Questions for Proust
Friday, January 29, 1999
1. Pierre Nora suggests the radical modernity of Proust in a passage drawing correspondences between Bergson, Freud and Proust:
"It is the self that remembers, and what it remembers is itself, hence the historical transformation of memory has led to a preoccupation with individual psychology. . . . At the end of the last century, when rural society collapsed and age-old social equilibria were disrupted, memory became a central issue in philosophical thinking with Bergson, in psychological thinking with Freud, and in autobiographical literature with Proust. . . .We owe to Freud and Proust those two intimate yet universal lieux de mémoire, the primal scene and the celebrated petite madeleine. This transformation of memory marks a decisive shift from the historical to the psychological, from the social to the individual, from the concrete message to its subjective representation, from repetition to remembrance. Memory became a private affair. As a result of this psychologization, the self now stands in a new relation to memory and the past" (10-11).
Do we want to concede to Nora this rendering of modernity as psychological interiority? Is there another kind of modernity that Proust might be said to articulate?
2. The concept of involuntary memory is central to Proust: if we argue that this is possibly more than the simply physiological and has instead measurable philosophical complexity, what does involuntary memory allow that deliberate recollection does not?
3. Memory is obviously the master narrative and even mastering narrative in Remembrance of Time Past: in which it becomes the figure which intervenes and subsequently tropes such varying issues as self; subjectivity; consciousness; psychological "inscription" and subsequent narration; the death of others and potentially of the self; time as duration; "authentic" reality and an "authentic" self; imagination and creativity; past and even present: is this a comprehensive and synthetic rendering of all our concerns or -- perhaps postmodernistically -- a series of substitutions pointing to the malleability and continual construction of memory?