Meyer on Kolb and Mortimer, eds. (2015)


Kolb, Katherine, and Armine Kotin Mortimer, editors. Proust en perspectives: visions et révisions. Revue d’études proustiennes, 2, Classiques Garnier, 2015, pp. 377, ISBN 978-2-8124-3846-2

E. Nicole Meyer, Augusta University

Fifteen years before this volume’s appearance, the groundbreaking symposium “Proust 2000” resulted in the University of Illinois’ English language publication of the proceedings (2002). This French language reedition published by the Revue d’études proustiennes (Classiques Garnier) introduces to a wider French public important international scholars of Proust and innovative approaches taken from genetic, narratological, and LGBT studies to name just a few. As Françoise Leriche states in her excellent preface, new to this edition, “c’est combler un manque créé par les circonstances, réparer un silence, aussi faire entendre au public français la voix de grands Proustiens américains qui, depuis, se sont tus” (15–16). She reminds readers that many of these articles were harbingers of important larger works, among them the posthumously published volume on the Recherche by Anthony Pugh (2004), Proust lesbien by Elisabeth Ladenson (2004), Proust’s Deadline by Christine Cano (2006), Genèse et correspondances (edited by Alain Pagès and Françoise Leriche) as well as more recent works, such as Proust et la guerre by Brigitte Mahuzier (2014) and others inspired by the centenary of Du côté de chez Swann.

The volume benefits from the wealth of previously unpublished correspondence and unedited materials at the Kolb-Proust Archive for Research, as well as from a change in scholarly interest. Epistolary, biographical, genetic, intertextual, and other forms of literary criticism encourage scholars to plunge into this rich trove in exciting new ways. The Garnier volume’s existence points to the crucial role of the Kolb-Proust Archive in leading Proustian scholarship in exciting new directions.

The editors’ perceptive introduction precedes eighteen essays selected from a wide array of critical approaches organized in four sections. Section one, “Écrire la Recherche,” includes a fascinating range of issues dealing with Proust’s Recherche. Luc Fraisse analyzes Philip Kolb’s role in advancing our knowledge of Proust’s work in several domains: the author’s relationship with his œuvre, the construction of his characters based on multiple models, and the meaning of Proust’s major work. William C. Carter focuses on questions of genre, while Cano nimbly explores the role of Proust’s death, which ended his editorial participation in the publication of the final volumes. As a result, two editions (Grasset, 1997, and Champion Slatkine, 1992) resolve the uncertainty of Albertine’s sexuality in distinctly divergent ways. Pugh questions editorial problems involved in another ending, that of Du côté de chez Swann; Nathalie Mauriac Dyer’s article complements both of these essays with her examination of editorial questions of the “Séjour à Venise” episode. Between the always “incomplete” nature of the Recherche and the constant evolution of the corpus, whether by editorial intervention or new discoveries in the archive, the coeditors convincingly show that Proustian research is always evolving.

The following section “Le Savoir des mots” reveals new ways of looking at involuntary memory and other mechanisms operating in readings of the Recherche. Geneviève Henrot reveals that involuntary memory is most often tied to transgression and suffering, while Christie McDonald focuses on the mechanism of the accumulation of musical repetition, which explodes into creation. Ladenson takes the reader through a lively reading of Gilberte’s “indecent” gesture’s visual representation through the contexts of text, film, and comics, while Volker Roloff and Lawrence Schehr approach desire and eroticism in the Recherche from different angles. For instance, Schehr looks at “le radar gay” in relation to cruising, as he peers behind homosexual screens and projections in a key scene of À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs. The third section “La Langue de l’art” widens the lens to include considerations of aesthetics from various perspectives: Proust and art nouveau (Leriche), Proust and Ruskin (Diane R. Leonard, Sara Danius), Elstir’s watercolor of Miss Sacripant using several models (Kazuyoshi Yoshikawa) and quasi-political aspects of music (Jérôme Cornette).

Insightful analysis characterizes these delightful essays, carefully assembled to bring out connections that enlarge our understanding of Proust. Closing the volume brilliantly, the final section “Récrire la Recherche” consists of two particularly strong articles. First, Joshua Gidding pursues Proust’s engagement with Ruskin; he goes beyond intertext or hypotext to what he calls Proustian biotext. By envisioning Tadié’s edition of Proust as hypertext, he opens new ways of seeing Proust’s text. Three carefully chosen passages exemplify Gidding’s use of the theories of Roland Barthes, Richard Macksey, Michel Foucault, George Landow, and Gérard Genette in his careful reading of Proust. The passages illustrate the “hypertexte proustien dans son essence” (316) as Gidding explains how they tie together “texts” of Proust, John Ruskin, Jan Vermeer, and William Wordsworth. In short, he argues that the selections “donne[nt] une expérience comparable à l’exploration d’un hyperlien multimédia” (308). “La vie de Proust,” he argues further, “n’est pas simplement une vie caractérisée par une œuvre littéraire: il s’agit plutôt d’une œuvre en soi, dans laquelle bios et textus sont inextricablement associés” (312). Second, Richard Shattuck’s brilliant pastiche “Le rasoir d’Ockham et la barbe de Proust” playfully sends up the publishing industry through a dialogue between two editors, a publisher, and two Proustian scholars. Would Proust’s Recherche not be more readable, he queries, if shortened to a manageable length, for instance, an English-language volume of 700 pages, thus condensing the unwieldly mass to the “essence” of the novel in “un seul volume à la portée de tous” (320)?

The coeditors of this magnificent volume have produced a particularly strong collection of essays addressing Proust’s art. In addition, their updated and complete bibliography adds to the value of this volume, which would be a wonderful addition to the shelves of any scholar in French studies.