Perspective (Marcel's Steeples)

Joshua Landy

in Philosophy As Fiction

Published in print June 2004 | ISBN: 9780195169393
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199787845 | DOI:
 Perspective (Marcel's Steeples)

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This chapter lays out Proust's theory of knowledge, according to which the data of sense are first filtered through the intuition, where they suffer perspectival distortion of both a general and an individual nature; and then through the intellect, where, depending on the type of data in question, they are either rectified or further distorted. This theory explains the otherwise unaccountable importance given by Marcel to the enigmatic text he penned as a youth, a “prose poem” describing three steeples of Martinville. The prose poem, it turns out, shows both perspectival operations at work, the universal and individual; the paragraphs that frame it, meanwhile, testify to the subsequent work of the intellect. Of the images, some directly reflect Marcel's idiosyncratic network of associations, the way his mind uniquely organizes the data of experience, and others — those based on metonymic connections — indirectly reveal Marcel's continuing belief in the aura of places. Proust's view is not merely that perspective is momentous, inexorably conditioning an individual's experience of the world, as well as rendering that experience fundamentally incomprehensible to others; it is also that perspective is valuable. We may well begin by seeking accurate knowledge of the external world, and by repeatedly bumping up, in frustration, against the perennially curved and coloured glass of perspective. But if we are good Proustians, we will make the Copernican turn, realizing that what blocked our access to our ostensible goal was in fact that which was, all along, most worthy of being known. The secret to life consists of redirecting attention, in recognizing that an apparent liability is, in reality, our greatest asset.

Keywords: Martinville steeples; metaphor; metonymy; metonyphor; imagination; optical illusion; Copernican turn; impressionism; theory of knowledge

Chapter.  17086 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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