able to take the weather’s regularity and dependability for granted (something that is no longer possible in our own age of accelerated climate change, and so, a feature that dates the Recherche no less than its references to horse-​drawn carriages). cultures.” The Natural Contract, p. 28. Accordingly, “because we don’t live out in weather, we’ve unlearned how to think in accordance with its rhythms and its scope” (The Natural Contract, p. 29). 40. For Genette, “the return of the hours, the days, the seasons, the circularity of the cosmic movement” constitutes “both the most constant motif and the most exact symbol of ” what he calls Proust’s characteristic use of the iterative, that is, a single narrative utterance that refers to several instances together, often marked by frequentive expressions such as “sometimes,” “often,” “every day.” Narrative Discourse, p. 139.



The relationship between the poles of chance and necessity, stochasticism and determinism, that the weather puts into play is, as Sedgwick puts it, “the important question in Proust of how open systems relate to closed ones, or perhaps better put, of how systems themselves move between functioning as open and closed.”41 This is because the weather is a privileged example of a complex system. The mechanistic laws regulating it have been known since the mid-​ nineteenth century, but not until the late twentieth century “has it been possible for science to conceptualize together the absolutely rule-​bound cyclical economy of these processes, on the one hand, and on the other hand the irreducibly unpredictable contingency of the actual weather.”42 This is because, as a privileged example of a complex system, we have to conceptualize together “the absolutely rule-​bound cyclical economy of [the mechanistic laws regulating “the heat/​water/​steam machine we call weather”], on the one hand, and on the other hand the irreducibly unpredictable contingency of the actual weather.”43 The level of mechanistic laws in Proustian terms maps onto his “scouring determination to unearth what he calls ‘laws,’ or ‘truths’ of human desire, self-​deception, and limitation,” which Sedgwick sets in contrast to “the non-​propositional,

41. Sedgwick, “The Weather in Proust,” p. 3. For a brilliant reading of poetic form in terms of complex systems, see “Lyric—​The Idea of This Invention,” the concluding chapter of Marjorie Levinson’s Thinking Through Poetry: Field Reports on Romantic Lyric (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018). Notions of complexity are rooted in chaos theory. The mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz, whose pioneering work in chaos theory developed through his studies in weather prediction, defines chaos as processes “that appear to proceed according to chance even though their behavior is in fact determined by precise laws” Essence of Chaos (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1993), p. 4. 42. Sedgwick, “The Weather in Proust,” p. 4. See Lorenz, Essence of Chaos. 43. Sedgwick, “The Weather in Proust,” pp. 3 and 4. In the first citation she is quoting Rodney Farnsworth, Mediating Order and Chaos: The Water-​Cycle in the Complex Adaptive Systems of Romantic Culture (Amsterdam-​New York: Rodopi, 2002).


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environmental order of Proust’s reality orientation.”44 Here it would seem that the weather is on the side of the unpredictable over the rule-​bound, the messier “ground of reality” rather than the grid-​ like order of “distinct, propositional laws and truths.”45 While this distinction will be recognizable to any reader of the Recherche, it is important to emphasize that the latter forms a context (indeed, a ground, to reverse Sedgwick’s own spatial metaphor) for the former, and not simply an opposition to it. Insofar as it is an exemplar of a system capable of generating novelty and change within the bounds of a set of ordered rules, the weather is a dependable source of both comforting regularity and unexpected surprise. These two features combine to create the peculiar pleasure that observing and experiencing the weather affords the narrator, as we saw in the example of the summer storm.

READING THE WEATHER Unlike the narrator’s father, whose interest in the weather lies in prediction, the narrator’s meteorological interests lie primarily in observation. Here is a characteristic passage of a wake-​up scene from The Captive, when the narrator, remaining within his bedroom, often in bed, observes the weather outside. At daybreak, my face still turned to the wall, and before I had seen above the big window shutters what shade of colour [quelle 44. Sedgwick, “The Weather in Proust,” p. 4. She maps the distinction between closed and open system further onto one between the “either/​or and zero sum” (p. 5) structure of an Oedipal logic and a more benign, flexible one drawn from the object-​relations psychology of Melanie Klein and Michael Balint. 45. Sedgwick, “The Weather in Proust,” p. 4.



nuance] the first streaks of light assumed, I could already tell what the weather was like. The first sounds from the street had told me, according to whether they came to my ears deadened and distorted by humidity or quivering like arrows in the resonant, empty air of a spacious, frosty, pure morning; as soon as I heard the rumble of the first tramcar, I could tell whether it was sodden with rain or setting forth into blue.

The narrator’s reading of the weather relies not on the perception of objects in space, but instead, returning to Gibson’s idea of the atmosphere as a medium, on the quality of sound as it travels through the air. In the Recherche, perceiving the weather entails a mode of bodily perception that is resolutely attuned to the surrounding environment. It is also, significantly, a scene of pleasure, allowing Proust to indulge in descriptions of color, light, and sound. The habit of delighting in the air outside from inside a room is one Proust stages repeatedly.46 Here is an earlier example, from Swann’s Way, when the narrator recalls the pleasure of reading inside his room on a hot, summer day. My room quivered with the effort to defend its frail, transparent coolness against the afternoon sun behind its almost closed shutters through which, however, a gleam of daylight had contrived to insinuate its golden wings, remaining motionless in a corner between glass and woodwork, like a butterfly poised upon a flower. It was hardly light enough for me to read, and my sense of the day’s brightness and splendour was derived solely from the blows struck down below, in the Rue de la Cure, by Camus . . . upon some dusty packing-​cases which, reverberating in the 46. See, in addition, 2:729–​730 and 4:474.


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sonorous atmosphere that accompanies hot weather, seemed to scatter broadcast a rain of blood-​red stars; and also from the flies who performed for my benefit, in their tiny chorus, as it were the chamber music of summer . . . (1:114)

The scene from The Prisoner seems to echo this earlier scene directly. Both passages are, significantly, not only scenes of sensory observation or environmental attunement but also scenes of reading. In the second passage just cited, this is explicitly the case, as it directly precedes a passage recounting the narrator’s habit of preferring to stay inside reading than to play outside, much to his grandmother’s chagrin.47 But in both cases, the weather itself becomes a text that is “read” from the way the sound moves through the air, which here also conjures up a visual image—​the “rain of blood-​red stars” scattered by Camus’s blows. As Eduardo Cadava notes, we tend to understand the weather “as a kind of text, a system of signs to be read—​even if these signs are the nebulous texts of wind velocity, cloud formations, and vapors.”48 (Incidentally, Proust himself may have derived his weather interests from two other keen readers of the skies, John Ruskin, author of The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.49) The pleasure of weather 47. In fact, the narrator asserts that by remaining inside he is better able to enjoy the weather outside. “The dim coolness of my room was to the broad daylight of the street what the shadow is to the sunbeam, that is to say equally luminous, and presented to my imagination the entire panorama of summer, which my senses, if I had been out walking, could have tasted and enjoyed only piecemeal” (1:114). 48. Eduardo Cadava, “Literature and Weather,” in Encyclopedia of Climate and Weather, ed. Stephen H. Schneider, Terry L. Root, and Michael D. Mastrandrea (Oxford University Press, 2011). For Cadava, “the indeterminacy of the weather—​our inability to determine in advance what the weather might be—​remains an apt figure of the richness of a literary text.” In these passages in Proust what makes the weather literary is actually that they can be read, where this interpretive pleasure is differentiated from predictive power. 49. The connection to Ruskin is perhaps more obvious, but the influence of Emerson on Proust, especially vis-​à-​vis ideas of perception and attention, has recently been beautifully



observation, then, is also a kind of atmospheric hermeneutics, a delight both in the sensory inhabiting of an environment and the ability to decipher its signs. Making no attempt to predict the behaviors of the skies, the narrator opts instead for the pleasure of sensing and interpreting them. Weather observation gives the narrator a chance to luxuriate not only in a sensory feast, but also, because these scenes take place paradigmatically while he is lying in bed or cocooned inside his bedroom, in the sense of being enveloped, perhaps even held. Even when the grandmother manages to chase him outside in Swann’s Way, he gets no further than the garden, where he carries on his reading, “under the chestnut tree, in a hooded chair of wicker and canvas in the depths of which I used to sit and feel that I was hidden from the eyes of anyone who might be coming to call upon the family” (1:114). Here as in The Captive, the narrator’s relation to the larger environment outside is mediated by the security of his more immediate one, and his experience of the weather is of being held or enveloped—​an experience that is importantly linked to that of reading. We have seen that for the Proustian narrator, feeling the weather as a bodily sense of envelopment or holding bears a certain relationship to the experience of being immersed in and held by a book.50 As the exemplar of a chaotic system, a system that looks random but is actually determined, it also shares something with narrative, which

shown in Kate Stanley, Practices of Surprise: American Literature after Emerson (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2018). On Emerson’s own interests in the weather, see Eduardo Cadava, Emerson and the Climates of History (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997). 50. Although it is beyond the scope of this paper, I have in mind D. W. Winnicott’s idea of the “holding environment.” My thinking is guided by Alicia Christoff ’s discussion of Winnicott in terms of the phenomenology of reading in Novel Relations: Victorian Fiction and British Psychoanalysis (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2019), especially ­chapter 1.


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must walk a tightrope between chance and design. In an ingenious argument, Sydney Miller makes the case that that weather became the deux ex machina of the twentieth-​century novel, “the believable contrivance that, in functioning deterministically while appearing aleatory, resolves the crisis of causality in the twentieth century plot.”51 Because the skies had been disenchanted, secularized, and naturalized by meteorology, it became a perfect substitute for a providential design that was no longer tenable in the age of indeterminism. For twentieth-​century writers looking to imbue their narratives with the randomness that seemed to characterize modern life, hinging events on the weather became a kind of scapegoat for the necessary “artificiality of causality and emplotment.” It became a way to cover over the fact that “chance is that which cannot be represented in narrative.”52 We can certainly see this balance in the trajectories of the family walks in Combray, ostensibly contingent, but whose variability is, like everything else in a novel, the work of design. The inescapability of narrative design—​and thus determinism—​ is true even of the best figures of chance and accident in the novel, like the sudden “gust of warm air” that disrupts the balance of the Hubert Robert fountain in Sodom and Gomorrah, deflecting its jet of water and drenching a passing Mme d’Arpajon.53 If it is true that “chance marks and defines a fundamental limit to the telling of any story,” it is precisely this limit that weather—​that paragon of unpredictability—​is invoked to elide.54 Importantly, however, this 51. S. Miller, “Weather Ex Machina,” UCLA Electronic Thesis, p. 6. 52. Miller, “Weather Ex Machina,” p. 16, and Leland Monk, Standard Deviations: Chance and the Modern British Novel (Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 1994), p. 9, cited in “Weather Ex Machina,” p. 11. 53. Sedgwick opens her essay with this example of the Hubert Robert fountain and the wind that suddenly blows it off course. The Weather in Proust, pp. 1–​3. 54. Monk, Standard Deviations, p. 9; cited in Miller “Weather Ex Machina,” p. 11.



need not be considered a kind of falsehood or deception. Rather, the appearance of weather in the Recherche registers the dueling impulses at the heart of modern narrative: the desire to find meaning and order in a seemingly random world, and at the same time, the desire to respect the radical contingency of experience.55 Even if there is a conflict between the necessity entailed by plot and the unpredictability of our actual lives, it is of course not the case that chance has no place in novels. By the time it reaches our hands, a book is determined, complete with a finished narrative arc and teleology. But at the same time, accident and surprise take hold again as soon as a work encounters a reader: in any particular interactions with a narrative (even by the same reader at different times), any part of it is liable to spark a range of idiosyncratic associations, many of which will be contingently related to the surroundings of the reading encounter (whether we are lying in a park on a hot summer afternoon, or curled up in bed on a frosty winter morning), each of which may ramify in unforeseen ways. If this is a truth about any text, the nexus of determinism and contingency in aesthetic experience is a particularly intense site of interest for Proust. The Recherche both thematizes this nexus as its explicit subject (so, for instance, the narrator famously says that every reader is the reader of her own book), and also produces dizzying effects for its own readers by dint of its volume and range. Even though Proust’s novel has a clearly conceived and defined narrative arc, it constantly gets pulled into digressions and excurses, while

55. Julia Jordan writes, “The tension between our attraction to forms that seek to counter life’s meaninglessness with narratives, and our contradictory desire for art to be as close to reality as possible (and so to tell us something about this, the most central aspect of reality as it is experienced), amounts to chance’s ‘unrepresentability’ in narrative.” Chance and the British Novel: From Henry Green to Iris Murdoch (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), p. ix; cited in Miller, “Weather Ex Machina,” p. 11.


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the number of characters and the length of particular scenes, not to mention their tendency to repeat, make that arc hard to hold in mind. In light of Proust’s maximalism (not for him Chekhov’s gun), it may well be precisely these trivial, passing details, rather than the novel’s set pieces, that are liable to be sources of recognition and discovery. The offhanded, ordinary, endless descriptions of variegated shades of experience, which in the end don’t turn out to be significant, reveal no higher-​order law, and offer no transcendence—​these “déchets de l’experience” may nevertheless furnish something that solicits a reader’s attention, reminds her of something she didn’t know she had forgotten, triggers some association she didn’t know she had experienced, and perhaps opens up an unknown world.56 When Proust suggests that with a change of the weather we are born anew, this reincarnation extends not only to the self but to the artwork. He writes of the narrator’s perception of many different images of Albertine at Balbec that in order to describe it accurately, he ought to give a different name to each of the selves who observed her, each of the Albertines who appeared before him, which are like the seas that are called for the sake of convenience simply “the sea.” But above all, in the same way as, in telling a story (to far greater purpose here), people mention what the weather was like on such and such a day, I ought always to give its name to the belief that reigned over my soul and created its atmosphere on any given day on which I saw Albertine, the appearance of people, like that of the sea, being dependent on those clouds, themselves barely visible, which change the colour of everything by their

56. I make this argument more fully in ­chapter 3 of Strange Likeness: Description and the Modernist Novel (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2020).



concentration, their mobility, their dissemination, their flight. (2:720)

Recalling Gibson’s notion of the atmosphere as a medium characterized above all by what it affords, this passage and others like it alert us to the fact that for Proust, the weather is part of the Stimmungen in which we find ourselves and through which we perceive the world. It also becomes a figure for the artwork itself, which attunes us to perceive certain relations of phenomena, certain “laws” of society and the heart, certain patterns of experience that we would not otherwise see were the solar rays received at a different angle. James’s fanciful literary meteorology gets at something important about the way in which artworks can feel like environments. If the task of writing a novel is to recreate the climate of an epoch, the task of reading an artwork is to inhabit its atmosphere, a task that is, moreover, inextricable from the atmosphere in which the reader encounters the work, which opens up in turn the possibility of unforeseen connections and new contingencies.


Chapter 8

Proust’s Consciousness K AT H E R I N E E L K I N S

THE HARD PROBLEM OF PHILOSOPHY It’s commonplace to cite Proust as a philosopher of memory, and some have even argued that he’s a neuroscientist.1 His very long series of novels begins with a narrator who has trouble remembering his past. Suddenly, with the taste of a madeleine dunked in tea, his memory of the small town of Combray—​visited as a child—​springs into being.2 Given how often people reference “Proustian moments” or their own “madeleine,” it may come as a surprise that philosophers have been less apt to see memory as the key to the novel. Gilles Deleuze, 1. Maryanne Wolfe discusses Proust and the neuroscience of reading in Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of Reading (New York: Harper, 2008), while Jonah Lehrer, in Proust Was a Neuroscientist (Boston: Mariner, 2008), makes a more expansive argument about the neuroscience of cognition. 2. See Elkins, “Memory and Material Significance,” Modern Language Quarterly 69, no. 4 (2008): 509–​531, for a detailed discussion of the parallels between Proust’s description of the madeleine and our current understanding of how memory works. While at first glance Proust’s madeleine might seem to highlight retrieval thanks to a material trigger, Proust is quite clear that there’s an imaginative, constructive element: memory often relies more on imaginative reconstruction and recognition than on simple storage and retrieval. Katherine Elkins, Proust’s Consciousness In: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Edited by: Katherine Elkins, Oxford University Press. © Oxford University Press 2023. DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780190921576.003.0009


in his now classic Proust and Signs, went so far as to say that Proust’s narrative is not about memory at all. While this may seem like academic contrarianism, Deleuze isn’t entirely wrong. Many of the moments in Proust that we would now be inclined to call epiphanies and that Proust calls impressions seem to have nothing to do with memory. These impressions, like the vision of the steeples or the three trees, place a strong emphasis on present perception. Past or present, memory or perception, Proust offers us myriad ways of describing experiences that trouble easy conceptual categories. Impressions are quite varied in nature. Some are visual, like that sighting of the three shifting steeples of Martinville and the vision of three trees. But not all moments: the experience of the madeleine relies on taste and smell. Other impressions are auditory, like a clink of a spoon against a plate or listening to a phrase of music. The difficulty of fitting all these experiences into a single conceptual framework poses a hard problem for philosophy. The simple solution is to pick one impression and relegate the others to imperfect instantiations. Samuel Beckett, in Proust, announces the key to the novel to be that moment of listening to a phrase of music. More recently in his Philosophy as Fiction, Joshua Landy deftly analyzes the scene of the steeples of Martinville. Each impression seems to lead in a different philosophical direction, and the novel over time offers us a conundrum: how to establish a philosophical position? Sometimes, the narrator sounds like a scientific materialist while reflecting on biological evanescence. Cells die and are replaced and there seems almost nothing left of the past in a world of constant flux and material change. We resist “death, that . . . sporadic but non-​stop dying which attends us throughout our lives, stripping off bits of us at every moment, which have no sooner mortified than new cells begin to grow” (In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, 218

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p. 467).3 There are also elements of Schopenhauer4 and of Nietzsche.5 In some places, in contrast to his materialism, Proust articulates the opposite theory of panpsychism. Material objects seem to harbor some form of consciousness or soul, and his narrator attests “I find the Celtic belief very reasonable, that the souls of those we have lost are held captive in some inferior creature, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate thing” (The Way by Swann’s, p. 145). At other points the Nietzschean and Schopenhauerian elements seem to yield to a more Platonic vision, since memories like the madeleine convey an intimation of survival—​or at least of a self that unites past and present in spite of the material flux of the world.6 The variety of Proust’s impressions very loosely mirrors the variety of philosophical positions in the novel. So why does Proust lump together so many different experiences and compare them quite explicitly? What conceptual category can we use to understand moments that on the surface seem so different? This is, indeed, the first hard problem that Proust offers us, and it’s clearly a philosophical one. Just as the narrator is about to alight on a philosophical position that would make sense of past experience, a new experience upends it and a new philosophical investigation begins. 3. All citations taken from the Penguin London series edited by Christopher Prendergrast. 4.  More recent approaches to Samuel Beckett have noted that, while he attributes Schopenhauerian thought to Proust, Schopenhauer was in fact a key influence in Beckett’s own thought at the time he wrote it. See Pothast, “Elements of Schopenhauer’s Thought in Beckett,” in The Impact of Idealism: The Legacy of Post-​Kantian German Thought, ed. N. Boyle, L. Disley, C. Jamme, and I. Cooper, pp. 145–​167 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) for a fuller description. 5. Landy concludes that in spite of the resemblance to so many philosophers, Proust is “(without his knowledge) closer to Nietzsche than to any other philosopher, although Proust goes beyond Nietzsche in certain respects” (Philosophy as Fiction [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004], p. 161). 6. Deleuze writes, “Proust treats the essences as Platonic Ideas and confers upon them an independent reality” (Proust and Signs: The Complete Text, trans. Richard Howard [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004], p. 42). Later, however, he counters this with the suggestion that Proust is more like Leibniz.



Gilles Deleuze ascribes the similarity of impressions not to memory, but to their status as signs. He then ranks them from the more material to the less material. The more material signs are less successful, whereas the less material signs move the narrator further along on his philosophical journey. And yet, this reading, which Deleuze himself modifies in the second part of the book written later, fails to account for the fact that each impression only further complicates any attempt to create stable conceptual categories. It also fails to account, as more recent scholars have noted, with the extent to which Proust’s narrator embraces and enjoys the materiality of the world in a way that complicates Deleuze’s prioritization of the less material impressions. Since Deleuze’s seminal work, others have focused on this more phenomenological aspect of Proust’s work and stressed the highly particular and subjective—​as opposed to ideal—​nature of Proust’s impressions.7 Perhaps the first hard problem that Proust presents to us in his novels, then, is the hard problem of fitting philosophy to the variety of the world. Proust famously quips that philosophical novels are like novels with the price tag on. One could conclude that he obfuscates his own philosophical position in order to avoid falling into such a trap. But in fact, his writing complicates even this interpretation. Each philosophical method of conceptualizing reality turns out to be a model that accounts for certain aspects of experience, but not all. So each philosophical system fails to provide a model that is as complex as life itself. While it’s easy to ascribe a particular philosophical position to him by alighting on a single passage somewhere in one of the novels, the novels themselves demonstrate 7. Anne Simon discusses Proust’s strong interest in the material and phenomenological aspects of experience in Proust ou le réel retrouvé (Paris: Honoré-​Champion, 2011). Evelyne Enders, in Architexts of Memory (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005), focuses on Proust’s concern with qualia, which serve to ground the impressions in concrete, material experience.


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the difficulty of moving from any particular event to an underlying law or concept that would generalize from that event. And yet Proust’s narrator never abandons the search for a connection to the past and for laws or abstract ways of making sense of the particular.8 A purely postmodern interpretation of Proust9 as a relativist before his time fails to understand the urgency of this search. In fact, the narrator fears more than anything the possibility that his understanding of the world is nothing but a mental projection, and thus untethered from reality.10 The narrator, for example, finds his understanding of the Guermantes from both the magic lantern and the stained glass windows unequal to an actual encounter with Mme de Guermantes. And yet the deflationary aspect of her actual appearance—​epitomized in the red pimple that so disconcerts the young boy—​also doesn’t seem to capture elements of her being that exceed a simple material realism. The truth, the narrator knows, is often understood precisely because it is painful, contradicting one’s own imaginative theories of how things are.11 In spite of his skepticism, then, Proust’s narrator really does seem to think that all these varied experiences, including these impressions, add up to a vision of the world that is shared, follows general rules, and is thus, at least to a degree, subject to philosophical thinking. These varied experiences are linked not just by an explicit comparison, but through the form of his narrative quest in which the clues eventually lead to success: time regained. For this reason, 8. I’m much indebted to Brian McHale for our discussion of this aspect of Proust. 9. See Margaret E. Gray’s detailed description of the way various aspects of the narrative nonetheless defy simple modernist categories and concerns (Postmodern Proust [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992]). 10. See my more detailed discussion of this phenomenon in “Proust,” in The Giants of French Literature (Prince Frederick: Modern Scholar Series, 2010). 11. Martha Nussbaum discusses this aspect of “love’s knowledge” in her work of that title (Love’s Knowledge [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992]).



those who have advocated for different philosophical positions are not entirely wrong—​Proust does seem to take these philosophical positions as, at the very least, partial truths.12 But Deleuze is also right that Proust’s search is more than just a search for this lost time. It is also a search for a philosophy that would make sense of the world. How, then, do we match the particular with the universal, a subjective perception with an objective reality, the variety of experience with some set of rules that make sense of it?

THE HARD PROBLEM OF LIFE This hard problem of philosophy is quite tightly entwined with what is often described as another hard problem: the hard problem of life. As Walker and Davies13 explain it, “With only one sample of life at our disposal, it is hard to separate which features are merely accidental or incidental, from the ‘law-​like’ features that we expect would be common to all life in the universe.” What is universal and what is particular to a single experience? Which events in the narrator’s life are accidental and which demonstrate some fundamental law of shared experience? The narrator explains how difficult it is to eliminate the “misleading coincidences” in order to ascertain the “infallible laws” to understand the band of girls at Balbec:

12. For the best summary of the various philosophers “found” in Proust, see both Duncan Large Nietzsche and Proust (Oxford University Press, 2001) and Thomas Baldwin, “Philosophy,” in Marcel Proust in Context, edited by A. Watt, pp. 75–​82 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). 13. “The ‘Hard Problem’ of Life,” Walker and Davies, in From Matter to Life: Information and Causality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), p. 21.


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On days when I did not see them, as their habits were unknown to me, I was in total ignorance of the possible cause of their non-​ appearance. . . . Certain atmospheric conditions might have an influence on it—​or conversely, might have nothing at all to do with it. How many patient, but not dispassionate, observations must be recorded about the apparently erratic movements of these unknown worlds, before one can be sure of having ruled out misleading coincidences, of having confirmed one’s predictions, and being able to draw up the infallible laws, arrived at through cruel experience, of this passionate astronomy!”(Young Girls, pp. 761–​762, my emphasis)

How many observations are necessary in order to separate “misleading coincidences” from “infallible laws,” he wonders? The same dilemma holds true with the various impressions. The challenge is to determine which elements of the impression are incidental and which are fundamental. In the case of the madeleine, the forgotten elements of the experience—​precisely those which the narrator had dismissed as incidental and therefore forgotten—​turn out to be fundamental to preserving the experience for resuscitation later. This predicament of separating the incidental from the fundamental extends to many of the events that occur to characters in the novel. Is falling in love with someone who is not one’s type a predictable behavior under the right circumstances, or is it entirely unique to Swann? Can certain events that seem incidental—​like Legrandin’s butt wiggle when he bows so low—​actually indicate a fundamental character trait like snobbery? In both cases, Proust seems to suggest that they indicate certain kinds of truths, and yet there seems to be a particularity to each event that resists full generalization. The long novel, which expanded even up until Proust’s death, shows the search for the universal in the particular to be difficult indeed, as the 223


writer added more and more observations in an effort to discern the incidental from laws governing the variety of life. Others have discussed the way in which the European novel during the nineteenth century incorporates insights of evolutionary theory.14 Proust’s novel, following upon these nineteenth-​century developments, demonstrates this same interest in life’s variation and change. Events continually surprise the narrator, and the idea that he can find simple universal laws that will help him predict future events proves difficult. One obvious reason is that the variety of life fails to follow simple mechanistic laws of cause and effect. Newtonian physics promises that if we know the initial state, we can determine the outcome based on simple and universal mechanistic laws. But life is filled with variation that shows the world to be a dynamic and complex system, not a purely mechanical and deterministic one. Although he did not use our present-​day terms, Proust’s novels show an attunement dynamic—​ as opposed to mechanistic—​ systems. As the narrator asks of the girls at Balbec, their nonappearance could be attributed to the state of the larger system of Balbec, in this case, the weather. The focus on the past is part of this same investigation: the laws are easier to see in retrospect, harder to predict as one looks to the future. The variety of ways in which the present can unfold makes it hard to predict which of the possible outcomes will take place. Moreover, the complexity of the system makes it easy to overlook factors that later prove important. Only from the future point in time is it easy to trace the development of that future point back to the starting point, just as the narrator can trace the aged faces in the final party scene back through various incarnations to the youthful ones he once knew. 14. For an excellent introduction, see George Levine’s seminal Darwin and the Novelists: Patterns of Science in Victorian Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).


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Proust describes this retrospective understanding in concrete ways in the novel. Whereas one might look back from Vinteuil’s mature septet and see the connection to his earlier sonata, it’s nearly impossible for the narrator to imagine, he tells us, the future of the sonata. We see a similar phenomenon in the sequence of impressions over the course of the novel: each new impression connects to past ones, but often in ways that are unforeseen. One of the difficulties of this search, therefore, is that the factors that had seemed incidental to a particular phenomenon turn out to be essential, even as it’s hard in the moment to disentangle which are which. In a complex system, there are so many elements that it’s hard to decide which will be decisive in shaping a future trajectory. This phenomenon applies even to the success of an author, the narrator explains, since that success is dependent on a future moment in which a reader connects some moment to her own life. For this reason, and in spite of the narrator’s search for his own unique artistic style and vision,15 the narrator concludes that his work of art will only endure if it resonates for future readers and their own experiences.16 This success, however, is hard to predict. The more varied the experiences Proust’s novel offers up, the more likely it will be that a future reader may alight on a shared experience or a general law that connects her life with the novel.17

15. This is the oft-​cited thesis that art presents us with many worlds: “Thanks to art, instead of seeing only a single world, our own, we see it multiplied, and have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists” (Finding Time Again, p. 398). 16. He thus concludes that art must maintain some aspect of the general to be successful: “it is this feeling for the general which, in the future writer, itself selects things that are general and that will be able to be part of the work of art” (Finding Time Again, p. 398). Taken together, these two aspects of a singular thesis about art demonstrate the importance of multiple worlds (and observations) in order to apprehend more clearly underlying elements. 17. See Elkins “Memory and Material Significance” for a more detailed description of Proust’s theory of authorial significance and influence.



DYNAMIC STATES Unlike simple mechanistic and deterministic ones, dynamic systems can be state dependent—​like the appearance of the girls on the weather. Proust’s impressions are also dynamic in this way—​ they can’t be produced by simply following a set of rules. Rather, impressions “emerge” (p. 152), as they do in the case of the madeleine, in ways that are dependent on both the exterior surroundings and the interior state of the subject. The impression of the madeleine is, for this reason, able to bring back both earlier interior and exterior states, to resuscitate both the youthful narrator, “when I went to say good morning to [aunt Léonie] in the bedroom” (p. 150) and the surrounding “town, from morning to night, and in all weathers” (p. 151). When the narrator stresses that impressions break through habit and offer a vision of the world that is more complex, one reason is that habit may seem to reduce reality to its essential elements, but often eradicates qualities that capture the unique state of the self and the world: the town at all the different times of days and under different weather conditions, for example. Certain aspects of experience that had been forgotten prove consequential indeed, and we see this precisely in the way that the narrator had forgotten sensory elements of the madeleine, the “smell and taste . . . like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping” (p. 151), that bring back a more complex memory of Combray. The impression during the narrator’s return visit to Balbec also revives a past state in all its complexity. Once again, it connects the narrator to an earlier self: “the self that I was then and which had vanished all that time ago, was once again so close to me” (Sodom and Gomorrah, p. 296). This time, it also connects him not to a


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complex sense of place but of a complex sense of time: “as if there were, in time, different and parallel series—​without any break in continuity, immediately after that first evening in the past, that I adhered to the moment when my grandmother had leaned towards me” (Sodom and Gomorrah, p. 296). In the earlier case of the madeleine, the complex state that emerges connects people to place in all its various atmospheric and temporal states, with “human figures” and “the good people of the village” resuscitated along with flowers and buildings (The Way by Swann’s, p. 151). In this later impression, what emerges is a sense of the varied directions in which a single moment could unfold, a dizzying sense of temporal complexity, “different and parallel series.” It is the combination of the narrator’s state and surrounding state of the Balbec hotel that together create this emergent impression of temporal, rather than spatial, complexity. Moreover, Proust’s own narrative structure reveals this same dynamic complexity, since the story can veer in new and different directions each time a past moment is remembered. To some extent, this is the promise of all the impressions—​the promise of a moment that opens onto a new state, or what Proust would call a unique world, whether it be the dynamic state of Combray with all its variety of life, or the state of a past moment as it opens onto the unfolding of parallel times. This constant opening onto multiple possibilities troubles any simple fixed laws, while also suggesting that there is some kind of dynamic system in which states—​both of the exterior world and the interior mind—​are causally important. In the case of the madeleine or the moment in Balbec, the narrator is able to recapture a past interior and exterior state. The three trees offer the narrator a vision of a path which the narrator might take, as well, but this time, he admits to being unable to respond appropriately. The materiality of the “sign,” as Deleuze



once theorized, however, does not seem to be the issue. Instead, the narrator’s own interior state is unable to respond to the environmental state in the right way, and the narrator laments the failure as his own. Proust’s characters don’t just respond to their environment in simple mechanistic ways, and this is but one example. For this reason, perhaps, the narrator concludes in the final volume that he had changed his mind about the importance of the impressions. Simply having the impressions is not enough, and they don’t offer a simple mechanism for artistic success. There is a need to respond to them appropriately, to “extract” the truth from them, he insists, and this is why the task of the author is also the task of a translator. Moreover, response is an emergent complex process that depends on his state as he responds to the impressions. It also depends on the state of the future reader, who may or may not respond to the visions that Proust’s narrative offers. Each particular outcome, therefore, can be seen as only one possibility in a world of many different possible outcomes, and Proust is highly attuned to the importance of states for understanding what unfolds. This is just one reason why both exterior states (like the atmosphere that surrounds Proust’s characters) and interior states (like jealousy) are detailed almost to excess in the novel. The narrator explores in meticulous detail all these states because they help understand and recreate a dynamic and complex world. When the narrator first sees the band of girls at Balbec, he is fascinated by their complex dynamic as well as the way they interact with the larger, complex world around them. These complex systems change and interpenetrate, moreover. Time and again in Proust’s novels, human systems that appear fixed according to certain rules—​the rules of salons, of art, or even of behavior—​evolve in complex ways. Mme de Verdurin can become a Guermantes, and 228

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Elstir can move from his less-​than-​exalted place in the Verdurin salon to society’s acceptance, only a short time later, as a great artist. So many worlds—​Swann’s and the narrator’s, the Guermantes and the Méséglise ways, Guermantes and the Verdurins salons—​are revealed as interconnected. What appear to be closed systems turn out to be larger ones that dynamically interact with each other. The novel is thus an apprenticeship to complexity, another reason the narrator’s search takes so long. Whether it be misreading others or failing to understand art the first time around, one of the reasons the search takes so long is that the narrator keeps getting things wrong in new ways. Neither past material nor past philosophical positions entirely prepare him for the uniqueness of the present impression in all its novel complexity. The only thing the narrator does get right a lot of the time is a hypersensitivity to the failure of his interior state to adapt to the exterior changes, a mismatch of states in which the exterior state changes more rapidly than the interior one. The drame de coucher, that first scene when the narrator has trouble going to bed without his mother’s usual goodnight kiss, shows his difficulty in adapting to the change in routine brought about by the visit of Charles Swann. Later, the narrator will lie awake in a hotel room in Balbec, unable to acclimate quickly to his new environment. Sometimes, the failure of the self to adapt to the world is all too apparent. Other times, the narrator’s interior transitions of state occur imperceptibly as he transitions, without conscious awareness, from remembering to forgetting, waking to sleep, or love to indifference. The hallmark of the impressions, by contrast, is a momentary connection between self and world in which both states seem to allow the emergence of complexity. Vinteuil’s music is hard to grasp as it unfolds. Moreover, at one point, the narrator even has trouble recognizing that he is listening to Vinteuil’s music when suddenly, 229


he finds himself (se retrouver)18 in the music. Interior state and exterior state resonate together, creating a significant moment. From a simple madeleine, Combray emerges in all its three-​dimensional complexity. The pink hawthorns—​in their unusual color—​offer a glimpse of a world that appears almost human, like society ladies in their finery. All of these experiences offer an impression in which sensation—​taste, odor, color, or tone—​connects the narrator to a state outside himself, and both states together create a unique emergent experience. The quality of this experience, moreover, seems crucial to accessing this connection.

THE HARD PROBLEM OF CONSCIOUSNESS In Proust, the hard problems of philosophy and life are interwoven with what David Chalmers has described as another hard problem: the hard problem of consciousness.19 The problem is considered hard due to the difficulty of explaining both the how and the why of subjective experience. What does it feel like to be Marcel—​if we agree to call the narrator by this name—​and how can this subjective qualitative experience be explained? Moreover, why does it feel like something to be Marcel, as opposed to, for instance, Charles Swann, or Odette? One of the misconceptions about Proust is that his are novels of navel-​gazing: detailed documentations of the narrator’s 18. The French in this passage is more expressive than any English translation. Not only does it invoke the final “retrouvé” of the last volume, but it contains both a temporal tense of recurrence and a spatial sense of reorientation. While it’s used in the first person, there is a sense here in which finding oneself and recognizing the work of art are parallel operations that open onto each other. 19.  Chalmers first coined this term in his 1995 essay, “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 2, no. 3 (1995): 200–​219, and developed it further in his book The Conscious Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).


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every experience that focus on interiority at the expense of the exterior world.20 It is true that there is an emphasis placed on interiority, but it’s not a traditional stream of consciousness and only sometimes an exploration of thoughts and ideas. Often, instead, there is a careful and detailed analysis of the qualitative experience of being a particular self as opposed to another. Proust has sometimes been interpreted as a Platonist and yet idealism fails to account for the uniqueness of these qualitative sensory experiences that so fascinate the narrator. Perception of the material world is fundamental to an investigation of the property of consciousness called qualia—​the perception of a particular qualitative experience like the taste of the madeleine or the unique hue of yellow in a Vermeer painting. Qualitative experience is the aspect of consciousness that gives each of us a unique sense of the world.21 At one point in the novel, the narrator worries that he will never become the writer he longs to be. He compares himself to the famous Goncourt brothers whose journals document in great detail their social life in Paris. The narrator, by contrast, laments his inability to remember and record this level of detail. What the narrator does remember, however, are all these unique, qualitative experiences. His attunement to subtle changes of state, both interior and exterior, prepares him to be a writer who explores the hard problem of consciousness through a detailed investigation of qualia. Is this qualitative aspect of conscious experience an incidental, accidental aspect of being human, or does it reveal some underlying universal property of the world? Put another way, is understanding

20. I discuss this outward focus in more detail in both “Proust” and “Proust’s Novel Time” (in Metaphors of Time, ed. Gribetz and Kaye, forthcoming). 21. See the seminal paper by Thomas Nagel in which he asks “What is it like to be a bat?” (The Philosophical Review 83, no. 4 [Oct. 1974]: 435–​450).



the hard problem of consciousness central to understanding the nature of the world? As we’ve already seen, qualitative impressions in Proust allow for insight into the world as one of emergent complexity. For this reason, these qualitative experiences are tied to a deeper understanding of the world outside the narrator. For Proust, then, the narrator’s investigations of consciousness are not merely an effort to investigate his own particularity and uniqueness but are also an effort to grasp some fundamental nature of the world beyond himself. The yellow patch in the painting by Vermeer points to some fundamental quality of reality that it seems to capture; the pain of the realization of the grandmother’s death opens up onto the very nature of time. These impressions—​however various they are—​are all moments in which perception and the nature of the world connect to each other. All these qualitative experiences—​of color, scent, tone and taste—​are linked to and even seem to contain the very unique nature of the worlds they capture. Proust writes: But should a sensation from the distant past—​like those musical instruments that record and preserve the sound and style of the various artists who played them—​enable our memory to make us hear that name with the particular tone it then had for our ears, even if the name seems not to have changed, we can still feel the distance between the various dreams which its unchanging syllables evoked for us in turn. For a second, rehearing the warbling from some distant springtime, we can extract from it, as from the little tubes of colour used in painting, the precise tint—​forgotten, mysterious and fresh—​of the days we thought we remembered when, like bad painters, we were in fact spreading our whole past on a single canvas and painting it with the conventional monochrome of voluntary memory. Yet, on the contrary, each of the moments that composed it, in order 232

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to create something original, a unique blend, was using those colours from the past that now elude us, colours which, for instance, are still able to fill me with sudden delight, should the name Guermantes, assuming for a second after so many years the ring it had for me—​so different from its present resonance—​on the day of Mlle Percepied’s marriage, chance to restore to me the mauve colour, so soft, too bright and new, which lent the smoothness of velvet to the billowing scarf of the young Duchesse, and to her eyes like inaccessible and ever-​flowering periwinkles lit by the blue sun of her smile. (The Guermantes Way, pp. 25–​26)

The commonality of all these experiences is found in their qualia—​ whether tint or tone—​that capture the uniqueness of the past in ways that elude voluntary memory with its simpler conceptual framework. In this very same passage, the narrator goes on to describe how these qualitative elements capture state, both interior and exterior, by capturing the very air he had once breathed. He continues: And the name Guermantes belonging to that period of my life is also like one of those little balloons that has been filled with oxygen or some other gas: when I manage to puncture it and free what it contains, I can breathe the Combray air from that year, that day, mingled with the scent of hawthorns gusted from the corner of the square by the wind, announcing rain, and at times driving the sunlight away, at others letting it spread out on the red wool carpet of the sacristy and tingeing it brightly to an almost geranium pink with that “Wagnerian” softness of brio which preserves the nobility of a festive occasion. (The Guermantes Way, pp. 26–​27)

The self, linked to the external atmosphere by breathing the “Combray air,” establishes a very real connection between internal 233


and external state, interfusing self and world through the experience of shared air. Sensation and being are linked fundamentally, and this link is accessed through qualia, “the smoothness of velvet” and “the scent of hawthorns.” These impressions all point to a confluence in which interior consciousness and an understanding of exterior reality inform each other. If we return to the question posed at the beginning of this essay—​ how can we understand so many different impressions under a single conceptual category?—​we can begin to answer it by suggesting that they all offer a window onto the hard problem of consciousness. This qualitative element typifies many of the impressions in Proust—​the taste of the madeleine, the tune of Vinteuil’s sonata, or the physical sensation of bending over in a Balbec hotel room. However material or immaterial, memorial or immemorial, joyful or traumatic, each gives some sense of the nature of consciousness that is simultaneously a view onto the nature of the world. It would be easy to conclude, as some have, that an impression is a sign, whether of God, of Plato’s forms, or of a purely subjective phenomenological experience. But what Proust seems to be suggesting instead are impressions that consciousness and the nature of the universe, art and life, material and immaterial, self and other all are interconnected. While the experience does begin with some attention to the material like the taste of the madeleine or the sound of music, it ultimately moves from the material sensory experience to a connection between self and world as though through a kind of portal in which subjective experience offers privileged access to an objective reality.22

22. See Jeff Speaks, “What Are Debates about Qualia Really about?” Philosophical Studies 170 (2014): 59–​84, for a good overview of the debates about qualia. Philosophers continue to debate whether qualia actually exist, whether they are physical, whether they reside out in


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While this might seem similar to an experience of transcendence or a sign of Platonic forms, it’s actually better characterized as a horizontal connection between self and world. What it does share with Plato’s forms is an experience that is, at least to some degree, what we might call substrate independent. A good example of a substrate independent entity is a wave: all waves, in spite of their different material substrates, share a substrate-​independent form. Proustian impressions do seem Platonic in the way the experience opens onto something independent of their material: a shared structure of experience. On the other hand, this substrate independent form begins with an attunement to the unique qualities of the material: the qualia. Qualia are thus one way of seeing into that hard problem of life—​both the continuity of the shared structure of experience over time, as well as the ways in which variety and novelty arise in each emergent, complex experience. The narrator’s task is thus to articulate exactly what is particular to the experience—​the sound, the touch, the feel—​and what is shared across these qualitative experiences in a shared structure. Perhaps for this reason, the narrator spends quite a bit of time delimiting exactly what is unique to each artistic medium, from the patch of yellow in a painting to a musical phrase or the physical gesture of La Berma. And yet what is shared between these very distinct media is a structure of experience that seems to open up onto something more fundamental. The form that is shared in this case is not the form of a wave, but of a connection between self and world. Proust’s representation of consciousness anticipates what theoretical physicist Andrei Linde describes as a re-​evaluation of the world or within our consciousness, and whether they are representational (like signs). Proust’s impressions trouble these very distinctions. Here I detail only a few of the ways he diverges from common philosophical positions on qualia.



consciousness’s “secondary, subservient role.” Linde explains, “our knowledge of the world begins not with matter but with perceptions. I know for sure that my pain exists, my ‘green’ exists, and my ‘sweet’ exists. I do not need any proof of their existence, because these events are a part of me; everything else is a theory” (p. 12).23 Proust, foreshadowing this contemporary approach to understanding the world through an investigation of consciousness and qualia, starts with the most basic building blocks of perception in order to construct his theory of the world. Linde also points toward the intertwined nature of perception and being when he asks, “What if our perceptions are as real (or maybe, in a certain sense, are even more real) than material objects? What if my red, my blue, my pain, are really existing objects, not merely reflections of the really existing material world? . . . Will it not turn out, with the further development of science, that the study of the universe and the study of consciousness will be inseparably linked, and that ultimate progress in the one will be impossible without progress in the other?” (p. 12). This connection between self and world helps illuminate how Proust moves beyond several traditional philosophical understandings of qualia. His qualia are not merely subjective and personal, a refraction of a unique way of looking at the world. This is both because they seem to provide insight into the very nature of things, but also because, while each is unique, there is a larger experience of qualia—​consciousness—​that is interpersonal and shared through the experience of listening to music or gazing at a patch of yellow. Bergotte did not notice the yellow patch the first time around: it took another to point to the experience.

23. Andrei Linde, Universe, Life, Consciousness. http://​web.stanf​


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Not only are the various qualia interrelated, but the perception of qualia, even of the same qualia, changes over time. While some philosophers suggest that qualia are nonrelational, intrinsic, and do not change, Proust’s description of qualia suggests otherwise. The steeples of Martinville change identity as they change relationship to the narrator’s moving carriage. The perception of Vinteuil’s music changes as the narrator hears more than the phrase and then, at the end of the novel, the septet. Bergotte, after reading about Vermeer’s View of Delft, becomes attuned for the first time to that patch of yellow. These impressions are often temporal, and thus relational, in nature. They depend on both interior and exterior state, as we saw earlier. Qualia are also often thought to be directly apprehensible; to experience qualia is to know one experiences qualia and that’s all there is to know. But in Proust’s novel, the narrator has to keep dipping and tasting the madeleine. There seems to be something more to this experience than that first, physical sensation, and the delayed resurrection of Combray is evidence of this. Furthermore, mediation, either through repeated temporal exposure or through others’ experiences, is important. The narrator’s apprenticeship to qualia takes time, both as he accumulates his own experiences and as he learns from others’ experiences and through art. This search for qualia shows that Proustian qualia are state dependent even as they are substrate independent. As states change, so do qualia. The narrator’s exploration of consciousness is thus also a window onto the hard problem of life, and qualia are a fundamental part of this dynamic state-​dependent world that gives rise to glimpses of substrate independent form. Deleuze chooses to call these moments signs and, in a way, he’s right, since they seem to point toward something beyond their physical reality. But as he suggests later, the signs reveal a networked—​rather than a transcendental—​structure. 237


CONSCIOUSNESS AS INFORMATION NETWORK Scholars of information theory in a range of disciplines now wonder whether the most basic unit of the universe is not matter but information.24 Information at its most fundamental level is defined as a difference that makes a difference. In the narrator’s case, it does seem that the task of the artist is to translate information by ascertaining what difference certain differences make. All of the impressions highlight the act of processing information, an act that takes time. And these impressions, more than many of the other perceptual experiences in the novel, have the added element of needing to be translated or interpreted. Information theory thus offers an alternative to both materialism and idealism. The less material or more material aspects of Proust’s various impressions don’t seem to be a defining essential feature. The simple physical taste of a cookie is also more than just sensory material. Instead, it’s the qualitative aspect that connects the narrator’s consciousness to his world, of which he is an integrated part. Moreover, when the taste of the madeleine brings back all of Combray in three-​dimensional form, it brings back more than simply its material components. Rather, the taste gives rise to an entire information network. A recent theory of consciousness, called integrated information theory, posits that when information is integrated, it gives rise to an emergent experience of consciousness. This may explain why impressions sometimes provide the narrator with the sense that matter itself is enminded: they are a glimpse of an integrated information system that appears conscious. The pinkness of the 24. See S. Walker, P. Davies, and G. Ellis (Eds.), From Matter to Life: Information and Causality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).


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hawthorns is one such difference that makes a difference. The narrator compares the flowers to society ladies, who are members of a complex networked system. Nature and society—​ seemingly so different—​both evince complex dynamic systems that give a sense of a deeper shared nature. Self and world both follow similar patterns of life. Later impressions offer similar instances in which the world outside the self seems to exhibit conscious agency. When the information is networked in a particular way, the network takes on qualities of agency or mind. As the narrator first approaches and then moves away from the Martinville steeples, they seem to have an agency of their own, “flinging themselves roughly in front of us” before “timidly seek[ing] their way and after some awkward stumbling of their noble silhouettes, press[ing] against one another, slip[ping] behind one another” (The Way by Swann’s, pp. 407–​408). Moreover, we see shifting identities over time. The steeples seem to transform from one material identity to another, first appearing like three birds, then like three flowers, finally like “three young girls in a legend.” Identity doesn’t precede the dynamic interplay of information; it emerges from it. As yet one more example, the three trees seem to be communicating with the narrator, trying to tell him something. In moments like all of these, Proust comes closest to the philosophy of panpsychism—​not only living things, like the trees or hawthorns, but even the inanimate steeples appear enminded. Is this just an illusion that will soon be shattered? It is tempting to see these panpsychic aspects of Proust’s impressions as evidence of childish visions of the world that will be abandoned. While it’s true that they appear less frequently over time, it’s also the case that unlike many illusions in the novel, the final volume affirms the impressions as privileged moments of 239


access to reality. Moreover, these moments form the shadow of the narrator’s investigation into human transitional states. While trees and steeples seem to take on consciousness, humans often seem to lose consciousness, not only when falling asleep, but when engaging in habitual actions that seem to render them more automatic and less enminded. Impressions thus point to an experience that offers access to the most basic experience of consciousness itself. Certain kinds of information, experienced as impressions, yield a sense of an integrated, networked world in which the arising structure seems more than material and sometimes even enminded. At times, similar dynamic, state-​dependent processes occur in both self and world. At times, the self fails to connect to the integrated world by responding properly. The response is all, because Proust’s world is a participatory universe in which the trees seem to speak to him, and he feels called upon to respond. As we saw earlier, the narrator insists that the artist must translate these impressions. Unlike some theories of a participatory universe, then, being a spectator or observer is not enough.25 The challenge is to be more than just a spectator and to participate in this dynamic and complex universe. The failure of certain impressions stems from the narrator’s failure to participate fully. Here we can see one final way in which Proust challenges certain notions of qualia, in particular that qualia are ineffable or unable to be communicated in language. Proust is clear that the task of the

25. According to the participatory anthropic principle of quantum physics popularized by the Nobel Prize winner John Archibald Wheeler, merely being an observer helps create the world around us. According to this view, physics gives rise to observer participancy, which results in information, which gives rise to physics. Proust, however, emphasizes a necessary response—​beyond observation—​to the impressions as they communicate information to him.


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writer is also the task of a translator. We can see the difficulty of this task when the narrator, as a young boy, can only exclaim “zut, zut, zut, zut!” while on a walk in Combray: In the pond, reflective again under the sun, the tile roof made a pink marbling to which I had never before given any attention. And seeing on the water and on the face of the wall a pale smile answering the smile of the sky, I cried out to myself in my enthusiasm, brandishing my furled umbrella: “Damn, damn, damn, damn.” But at the same time I felt I was in duty bound not to stop at these opaque words, but to try to see more clearly into my rapture. (The Way by Swann’s, pp. 357–​358)

In this passage, we can see key features of an integrated information network that emerges as enminded. We see the experience of qualia, the “pink marbling to which I had never before given any attention.” Moreover, the pond, roof and sky all reflect each other and create an emergent sense of conscious communication amongst the various parts, “seeing on the water and on the face of the wall a pale smile answering the smile of the sky” (The Way by Swann’s, p. 357).26 In this case, the narrator stands outside of the complex system, noticing its emergent properties but failing to respond properly. He can’t translate, only exclaim. This moment therefore marks the beginning of an apprenticeship to “to try[ing] to see more clearly into [his] rapture,” investigating qualitative experience in order to see into his own conscious response. And the hard problem of the narrator’s consciousness—​how 26. W hile Hannah Freed-​Thall (“Zut, zut, zut, zut: Aesthetic Disorientation in Proust,” MLN 124, no. 4 [2009]: 868–​900) is right to emphasize the ordinariness of this scene (in distinction to other impressions), it nonetheless shares many key elements, notably the attention to color and the seeming enmindedness of the water, wall, and sky.



his material self is enminded—​is linked to an understanding of the world in which material—​here the roofs, the wall, and the sky—​ appear enminded as well. If the music of Vinteuil or the three trees seem to be a communication without a clear message, perhaps it’s because the message is the connection itself: an understanding of the participatory universe. These moments of communication link self to world, interior to exterior, past to present, and material to immaterial as part of a complex system with consciousness at its center. We can look to the past and document all of the philosophies that Proust considers in turn over the long course of his novels. But we can also look to our present to see the ways in which the impressions he describes dovetail with our contemporary investigations of both consciousness and complexity. It is all the more remarkable that Proust anticipates many of our current philosophical debates, since there were no contemporary philosophies to show him the way.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Baldwin, T. “Philosophy.” In Marcel Proust in Context, edited by A. Watt, pp. 75–​82. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Beckett, Samuel. Proust and Three Dialogues. London: John Calder, 1989. Chalmers, David. The Conscious Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Chalmers, David. “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 2, no. 3 (1995): 200–​219. Deleuze, Gilles. Proust and Signs: The Complete Text. Translated by Richard Howard. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. Elkins, Katherine. “Memory and Material Significance.” Modern Language Quarterly 69, no. 4 (2008): 509–​531. Elkins, Katherine. “Proust.” In The Giants of French Literature. Prince Frederick: Modern Scholar Series, 2010. Elkins, Katherine. “Proust’s Novel Time.” In Metaphors of Time, ed. Gribetz and Kaye, forthcoming. Enders, Evelyne. Architexts of Memory. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.


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Freed-​Thall, Hannah. “Zut, zut, zut, zut: Aesthetic Disorientation in Proust.” MLN 124, no. 4 (2009): 868–​900. Gray, Margaret E. Postmodern Proust. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. Landy, Joshua. Philosophy as Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Large, Duncan. Nietzsche and Proust. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Lehrer, Jonah. Proust Was a Neuroscientist. Boston: Mariner, 2008. Levine, George. Darwin and the Novelists: Patterns of Science in Victorian Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Linde, Andrei. Universe, Life, Consciousness. http://​web.stanf​ Palo Alto. Retrieved Nov. 29, 2020. Nagel, Thomas. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” The Philosophical Review 83, no. 4 (Oct. 1974): 435–​450. Nussbaum, Martha. Love’s Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Pothast, U. “Elements of Schopenhauer’s Thought in Beckett.” In The Impact of Idealism: The Legacy of Post-​Kantian German Thought, edited by N. Boyle, L. Disley, C. Jamme, and I. Cooper, pp. 145–​167. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Proust, Marcel. The Guermantes Way. Edited by Christopher Prendergast. Translated by Mark Treharne. New York: Penguin, 2003. Proust, Marcel. Sodom and Gomorrah. Edited by Christopher Prendergast. Translated by John Sturrock. New York: Penguin, 2003. Proust, Marcel. The Way by Swann’s. Edited by Christopher Prendergast. Translated by Lydia Davis. New York: Penguin, 2002. Proust, Marcel. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. Edited by Christopher Prendergast. Translated by James Grieve. New York: Penguin, 2005. Simon, Anne. Proust ou le réel retrouvé. Paris: Honoré-​Champion, 2011. Speaks, J. “What Are Debates about Qualia Really about?” Philosophical Studies 170 (2014): 59–​84. Walker, S., P. Davies, and G. Ellis (Eds.). From Matter to Life: Information and Causality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Wolfe, Maryanne. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: Harper, 2008.



For the benefit of digital users, indexed terms that span two pages (e.g., 52–​53) may, on occasion, appear on only one of those pages. Adam, Adolphe, 93 Adorno, Thedor, 86–​87 aesthetic shape of life, 33–​35 “Against Sainte-​Beuve” (Proust), 8 ambiguity of narrator, 48–​49 animism, 199–​201 art achieving aim of, 44 life of narrator and, 26–​29 music in making art, 98–​103 reliability of narrator and, 20–​26 temps in, 7, 14 weaving art and writing in painting, 14–​16 artist novel (Künstlerroman), 9–​10 author-​in-​the-​text construct, 72–​73 autobiography creative autobiography, 55–​56 fictionalized autobiography, 2, 110–​ 11, 160–​62 literal autobiography, 56 straight autobiography, 55 symbolic autobiography, 55, 56 Badiou, Alain, 120–​21 Balzac, Honoré de, 104–​7, 108–​9, 121

Barthes, Roland biographism and, 63 “closed-​systems” approach to narration, 8–​9, 49–​51, 55 le marcellisme and, 66–​71 “Marcel” as narrator, 72–​74 reflections on Proust, 8–​9 response to Painter’s biography, 8–​ 9, 60–​72 Beckett, Samuel, 10, 218 belief system of narrator, 31 benefits of reading Proust, 44–​46 Benjamin, Walter, 86–​87 Bennett, Alan, 51–​52 Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Freud), 147–​48 biographies of Proust Barthes’s response to Painter, 60–​72 introduction to, 8–​9, 47–​51 le marcellisme, coined by Barthes, 66–​71 “l’homme et l’oeuvre” approach to, 56–​ 57, 62 “Marcel” as narrator, 72–​74 Painter on, 51–​60, 75–​76 para-​Proustian biographies, 75


indeX biographies of Proust (cont.) posterity of, 75–​77 symbolic biography, 65–​66 understanding of sources, 53–​57 biographism, 63 bisexual love, 167–​68 Blanchot, Maurice, 111 Bonnet, Henri, 67–​68 Brunetière, Ferdinand, 138–​40 Cadava, Eduardo, 211–​12 Le Carnet de 1908 (Proust), 79 Caro, Elme-​Marie, 138–​40 The Case of Wagner (Nietzsche), 93 Cattaui, Georges, 51–​53, 60n.12 Chalmers, David, 230–​31 Chevalier, Gascon, 90 chronological time in novels, 111–​12, 120 cliffhangers, 11, 107–​8 “closed-​systems” approach to narration, 8–​9, 49–​51, 55 cognitive bias, 6–​7 cognitive flexibility, 43, 44–​45 Colette, 48 color, narrator attunement to, 15, 16 Comédie humaine (Balzac), 104–​7, 108–​9 Confessions (Rousseau), 81–​83, 87–​88 consciousness dynamic states, 226–​30 experience of, 2 hard problem of, 230–​37 as information network, 238–​42 life problem and, 222–​25 panpsychism and, 239–​40 philosophy problem and, 217–​22 qualitative experience and, 231–​37 world and, 235–​36 Constant, Benjamin, 44 Contre Sainte-​Beuve (Proust), 53–​54, 55, 57–​60, 68, 106–​7 covert seriality, 109–​10 creative autobiography, 55–​56 Dano, Evelyne, 75 Dante, 67–​68 Darlu, Alphonse, 82–​83

“The Death of the Author” (Barthes), 8–​ 9, 49–​51 Deleuze, Gilles, 217–​18, 220, 221–​22 Derrida, Jacques, 120, 121–​22 Descartes, René, 85–​86 Descombes, Vincent, 40–​41n.42 desire, as internal state, 12 despair and jealousy, 179–​80 Dictionnaire de musique (Rousseau), 87–​ 88, 94–​95 disappointment theme, 146 “discovery” model, 188 disenchanted skepticism, 130–​32 disillusion perspective, 140–​41 Divine Comedy (Dante), 67–​68 double unknowingness, 180–​82 Doubrovsky, Serge, 48 drama of weather, 205–​6 dramatic plot reversals, 106–​7 dry work of intelligence, 6–​7 Du côté de chez Swann. See Swann’s Way Duff Cooper Prize, 61–​62 dullness of voluntary memory, 6–​7 Dumas, Alexandre, 106–​7 dynamic states, 226–​30 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Marx), 120–​21 Ellmann, Richard, 51–​52 Emile (Rousseau), 83–​84 Emmanuel, Levinas, 90–​91 emotional disturbances, 12 emotional knowledge, 12 English language television/​media studies, 106–​7 Essay on the Origin of Languages (Rousseau), 87–​88, 94–​95 experiences of reader. See reader experiences Fallois, Bernard de, 53–​54 fictionalized autobiography, 2, 110–​ 11, 160–​62 fictions of artists, 9–​10 Flaubert, Gustave, 73–​74, 104–​6, 107–​ 8, 114–​15 Foschini, Lorenza, 75


indeX Foucault, Michel, 49–​50 France, Anatole, 53–​54 François le champi (Sand), 101, 102, 113–​14 Freud, Sigmund, 12, 146–​52 fundamental events, 223–​24

music associations in, 89–​93, 98–​103 novel’s ability to change/​impact reader’s life, 45 philosophical perspective in, 44–​45 La Prisonnière, 72–​73, 117, 163–​ 64, 174–​75 Rousseau and, 81–​82 seriality of, 104–​23 Swann in Love, 29–​30, 107–​8 as symbolic autobiography, 55, 56 as symbolic biography, 65–​66 Time Regained, 2, 4, 37–​38, 176–​ 77, 197–​98 weather literary themes in, 191–​98 “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes” (Freud), 147–​49 internal notion of satisfaction, 146 internal structure of novels, 35–​37 In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur (Proust), 109–​10 involuntary memory, 31–​32, 86–​87, 111, 119–​20, 121–​22

Gallimard, Gaston, 81–​82 Gaucher, Maxime, 82–​83 generic hybridity, 19n.1 Genet, Jean, 48 Genette, Gérard, 72–​73, 198–​99 Gibson, J., 195–​96, 216 Gide, André, 1–​2 grieving and oblivion theme, 154–​55 Grosskurth, Phyllis, 70–​71 The Guermantes Way (Proust), 193–​94 Hahn, Reynaldo, 82–​83 Hartmann, Eduard von, 138–​40 Heidegger, Martin, 196–​97 homosexuality themes, 76–​77 How Proust Can Change Your Life (Botton), 75 human experience of art, 26 Impressionists, 7 incidental events, 223–​24 individual spectator of art, 26 information theory and consciousness, 238–​42 Ingold, Tim, 195–​97 inner and outer world distinction, 148–​49 In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu) (Proust). See also Swann’s Way art and, 29–​31, 37–​38 biographical understanding of, 53–​57, 59–​60, 61–​62, 65–​66, 68–​69 debate over philosophical nature of, 2–​3, 16–​17 disillusion narrative, 129–​30 as fictionalized autobiography, 110–​11 gaps between biography and literature, 76–​77 as meditation on art and biography, 47–​48 mental habits in context of Proust, 42–​44

James, Henry, 191–​92 jealousy despair and, 179–​80 how others 13–​14, see us, insights from experiencing, 6–​7 as internal disease, 12 introduction to, 157 love and, 13, 160, 165–​77 medical perspective on love and jealousy, 125–​56 of oneself, 177–​83 philosophical characterization, 184–​89 philosophy and, 158–​65 in serial novels, 11–​12, 118–​19 snobbery and, 183 Jean Christophe (Roland), 101 Jean Santeuil (Proust), 53–​54, 55, 56, 111 Jewishness themes, 76–​77 Joyce, James, 9–​10 Kahneman, Daniel, 6–​7 Klein, Melanie, 204


indeX Knausgaard, Karl Ove, 1, 48 Kolb, Philip, 70–​71, 83–​84 Künstlerroman (artist novel), 9–​10 La Nausée (Sartre), 85–​86 Lanson, Gustave, 62, 82–​83 Lauris, George de, 82–​83 La Vieille Fille (Balzac), 106–​7 Lazarillo de Tormes (anonymous), 106–​7 Leduc, Violette, 48 L’éducation sentimentale (Flaubert), 107–​8 leitmotifs of Wagner, 93–​94 Lemaire, Madeleine, 53–​54 le marcellisme, coined by Barthes, 66–​71 Le Pessimisme Au XIXe Siecle: Leopardi, Schopenhauer, Hartmann (Caro), 138–​40 Le Pessimisme dans le Roman, in Revue des Deux Mondes, 70, no. 4 (Brunetière), 138–​40 Lerner, Bettina, 106–​7 lesbian theme, 187–​88 Les Maîtres Sonneurs (Sand), 95–​96 Les Plaisirs et les jours (Proust), 53–​54 “Les Vies parallèles” (Barthes), 62 “l’homme et l’oeuvre” approach to biography, 56–​57, 62 life aesthetic shape of, 33–​35 consciousness and, 222–​25 of narrator and art, 26–​29 novel’s ability to change/​impact reader, 37–​42, 45 relationship to art, 10 life writing fictionalized, 8 Linde, Andrei, 235–​36 literal autobiography, 56 literary awards, 1–​2 literary judgment, 57–​58 literature as optical instrument, 33 logical notion of satisfaction, 146 love as emotional knowledge, 12 jealousy and, 13, 160, 165–​77 life of narrator and, 28–​29

medical perspective on love and jealousy, 125–​56 philosophical characterization, 184–​89 possession and, 182–​83 in serial novels, 11–​12 vision of narrator and, 29–​33 Love’s Knowledge (Nussbaum), 6–​7 Madame Bovary (Flaubert), 73–​74, 114–​15 Madame Proust (Dano), 75 Maître, Jacques le, 84–​85 “Marcel” as narrator, 72–​74 Marcelism. See le marcellisme Marcel Proust: A Biography (Painter), 51–​60 Marcel Proust, sa vie et son oeuvre (Pierre-​ Quint), 67–​68 Marcel Proust de 1907 à 1914 (Bonnet), 67–​68 Maurois, André, 52–​54, 56–​57 medical perspective on love and jealousy, 12, 125–​56 memory association with atmospheric states, 193–​94 dullness of voluntary memory, 6–​7 involuntary memory, 31–​32, 86–​87, 111, 119–​20, 121–​22 “pure time” of involuntary memory, 111 mental habits in context of Proust, 42–​44 Mercure de France, 51–​52 Merleau-​Ponty, Maurice, 196–​97 metapsychology, 147–​48 “La Méthode de Sainte-​Beuve” (Proust), 57–​58, 70–​71 Michelangelo, 98–​99 Miller, Henry, 48 Miller, Sydney, 212–​13 modernist novels and weather, 198–​ 202, 212–​13 Moncrieff, Scott, 7 Monsieur Proust’s Library (Muhlstein), 75 moral psychology, 158–​59, 184 Muhlstein, Anka, 75 musical relationship between Rousseau and Proust countering influence with, 85–​88


indeX introduction to, 79–​83 in making art, 98–​103 memory and, 83–​88 overview of, 89–​98 Wagner and, 91–​98 music/​musical perspective life of narrator and, 27–​29 philosophy relationship to, 10 reliability of narrator and, 24–​25 temps in art, 7, 14 My Struggle (Knausgaard), 48 my world, of narrator, 23, 25–​26, 33–​34 La Naissance du jour (Colette), 48 naïve perspective of youth, 140–​42 narrator/​narration aesthetic shape of life, 33–​35 ambiguity of, 8–​9, 48–​49 attunement to color, 15 belief system of, 31 “closed-​systems” approach to narration, 8–​9, 49–​51, 55 life of narrator and art, 26–​29 “Marcel” as, 72–​74 medical perspective on love and jealousy, 125–​56 my world, 23, 25–​26, 33–​34 in nonserial novels, 111 observance of weather, 209–​16 our world, 23, 24, 33–​34 relationship to author, 8–​9 subjectivity of, 110–​11 their world, 23, 24–​25 unreliability of, 20–​26, 39–​40 vision of, 29–​33 weather, as beyond control of, 13–​14 the world, 23–​24, 33–​34 Nattiez, Jean-​Jacques, 94 negative emotions, 6–​7 New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (Freud), 147–​48 Newtonian physics, 224 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 79, 93, 103 Noailles, Anna de, 20 Noailles, Marie-​Laure de, 51–​52 nonomnipotence of weather, 203–​6

nonserial novels, 111 novel’s ability to change/​impact reader’s life, 37–​42, 45 Nussbaum, Martha, 6–​7 object of a drive, 148–​52 “Of Clocks and Clouds” (Popper), 199–​201 our world, of narrator, 23, 24, 33–​34 Painter, George, 8–​9 Barthes’s response to biography by, 8–​ 9, 60–​72 biography of Proust, 51–​60, 75–​77 painting, 14–​16, 24 panpsychism, 239–​40 paradoxalement, by Barthes, 61–​62 para-​Proustian biographies, 75 passing of time in novels, 113 Peters, John Durham, 199–​201 philosophical perspective aesthetic shape of life, 33–​35 benefits of reading Proust, 44–​46 characterization of love and jealousy, 184–​89 generic hybridity, 19n.1 internal structure of novels, 35–​37 introduction to, 2–​7, 8, 19–​20 life of narrator and art, 26–​29 mental habits in context of, 42–​44 unreliability of narrator, 20–​26, 39–​40 vision of narrator, 29–​33 philosophy and consciousness, 217–​22 Philosophy as Fiction (Landy), 3–​4, 218 Picherit, Hervé, 33 Pierre-​Quint, Léon, 52–​53, 67–​68 Platonism of Proust, 4–​5, 234–​35 pleasure principle, 147–​48, 149–​50 Popper, Karl, 199–​201 Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man ( Joyce), 9–​10 possession and love, 182–​83 Postillon de Longjumeau (Adam), 93 poststructuralist thought, 8–​9 Potocka, Emmanuela, 138–​40 Pouquet, Jeanne, 52–​53 Prendergast, Christopher, 7–​8


indeX préparaient, defined, 28–​29 “La Préparation du roman” (Barthes), 64–​ 66, 67–​68, 69–​71 primary narcissism, 148–​49 primary sources in biographies, 54–​55 principle of constancy, 147–​49 La Prisonnière (Proust), 72–​73, 117, 163–​ 64, 174–​75 Prix Goncourt award, 1–​2, 108–​9 “Project for a Scientific Psychology” (Freud), 147–​48 Proust, Adrien (father), 53–​54 Proust, Jeanne (mother), 53–​54, 56 Proust and Signs (Deleuze), 217–​18 Proust (Beckett), 218 The Proustian Fabric (McDonald), 3 Proustian moments, 2, 11–​12, 217–​18 “Proust Questionnaire,” 75–​76 Proust’s Duchess (Weber), 75 Proust’s Overcoat (Foschini), 75 psychological notion of desire, 150–​52 psychological notion of satisfaction, 149–​50 psychological perspective in Proust’s fiction, 12 “pure time” of involuntary memory, 111 qualitative experiences, 15, 231–​37 Rancière, Jacques, 114–​15 ranz des vaches, 94–​96, 99–​100 reader experiences, 7–​8, 23, 37–​42, 45 La recherche. See In Search of Lost Time rejection by publisher, 1–​2 Remembrance of Things Past (Moncrieff), 7 Rêveries d’un promeneur solitaire (Rousseau), 87–​88 Rivière, Jacques, 3–​4, 21–​22, 44–​45, 130–​ 31, 162, 164–​65 Robertson, Lisa, 191 Roland, Romain, 101 romantic love as “malady,” 125–​27 Rougon-​Macquart (Zola), 104–​6, 108–​9 Rousseau, Jean-​Jacques, 10. See also musical relationship between Rousseau and Proust

Russell, B., 145 Ryle, Gilbert, 41 Sainte Beuve, Charles, 82–​83, 87 Sand, George, 95–​96, 101, 102, 113–​14 Sartre, Jean-​Paul, 85–​86 Schopenhauer, Arthur, 135–​40, 145, 146–​ 47, 148–​49 Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, 6, 192–​93, 199–​ 201, 204, 208–​9 self-​deceived self-​protectiveness, 185 self-​knowledge, 13, 29–​30, 41, 181–​ 82, 184–​85 semi-​imaginary people/​things, 19–​20 serial novels covert seriality, 109–​10 intermittences of, 113–​15 introduction to, 11–​12 jealousy in, 11–​12, 118–​19 In Search of Lost Time, 104–​23 Serres, Michel, 192–​93 Sesame and Lilies (Ruskin), 23 Shakespeare, William, 7 singularity novels, 11–​12 snobbery and jealousy, 183 straight autobiography, 55 stream-​of-​consciousness ramblings, 35–​37 structuralist academic method of reading, 49–​50 Sue, Eugène, 106–​7 Swann in Love (Un Amour de Swann) (Proust), 29–​30, 107–​8 Swann’s Way (Du côté de chez Swann) (Proust) ambiguity of narrator, 48–​49 art in, 21–​22 love and jealousy in, 12, 13, 29–​31, 32–​33 medical perspective on love and jealousy, 125–​56 music associations in, 87 novel’s ability to change/​impact reader’s life, 37–​38 philosophical perspective in, 44–​45 romantic love as “malady,” 125–​27 symbolic autobiography, 55, 56 symbolic biography, 65–​66, 70


indeX Tadié, Jean-​Yves, 51–​52, 56–​57 temps in art, 7, 14 their world, of narrator, 23, 24–​25 through error to truth (per aspera, ad astra), 187–​88 Time Regained (Proust), 2, 4, 37–​38, 176–​ 77, 197–​98 translations of Proust, 7–​8 Tropic of Cancer (Miller), 48 Uncommon Reader (Bennett), 51–​52 unreliability of narrator, 20–​26, 39–​ 40, 129–​30 Unreliable Philosopher, 129–​30 Vial, R.-​P., 51–​52 Viardot, Pauline, 95–​96 Victorian literature, 106–​7 View of Delft (Vermeer), 14–​15 Virgil, 67–​68

Wagner, Richard, 91–​98, 103, 162 weather beyond narrator control, 13–​14 drama of, 205–​6 influence on time, 206–​9 literary themes of, 191–​98 as medium of perception, 197–​98 in modernist novels, 198–​202, 212–​13 narrator observance of, 209–​16 nonomnipotence of, 203–​6 unpredictability of, 199–​201, 206–​9 Weber, Caroline, 75 Wilde, Oscar, 51–​52 Wise, Pyra, 83 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 145 Woolf, Virginia, 1 the world, of narrator, 23–​24, 33–​34 world and consciousness, 235–​36 World War I, 202 Zola, Émile, 104–​6, 108–​9, 121