Proust

Proust

Proust

Proust

Excerpt

Contre Sainte-Beuve confirms our sense of Proust's uncertainty about the line he should follow, and some of the notes quoted in Fallois's preface show that Proust was at once genuinely at a loss and inclined to blame himself for irresolution. The decline of spontaneous lyrical feeling in himself led him to think he must give up the Romantic vision in favour of observation and analysis: to a landscape which no longer moved him, he wrote: 'You have nothing more to say to me; it is people who interest me now'. Yet when he read Sainte-Beuve, the transcendental idealism in himself was fanned to a flame of revolt against Saint-Beuve's systematic confusion between the artist and the man, and went on burning on its own with a fresh creative light. Proust was, at this stage, swinging between feeling and analysis. The problem set by his manifold gifts and interests was that of finding an artistic unity for the material they provided, of bringing feeling and analysis together in a single conception.

II
Reference-Points

Over a quarter of a century ago Ernst-Robert Curtius wrote that Proust's style is an intricate combination of intellectualism and impressionism, of rigorous logical analysis and the recording of the finest shades of sensation and feeling; these two modes of experience, he suggested, were inseparable in Proust's mind.

Many critics since then have puzzled and fought with each other over the way in which these two modes are related, and Bergson's name has figured largely in the discussion. There is no doubt that to compare Proust with Bergson is to arrive at a better understanding of both, but too much attention to the comparison has sometimes obscured Proust and his novel behind a fog of philosophical polemic. At one extreme Fiser assumes that Bergson said the last word about art and that Proust is the supreme example of a Bergsonian artist; at the other, Benda sees Bergson's philosophy as pernicious and proclaims that Proust is a great novelist because his work shows the traditional virtues of the novel, observation and the capacity to analyse the structure and motivation of the behaviour narrated. Such extreme views often imply a distressingly over-simplified idea of what Bergson said art ought to be and of what art, in fact, is; of what Proust said about his novel and of what the novel, in fact, turned out to be.

The mind which sees Bergson as a revelation but not the Revelation, which sees Proust as an artist but not the Artist, will approach their relationship differently from critics like Fiser . . .

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