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Au seuil de la modernité: Proust, Literature and the Arts

Essays in Memory of Richard Bales


Edited By Nigel Harkness and Marion Schmid

This volume of essays, which is dedicated to the late Richard Bales, one of the doyens of Proust studies, considers Proust’s pivotal role at the threshold of modernity, between nineteenth- and twentieth-century forms of writing and thinking, between the Belle Epoque and the First World War, between tradition and innovation. More than just a temporal concept, this threshold is theorized in the volume as a liminal space where borders (geographical, artistic, personal) dissolve, where greater possibilities for artistic dialogue emerge, and where unexpected encounters (between artists, genres and disciplines) take place.
Working both backwards and forwards from the publication dates of A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-27), the seventeen essays written specially for this volume take as their focus Proust’s manifold engagements with the world of modernity, as well as intermedial relations among the generations of artists before and immediately after him. Looking back to the nineteenth century, the undisputed starting point for nascent forms of modernity in Western art and literature, and a period that was uniquely formative for the young Proust, they also offer insights into inter-artistic dialogue in Surrealist and post-Surrealist painting and poetry.


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II Cultures of Modernity -81


II Cultures of Modernity Alison Finch Marcel Proust: Cultural Historian? In The Proustian Fabric, Christie McDonald identifies three successive waves in Proust criticism: broadly, up to the mid-1960s one preoccupied with the phenomenology of mind; in the 1960s and 1970s, a structural approach, focusing on semiological aspects of the text; from the 1980s, genetic criti- cism.1 McDonald’s book was written twenty years ago, and to her categories we can now, it is clear, add a fourth: the historical and political. This is, obviously, attributable to changing emphases in literary criticism; it can also be dated roughly to the publication of the 1987–89 Pléiade edition of A la recherche du temps perdu, with its meticulous notes elucidating, inter alia, the novel’s historical references. There had been precursors: as early as 1971, Barthes was referring to a ‘sociological’ Proust.2 But, strikingly, it is in the last two decades that study after study has appeared with such titles as Proust sociologue, or Proust et le sens du social;3 the major landmark here has been Michael Sprinker’s work of 1994, History and Ideology in Proust: ‘A la 1 Christie McDonald, The Proustian Fabric: Associations of Memory (Lincoln, NE, and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), p. 11. 2 ‘L’œuvre de Proust est beaucoup plus sociologique qu’on ne le dit’: Roland Barthes, ‘Une idée de recherche’, in Recherche de Proust, ed. by Gérard Genette and Tzvetan Todorov (Paris: Seuil, 1980), pp. 34–9 (p. 37); the essay originally appeared...

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