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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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CHAPTER IV: The re-creation of reality: perspectivism and metaphor

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CHAPTER IV The re-creation of reality: perspectivism and metaphor Perspectivism Proust presents people and events in space and time perspectivistically, with each perspective being granted the same legitimacy. The people he had met and whose lives he had followed over the years, he compares with giants submerged in the depth of the years and “simultaneously” in contact with widely separated instances in time. When the narrator, at the end of his book, decides to make an artistic presentation of the people and events of his life, he seeks to describe them in their connection with time, i.e. perspectivistically. It is a conscious deci- sion to use “time” as the first and the last word of A la Recherche. His aim is to present his life “in time”, i.e. perspectivistically. And it is not by chance that the first pages form the perspectivistic overture for his work, beginning as they do with: “For a long time I would go to bed early,”a where he lets the world spin like a top which he then examines as it slows down and admires the multiplicity of perspectives. Proust developed this perspectivistic method relatively late. Neither in Jean Santeuil nor in Contre Sainte-Beuve does he apply it. During the time he was working on Jean Santeuil, Proust describes the fountain of Saint-Cloud, which he knows from a painting by Hubert Robert.1 It is interesting to note the reap- pearance of this fountain in A la Recherche. But if one compares the earlier sketch...

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