Dehumanizing Proust

Near the conclusion of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the narrator returns to “society” after a long hiatus and encounters the now aged faces of his old acquaintances. In an indelibly human moment, he famously reflects:

…every party, which takes place after a long interval in which one has ceased to go out into society, provided it brings together some of the people whom one knew in the past, gives the impression of a masquerade, a masquerade which is more successful than any that one has ever been to and at which one is most genuinely ‘intrigued’ by the identity of the other guests, but with the novel feature that the disguises, which were assumed long ago against their wearers’ will, cannot, when the party is over, be wiped off with make up … These were puppets bathed in immaterial colors of the years, puppets which exteriorized Time, Time which by habit is made invisible and to become visible seeks bodies, which, wherever it finds them, it seizes upon, to display its magic lantern upon them.
-Proust, Marcel. In Search of Lost Time – Volume VI – Time Regained. Pp. 340-342

A while back, while first reading Anti-Oedipus, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth with Deleuze and Guattari’s interpretation of Proust, and kept returning to the passage above. Proust, they claim, creates a “new earth where desire functions according to its molecular elements and flows”. (Anti Oedipus, 319) His text is a “literary machine”… [whose] … “parts are produced as asymmetrical sections, paths that suddenly come to an end, hermetically sealed boxes, noncommunicating vessels, watertight compartments… a schizoid work par excellence” (Anti Oedipus 42-43). All of this is true I thought, but “so what!”.

Of course objects can be analyzed at the molecular level. The table I’m writing at is comprised more of empty space than it is matter – but so what? Recent science studies suggest constructing an intricate network of human and non-human actors, but at a certain point one wonders whether the approach is vacuous, and what is needed is a deep breath and a step back to see the forest from the trees. One can analyze all the molecular components of Proust’s text, but if Time – as an overarching theme – does not appear to gather all those components one has missed out on a – crucial – human dimension of that text. One will have dehumanized Proust. They will get the whole picture, but not Proust’s picture.

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~ by dccohen on June 25, 2011.

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