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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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Notes on chapter I 1 Cf. M. Proust, A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, ed. P. Clarac and A. Ferré, 3 vols, Paris 1954. Here referred to as Proust I, II, III. Between 1987-1989 a new edition of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu appeared in Paris in four volumes, published by J.-Y. Tadié. This edition is particularly interesting on account of the copious notes and the inclusion of variants and drafts. 2 The decisive point of this conception is the “discovery” of perspectivism as an aesthetic and compositional principle. See Chapter IV. 3 In the 1954 Pléiade edition this volume is entitled La Fugitive. The new 1987-1989 edition prefers the title Albertine disparue. 4 M. Proust, Jean Santeuil précédé de Les Plaisirs et les Jours, ed. P.Clarac and Y. Sandre, Paris 1971. Referred to here as Proust IV. 5 M. Proust, Contre Sainte-Beuve suivi de Nouveaux Mélanges, ed. B. de Fallois, Paris 1954. In 1971 Pierre Clarac assembled a new edition of this work; M. Proust, Contre Sainte-Beuve précédé de Pastiches et mélanges et suivi de Essais et Articles, ed. P. Clarac and Y. Sandre, Paris 1971. Referred to here as Proust V. For the relation of this work to A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, see note 98. 6 See G. Lukács, Die Zerstörung der Vernunft, Darmstadt 1974, second edition. 7 The term “décadence” (Dekadenz), a key term in Nietzsche, he borrowed from P. Bourget, Essais de psychologie...

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