Proustian Passions: The Uses of Self-justification for A la Recherche Du Temps Perdu
Oxford University Press, 2000 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 266 pages
A la recherche du temps perdu occupies an undisputed place in the unfolding intellectual history of the 'moi' in France. There is, however, a general tendency in writing on this novel to celebrate the wonders of the moi sensible uncritically. This effaces all that is morally dubious or franklyexperimental about Proust's account of selfhood. It denies the rigour with which Proust tries to understand exactly why it is so difficult to explain one's own actions to another. The great party scenes, for example, or the countless digressions, read like manuals on how acts of self-justificationtake place. Proust, however, is not merely interested in some kind of taxonomy of excuses, hypocrisy, disingenuousness, and Schadenfreude. He wants to know why self-justification tends to be interpreted as indicative of moral or psychological weakness. He asks himself whether self-justification informsisolated moments of everyday existence or whether it endures in an overall conception of self that lasts an individual's lifetime. He investigates whether it dictates the functioning of an entire social group. Can we decide, he asks, whether justifying one's self should be written off as morallyrepugnant, or taken seriously as evidence of moral probity?
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