The Good Distance: Proust and sociability
MetadataShow full item record
Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu has been studied more than any other in French literature. Scholars have analyzed it from specific perspectives such as the relation between the artist and his art, class dynamics, sexual preference, and biographical issues, to mention just a few. Yet the novel purposefully intertwines these various threads. The novelty of this dissertation’s approach consists in bringing together these themes to examine them in their interactivity, as the author has conceived them. The main questions addressed are why and how aestheticism, nationalism and xenophobia, sociability in the salons of the bourgeoisie and the nobility, and the budding artist, come together to become the material and the story for the genesis of a novel. First and foremost a man of his day and age, Proust is preoccupied by the issues of the time. By establishing a dialog between the novel and pertinent contemporary texts by Maurice Barrès, Julien Benda, Gabriel de Tarde, Auguste Rodin, and Georg Simmel, this dissertation illumines aspects of the text relevant to its analysis. In the process, the nationalistic and anti-Semitic climate dominating France during la Belle Epoque, the political configurations it engendered, as well as the particularity of Proust’s subject position as a gay Jewish writer increasingly isolated by his illness, come to the foreground. Furthermore, a close examination of the contrast La recherche makes between the cosmopolitism and inclusion of noble salons and the insistence on the separation between insider and outsider dominating their bourgeois counterparts, highlights features of the Belle Epoque’s sociability. It intimates that the dynamics at play in French society at the time were grounded in the fundamental distinction between Frenchness and foreignness. Notwithstanding aforementioned differences between the noble and bourgeois environments, in final analysis sociability fails in the novel. As a result, particular aspects of the Proustian aesthetics, such as his attention to details and rejection of masterpieces become relevant in an art that intends to move away from the group and its dangerous collective pursuits that lead to persecution and exclusion. As a conclusion, this dissertation proposes that Proustian aesthetics, conceived as interiorized individual contemplation whose goal and reward are in itself, foster non-confrontational social interactions grounded in a limited emotional involvement as a means to social harmony.