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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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Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time has become a lifelong occupation and love of mine. In my penultimate year as a student of history and philosophy in Amsterdam, a friend recommended to me the author who was to have such a strong influence on my idea of art and life. It was on the 25th of September 1967 that I bought A la Recherche du Temps Perdu in the three volume Pléiade edi- tion. At the beginning I was perplexed and confused, it took half a year before I began to feel that I understood that work. I travelled to Venice but left Proust behind. Reading him, so difficult and hard to understand as he appeared to me, had never ceased to fascinate me; his ideas continued to work inside me, and when I took A la Recherche in my hands again, I was thrilled by the feeling that I understood him. From then on a growing love for the author began to demand expression. In 1974 I wrote my dissertation as a historian on Proust’s aesthetics. A thoroughly revised edition appeared in 1997, and a second edition in 2004, the same year as a German translation. I am very pleased that an English edition can now appear, thanks to the sensitive and conscientious work of Chris Costello. I was and remain convinced that the core of his aesthetics can liberate us from the ambivalent legacy of historicism. I had earlier believed that art and life are necessarily...

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