Chapter

Philosophy and Fiction (Nobody's Madeleine)

Joshua Landy

in Philosophy As Fiction

Published in print June 2004 | ISBN: 9780195169393
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199787845 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195169393.003.0001
 Philosophy and Fiction (Nobody's Madeleine)

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The introductory chapter examines Proust's philosophy, arguing that it is both coherent and original. Particular attention is paid to Proust's moraliste-inspired philosophy of mind: many of the fundamental aspects of the novel, from its theories of knowledge and memory to the narrator's system of “laws” — several of which apply only to himself or, at best, to those like him, and others of which reveal themselves to be mere provisional hypotheses — testify, it turns out, to the complex interactions of intuition and intellect. This chapter also issues a warning: Proust's philosophy cannot be derived directly from the claims put forward in his novel. Readers must keep the first-person narrator (“Marcel”) separate from Proust if they are to read the Recherche correctly. Careful examination of the novel shows, and documentary evidence corroborates, that Proust periodically makes Marcel adopt (and sometimes abandon) certain beliefs he himself considers to be erroneous. Marcel's views, then, are not always identical to Proust's views. Moreover, Marcel's novel — the one he begins writing at the end of the story — is not identical to Proust's novel. For in spite of what almost all readers have assumed, Marcel does not end up writing In Search of Lost Time. Just as Proust's philosophy diverges (in part) from Marcel's philosophy, so too does Proust's literary project diverge (in part) from Marcel's literary project. It follows that only a careful reading can allow us to reconstruct the belief system of Proust himself, and his project in writing the Recherche. Proust, it turns out, wishes to offer himself as an exemplar of creativity, his character as a model of philosophical self-fashioning, and his massive novel as a training-ground for lucid self-delusion.

Keywords: philosophy of mind; unreliable narrator; authorship; irony; faculties; intellect; intuition; imagination; maxims

Chapter.  23932 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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