Proust’s Ruthlessness

Ah, Proust…the long, well-trimmed, intimidating shadow cast over French letters…

From an academic point of view, what interests me about Proust is his modernity, skeptical as he may be about it. It may seem a small detail compared to the greater scope of his work, but he is admirably deft at sensing what is going around him, especially the way the new technologies of transportation and communication affect our perceptions and feelings : the telephone becomes associated with loss, the camera reveals the limits of our sensory perception and of our memory, the train is a trial ground for the fragmentation of reality, the car becomes the model for the epiphany-inducing moments that will allow him to regain Time, and the plane a metaphor for a unifying point of view, as it was for the Futurists. Moreover, these are questions that are still relevant today, and perhaps more than ever.
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Time Travel

May 29, 2013 | By Mary Hawthorne
Recently, I’ve come back to Proust. I did not resolve once again, once and for all, to finish reading his masterwork (like a surprising number of my literary friends, I’d been swearing to do this for years); instead, I simply began reading him again, every morning on my way to the office on the No. 7 train, and every evening on my way home.

The impetus for my prodigal’s return was the recent Proust exhibition at the Morgan Library—my viewing for the first time the notebooks that Proust tore through in conceiving and drafting Du Côté de Chez Swann and the subsequent fair copies and galley proofs that he methodically and ceaselessly corrected. The sight of these ordinary material objects—worn covers and foxed pages and faded violet typescript and splotches of ink and indecipherable handwriting—brought not just Proust the writer but Proust the man to life for me in a singularly intimate way.
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The Stirrings of My Felt Body

June 17, 2013 | By Siri Hustvedt
To read Proust is to feel the fluctuations of a consciousness in all its mingled modes—sensory, cognitive, emotional. But for me the enchantment of his immense novel lies in the fact that the narrator is agonizingly aware of the chasm between experience and language. The stirrings of my felt body: the thing seen in the world that creates another thing seen in my head, the stale odor that evokes a vague memory of a place I cannot quite recall, which then vanishes before I can name it, and the language I use to try to represent these fleeting realities are incompatible.

Proust: “The words in each case were a long way removed from the impressions.”

It is the attempt to articulate what so often goes unarticulated which makes Proust a great phenomenologist. He is bound in my mind to William James, Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Susanne Langer, all philosophers—to James’s conscious flux and “fringe,” to Husserl’s motion of time consciousness that retains what has just past and projects what is to come, to Merleau-Ponty’s binding of the natural and the spoken, and to Langer’s muscular rhythms of art experience.

Proust: “In reality, every reader is, while reading, the reader of his own self.”

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Teaching “Proust and His World”

June 24, 2013 | By Larry Bensky
I’ve maintained the “Radio Proust” web site for almost six years now, and have concurrently been teaching a course called “Proust and His World” for the Osher Lifetime Learning Institute at UC Berkeley. One of the major obstacles I’ve encountered, which seems to be shared by many Proust admirers, is how to engage those who have little or no knowledge of Proust in his magnificent work?

Fortunately, now there is a perfect way! Recommend that people read and look at the newly published, big format book, “Marcel Proust in Pictures and Documents.” (Edition Olms, Zurich). In fact, even the most dedicated Proust lovers will find many hours of pleasure in this relatively brief collection of writings by and about Proust, and in the extremely well chosen selection of photographs and paintings that illustrates Proust’s story. Written by Mireille Naturel, who directs Proust graduate studies at the Sorbonne, and edited with an eloquent preface by Proust’s great grand-niece, Patricia Mantes Proust, the book is expertly translated by Josephine Bacon.


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