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Author

Jack L. Jordan

Professor, Classical and Modern Languages and Literature

E-mail address: jordan@ra.msstate.edu
Website: http://www.msstate.edu/dept/fl/faculty/Jordan.html


Dr. Jordan received his BA at Vanderbilt University, his MA at George Washington University and his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. He has also studied at Middlebury College in Vermont, the Sorbonne (Paris III), and the Goethe Institute in Murnau, Germany. His areas of specialization include the French novel, theater and poetry of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, phenomenology, Marcel Proust, and the francophone literature of Quebec and the French Antilles. His publications include a book and articles on Marcel Proust and articles on the francophone literature of the Antilles. His most recent publication concerns the Proustian unconscious and makes up part of The Cambridge Companion to Proust.


Marcel Proust's A La recherche du temps perdu: A Search for Certainty

Jordan, Jack L.
Publisher: Summa
1993
ISBN: 0917786971
Collaborators: Jordan, Jack L.

As the title suggests, the underlying theme of this study assumes that there is an ongoing search in Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu. Proust's use of "recherche" in his title lends credence to this assumption. That it is a search not only for "lost time," but also for certainty implies a state of uncertainty which would necessitate such an undertaking. From the first pages of Proust's novel, as this study seeks to demonstrate, we shall see that this uncertainty is all-pervasive. It includes a loss of the basic realities of time, space and self, all of which serve to give meaning and order to an otherwise chaotic world. In following Proust's search we shall see his novel as a watershed, where the laws of Newton and Descartes dominated man's vision of the world and himself until the turn of the century, when developments in both technical and theoretical science shattered this world view. In each section of each chapter of this study we see the failure of the mechanistic, causal order to provide the certainty which for so long has made our world a comfortable, familiar place in which to live. The first chapter gives a critical overview of what different critics have seen as the fundamental imagery in Proust's novel. Each of the critics quoted has chosen to study essentially one aspect of science in Proust's novel: the developments in glass making and ocular science; botany; medicine; physics; or psychology. My purpose is rather to produce a synthesis which would provide a unified view of these different scientific perspectives and, thereby, to achieve a sense of the comprehensive cosmogony of the world Proust has created in his novel. This is, to say the least, a large undertaking. In both the sciences and the humanities we have seen fields of research narrowing in such a precise fashion as to make it difficult - if not impossible - for any discussion to take place even within their respective domains. To embark on a synthesis of various sciences, much less to incorporate them in a humanistic study, will inevitably draw the wrath of more than one specialist, be he (or she) from the sciences or the humanities. Indeed, Proust's own efforts to incorporate the sciences mentioned above into his novel have been criticized as "pseudo-scientific."After all, Proust is an artist, not a scientist. Proust himself saw a certain irony in comparisons of the novelist to the scientist, as seen, for instance, in the "disjunction that is sometimes present between what Proust thinks and what the narrator says, by the attempt to 'recreate' rather than 'analyze abstractly' the evolution of thought.'' However, is this all that can be said? Are the two disciplines so diametrically opposed? As we shall see in the chapters which follow, the delineation is not so clear-cut.

Both in its entirety and in the individual chapters the organization of this book reflects these changes in world views. The chapter which follows the critical overview concerns the study of the relation of subject and object as it is reflected by the developments in ocular science. The next chapter concerns the world external to man (Proust in Motion). In the final chapter, the search is turned inward toward man's internal world, his psyche.

The structure of the chapter concerning physics (Proust in Motion), reflects a movement outward which can be seen in Proust's novel. We first see Marcel immobile in his room, then moving about as a pedestrian, then travelling in trains and automobiles. The increase in the speed of locomotion finally incorporates the revolutionary changes brought about by the invention and spreading use of the airplane, resulting in a world view which has turned to the stars.

Whereas "Proust in Motion" is organized in a telescopic, outwardly oriented fashion, the following chapter, "Proust and the Human Sciences," is one which reflects the author's vision as he turns inward, focusing in on the essence of man. In this chapter a brief consideration of the background of this half of Proust's search precedes a study of man in his outward, physical nature. A section concerning man as species follows with, finally, a movement towards man's internal landscape, or his psyche. In this final section, a possible response is given to a second argument presented by some critics against Proust's use of "pseudo-scientific" references. His scientific allusions, this argument maintains, are only flimsy justifications of his own personal world view, both aesthetic and sexual. It is true that Proust's use of botanical imagery can be seen in letters written during high school to classmates such as Jacques Bizet and Daniel Halevy. His use of floral imagery to allude to sex in these letters does seem to support this argument (Rivers 57). Nonetheless it is true that Proust has indeed brought together all of the developments in science mentioned here to create the world of his novel. In A la recherche du temps perdu, Proust's scientific references have outgrown the boundaries of sexual justification to become an integral part of his aesthetic vision. His efforts to bridge the gulf between science and art reach far beyond a pseudo-scientific justification of homosexuality. As chapter four will show, by uniting two fundamental ways (scientific and mythic) of viewing man and nature, Proust creates a fundamental metaphoricity in his choice of archtypes. As Rivers notes: "But side by side with...scientific language we find the suggestion that we are reading not science but myth" (222). Together, in a metaphorically androgynous archetype they express "primal totality...a means of contacting the history of...the race" (Rivers 235).

The approach used here is based on an effort to develop the homology between Proust's novelistic art and science using what is essentailly a phenomenological methodology. While acknowledging the virtues of the precision found in a more narrowly focused study, it is hoped that this work will offer a view of the world of Proust's novel which is itself well-founded, coherent, and original enough to make up for the admitted limitations inherent in its effort to reunite such apparently disparate fields of inquity and expression as science and art. The purpose is not to prove that Proust was a scientist. It is an effort to show how Proust's embracing world view resulted in a metaphorically unified view of man and nature, the breadth of which has not been seen in the novel before or since.

All references to Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu are based on the 1954 edition prepared by Pierre Clarac and Andre Ferre. While a new edition has recently been published under the direction of Jean-Yves Tadie, and should be of great value to any future work done on Proust's novel, it had not been published in its entirety at the time of the writing of this study.