The Writings of the Young Marcel Proust (1885-1900): An Ideological Critique

The Writings of the Young Marcel Proust (1885-1900): An Ideological Critique

The Writings of the Young Marcel Proust (1885-1900): An Ideological Critique

The Writings of the Young Marcel Proust (1885-1900): An Ideological Critique

Synopsis

This book offers a comprehensive analysis of young Proust's evolving conception of the world, from his early friendships and educational experiences in the 1880s to the turn of the twentieth century. It looks in detail at his early fictional and critical writings, his associations with various literary periodicals, and the social milieus in which he moved. Its primary purpose is to understand Proust as a worldly figure with concrete attitudes and ideas about such issues as social class, the relationship between art and society, the responsibilities of the writer, and the debate between materialism and idealism as seen in the context of mid- to late-nineteenth-century thought.

Excerpt

For some Proust devotees, ideological criticism of their idol is tantamount to an unwarranted and even scandalous intrusion into a holy place. They maintain that Proust was above all a lyrical and contemplative writer devoted to the exploration of the human soul, not to the kind of political and social problems that lend themselves to ideological analysis. For these Proust lovers, À la Recherche du temps perdu is really a symbol-laden poem more than a novel, an evocative transfiguration of experience in which the dross of daily life is changed into the gold of a sublime work of art. In their view, Proust's signal accomplishments—the supple undulations of his prose, his vivid metaphors, his memorable portraits of men and women in the throes of obsessive impulses and desires, his insights into painting and music, his theory of memory, time, and artistic creation—cannot be appreciated if we place them in an interpretive framework that distorts or disregards their essential values. In sum, according to this primarily “poetic” reading of Proust, a stress on ideological analysis of his writings is a fruitless enterprise condemned to founder on its misunderstanding of his artistic methods and intentions. The same point of view has been expressed about Proust's early writings, which seem to be even less amenable to this type of analysis than the Recherche.

This study takes the position that such a “poetic” reading of Proust is not wrong but simply one-sided and incomplete. It does so, moreover, in the context of a literary critical history dating back to the 1930s, one that remains vital right up to our own time. The fact is that “ideological” analysis has long played an important role in opening Proustian texts to practical worldly concerns. Some of the critical voices that have helped to create this opening will be heard a little later in this introduction, where I shall provide a summary review of theoretical and critical works that have influenced my own approach to Proust and my attempt to do what Lauro . . .

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