Proust in Time: Swann’s Way
15 West 16th Street New York
New York 10011
Although Marcel Proust wrote much of the colossal In Search of Lost Time from the confines of a cork-lined room, it is a book that somehow seems to bridle with the energy and variety of an entire world set down in prose. In this course, centered on Swann’s Way, the first installment of Proust’s novel, we’ll study how In Search of Lost Time illuminates concerns both intimate and vast. What does it mean to know another person? How do we name our desires and what are the pleasures and perils in store for us when we do? What does the experience of a goodnight kiss or an aesthetic disappointment look like when placed next to questions about what the natural signifies, how the fault-lines of history can crack open our social worlds, or the philosophical character of time and memory?
In order to pursue the fullest possible picture of Proust’s work, we’ll take special care with the way in which his art drew from the materials of his life. Born into an upper-class Jewish family just after the upheavals of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, Proust’s life spanned the belle époque, the Dreyfus Affair, and the intense, collective shocks of World War I and its aftermath. And all this is to say nothing of the rapid technological changes coextensive with Proust’s career: the rise of the telephone, the increasing prevalence of the photographic image, the explosion of early cinema and the brutal advance of industry and the weapons of total war. Proust’s work takes its colors from this rich kaleidoscope of contexts—as well as his engagement with the art, literature, and music of his time. In addition to situating Swann’s Way in the larger cultural matrix of the early twentieth-century, we’ll also ask a set of questions including these: What does it mean to read Proust in time? Why have Proust’s ideas about perception and memory proven so persistent? How does Swann’s Way picture gender, sexuality, and the architectures of erotic desire? In what ways does reading Proust help us to theorize modernist style and form? How did In Search of Lost Time register for Proust’s contemporaries and what does its reception look like today? What, in the first place, was literary modernism? What was Proust’s modernism and how is it still with us?
Supplementary texts may include, among others, Barthes, Beckett, Benjamin, Bergson, Bersani, Blanchot, Bowie, Carson, Davis, Deleuze, Richard, Sedgwick, and Woolf.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm
September 11 — October 02, 2017