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Mirages and Mad Beliefs

Mirages and Mad Beliefs: Proust the Skeptic

Christopher Prendergast
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Mirages and Mad Beliefs
    Book Description:

    Marcel Proust was long the object of a cult in which the main point of reading his great novelIn Search of Lost Timewas to find, with its narrator, a redemptive epiphany in a pastry and a cup of lime-blossom tea. We now live in less confident times, in ways that place great strain on the assumptions and beliefs that made those earlier readings possible. This has led to a new manner of reading Proust, against the grain. InMirages and Mad Beliefs, Christopher Prendergast argues the case differently, with the grain, on the basis that Proust himself was prey to self-doubt and found numerous, if indirect, ways of letting us know. Prendergast traces in detail the locations and forms of a quietly nondogmatic yet insistently skeptical voice that questions the redemptive aesthetic the novel is so often taken to celebrate, bringing the reader to wonder whether that aesthetic is but another instance of the mirage or the mad belief that, in other guises, figures prominently inIn Search of Lost Time. In tracing the modalities of this self-pressuring voice, Prendergast ranges far and wide, across a multiplicity of ideas, themes, sources, and stylistic registers in Proust's literary thought and writing practice, attentive at every point to inflections of detail, in a sustained account of Proust the skeptic for the contemporary reader.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4631-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. References and Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Mad Belief
    (pp. 1-28)

    À la recherche du temps perduis so constructed as to invite an argument about it to begin where it itself ends (more precisely, with that portion of the last volume occupied by the narrator’s lengthy meditation on the nature of the literary vocation, the section Proust baptized as “L’Adoration perpétuelle”). This would not, however, be simply to recapitulate its own internal movement on the plausible (though contested) inference that at the end the narrator is set to embark on the writing of the novel we have just read. Nor would, or should, it be to begin at the end...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Proustian Jokes
    (pp. 29-59)

    Most of the mad beliefs in Proust’s novel are droll as well as crazy, and have their place in what is often and rightly said ofÀ la recherche du temps perdu, that, among so many other things, it is also a great comic novel (“an unwearying tribute to the muse of comedy”).¹ The tribute assumes many guises and operates in multiple registers, testimony to Proust’s superabundant comic energy and abidingly gleeful attention to the multiplicities of the human comedy itself, although we might hesitate before laying the emaciated hand of taxonomy on its diverse generic manifestations (mimicry, pastiche, parody,...

    (pp. 60-83)

    Imagine (if you can) a mobile geometric shape that consists of a horizontal baseline punctuated by periodic detours, each wandering from and then looping back to its point of departure, contributing cumulatively to a concentric, spiraling ensemble that is finally encompassed by a grand outer circle. If this is difficult to visualize, it is not just because of my clunky attempt to describe it. Yet such is the complex and dynamic shape of Proust’s novel. For the purposes of analytical discrimination, this looping and spiraling construction can be schematically represented as unfolding on three planes: the linear, the digressive, and...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Éblouissement
    (pp. 84-103)

    In dramatizing a frozen imagination and a sterilized world, Baudelaire’s rocklike formations crush the life from any belief in the spellbinding or “reenchanting” capabilities of lyric. Subjectivity turned to stone has also been linked (most notably in the wake of Benjamin’s reflections on Baudelaire) to another distinction—that between symbol and allegory in the aesthetics of poetic representation. In Baudelaire the petrified order of things signifies the death of the “symbol,” understood as the quasi-animistic, “living,” and embodying force of analogy andcorrespondances, and a fall back into the disjunctive, broken sphere of the allegorical, where matter is but the...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE What’s in a Comma?
    (pp. 104-129)

    Most traditional “search” narratives are traveling narratives, and in many the hero makes his way to the sea (often to a port as the departure point for either new adventure or a return to a known world). In these terms, theRechercheis committedly minimalist: it gets us to the Channel and the Adriatic at the level of narrative (courtesy of the trips to Balbec and Venice), but to the Mediterranean only on the back of an analogy, whose content moreover suggests it is not the best of places to go for sustaining a rational grip on reality. Swann “in...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Walking on Stilts
    (pp. 130-160)

    What happens to the narrator in Elstir’s studio is one of the novel’s richer peripeteia, at once adventure, turning point, and discovery, but the episode is not just a way station on the long, stately procession of theRecherchetoward the ultimate enunciation of an aesthetic in which the delectation of private sensations is made to carry a whole ontology.¹ It is rather a crucible in which the Proustian conception of truth is woven as a tangled knot of competing demands, unresolved contradictions, and unanswered questions. If we try to disentangle the knot, we can pick out three major threads,...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Bodies and Ghosts
    (pp. 161-188)

    When Proust outlined to Anna de Noailles an ideal of style that would approximate a uniform, malleable substance, afondu, such as the artist’s impasto or the baker’s dough, might he also have been imagining a relation of style to matter that was a relation of language to body or a version of the word made flesh? The latter notion Proust himself gestured at in the letter to Daudet in which he spoke of his literary ambitions on the “eucharistic” analogy of the “miracle of transubstantiation.” I have already referred several times to this remarkable aspiration, and the moment has...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT The Citizen of the Unknown Homeland
    (pp. 189-216)

    Childhood bedroom, family dining room, baker’s shop, aristocratic salon, Jupien’s “establishment,” newspaper office—these are the diverse locations to which, as travesty both playful and demonic, Proust transplants the Eucharistic ritual in the course of the novel. We are nevertheless also taken back periodically to its original religious home, by, for example, the views of Charlus in pious mood on the subject of the Christian Church and the sacrament of the Word made flesh:

    the Baron was not simply a Christian, as we know, but pious in the fashion of the Middle Ages. For him, as for the sculptors of...

  13. Index
    (pp. 217-220)