Proust, Beckett, and Narration

Proust, Beckett, and Narration

Proust, Beckett, and Narration

Proust, Beckett, and Narration

Synopsis

This comparison of the narrative techniques of two of the twentieth century's most important writers of prose combines theoretical analysis and text study of Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu and Beckett's trilogy of novels, Molloy, Malone dies, and The Unnamable. James Reid's study is an important contribution to the critical literature, and offers fresh perspectives on the crucial significance of the Recherche and the trilogy in the context of the twentieth-century novel.

Excerpt

In the Recherche, the remembering narrator treats forgetting as both an obstacle to, and an artistic means of, remembering a sublime essence of the artist's self. It recounts a search to disclose in painting, music, and the novel a unique manner of constructing the world: a difference that distinguishes an artist, a musician, or an author from all other artists, musicians, and authors. As the passage on Elstir's “fête” painting demonstrates, this search for individual difference takes the form of the deconstruction and forgetting of society's conventional signs of sameness, such as the narrator's voluntary or habitual memories of his past selves. the passage on Vinteuil's septet argues that this deconstruction is a deliberate means of differentiating the work from all of its signs of the artist's difference. the purpose of differentiation is to signify indirectly an unsignifiable difference, a remembering and repetition that exist only within forgetting and difference.

The narrator's deconstruction of signs of difference discloses a temporal difference within language; however, this temporal difference condemns all memory to an uncertain relationship with forgetting and differentiation. This is the temporal difference of allegory, which structures the narrator's present of narration as the interval between his unique past impressions and selves, which are always too early to be remembered, and his present words, which are always too late to remember past impressions and selves. Proust's allegorical narrator, unlike his remembering narrator, simply cannot know whether this temporal difference repeats that which it is always too early and too late to represent. But, as discussed in Chapter 3, allegory tends towards a deferral of its very ability to represent itself, to say that it is allegorical. in other words, Proust's allegory of difference ultimately turns against itself, differentiates itself from itself, and reveals its inability to say whether or not it is allegorical at all. This allegorical self-deconstruction opens up the possibility of an ironical reading of allegory as a simultaneous repetition and negation of the allegorical illusion of temporal difference. in such an ironical reading, there is no remembering or allegorical author who . . .

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