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Proust’s «In Search of Lost Time»: The History of a Vocation

Meindert Evers

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) grew up in the fin de siècle, a period associated with melancholy and decadence. He knew the temptations of decadence, but freed himself by developing a new conception of art: Perspectivism becomes the aesthetic and philosophical principle of In Search of Lost Time. The novel traces out the path to becoming an artist. It is the history of a «vocation». The main figure is initiated into the hidden beauty of the universe by various artists and by «signs» from his own life, like involuntary memory. A variety of dangers however, lie along the path of the artist. Besides aestheticism, there is the siren call of worldly life which has to be resisted. In the end, art triumphs. For Proust art is not a refuge from life, but the only way to do justice to the modern world. The fascinating and equally disturbing consequence of Proust’s radical conception of art is the complete absence of cultural criticism. An advertisement for soap may contain as much poetry as the Pensées of Pascal.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

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PREFACE 7 CHAPTER I Proust and the Fin de Siècle; influences and affinities 11 Short biography of the writer. Description of the atmosphere of the fin de siècle 11 Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) 20 Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) 26 John Ruskin (1819-1900) 29 Proust and France 39 Symbolism 44 CHAPTER II A la Recherche as the history of a vocation 51 Swann and Charlus: against aestheticism 62 Art and life: the temptation of the world 75 Art and life: Marcel Proust and Thomas Mann 83 Art and life: Commitment 93 Proust and friendship: contra Nietzsche 94 Possibility and reality 100 CHAPTER III A la Recherche as a search for beauty 105 La mémoire involontaire (involuntary memory) 109 Dreaming and awakening 119 Modern means of communication 121 6 Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ CHAPTER IV The re-creation of reality: perspectivism and metaphor 129 Perspectivism 129 The metaphor 142 CHAPTER V Representation of the modern age 153 Absence of cultural criticism 153 The Dreyfus Affair 160 The First World War 165 Homosexuality 168 The aristocracy and high society 174 EPILOGUE 179 NOTES 181 BIBLIOGRAPHY 201 INDEX OF NAMES 203

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