Course 107: The Genius of Proust's
In Search of Lost Time, Part II
Leader: Michael Payne
Description: This is the second part of a year-long course on Proust's In Search of Lost Time (volumes III and IV in the Everyman's Library edition). Although it is unreasonable to expect that the essence of a book as richly entertaining and multiplicitous in its significance can be summed up in a few words, it is the case, however, that the central force or drive of In Search of Lost Time can be clearly grasped. The narrator of the novel summons all of his resources of memory and imagination to reassemble the details of his life in order to create a work of art that is the book we are reading. But in doing so, he comes to realize (as does the reader) that the most important achievement of his life-which is this book-is his ability to transcend the very substance of his own life's story. In French literary, philosophical, and psychoanalytic tradition that ability to reach beyond the previously conceived definition and limits of one's self is genius. Here "genius" refers not so much to the production of a great work of art but rather to the persistent determination in life to move beyond the previously identified limits of one's own family, environment, profession, or temperament. One recurring representations of this drive in the novel is the towering image of the steeple of the Church of St. Hilaire in Combray, where the narrator knew so much happiness as a child. Such images as this elicit a "feeling...which makes us not merely regard a thing as a spectacle, but believe in it as in a unique essence, so none of them keeps in its thrall a whole section of my inmost life as does the memory of those aspects of the steeple of Combray from the streets behind the church" (I: 65.) Proust makes it clear that this steeple is neither just a religious nor a phallic symbol but rather the essential dynamic force of a human life to become itself by reaching beyond itself. It is that desire that the novel celebrates and recreates with our cooperation as we read it.
Biography: Michael Payne taught literature, including French literary theory, at Bucknell and other places for more than 40 years. He first read Proust in 1958 in French and has made his way through the book several times since in English or in French. But this will be the first time he has taught the book. Among the books he has written are two on French theory: Reading Theory: An Introduction to Lacan, Derrida, and Kristeva and Reading Knowledge: An Introduction to Barthes, Foucault, and Althusser.
Materials for the Course: Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, trans. C.K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D.J. Enright. Everyman's Library, 4 vols (two each semester): ISBN 978-1-84159-896-3, 978-1-84159-897-0, 978-1-84159-898-7, 978-1-84159-899-4. Alain de Botton, How Proust Can Change Your Life, Pantheon: ISBN 0-679-44275-8.
Number of Participants: Minimum 3; Maximum 17
Location: Red Cross Building - Edna Sheary Room
Meeting Time: Mondays, February 25 through April 1, 1 - 2:30 p.m.