In Joshua Landy’s introduction to his Philosophy as Fiction he advances the novel idea that when we talk about ISOLT we are talking about three books:
- Marcel’s memoir (récit), an autobiography;
- Marcel’s future novel (oeuvre), a fictionalized autobiography;
- Proust’s novel, a fiction (with some autobiographical borrowings).
For the sake of clarity, though in full awareness of how awkward and arbitrary the attribution is, I am going to give titles to the first two. We now have
- My Life; or, The History of a Vocation, a memoir by Marcel;
- The Magic Lantern, a novel by Marcel; and
- A la recherche du temps perdu, a novel by Proust.
Using the above nomenclature, we can say that Marcel is left having more or less completed My Life, and having begun work on The Magic Lantern, by the time the Recherche draws to a close. (43)
Landy’s notion is to overturn the usual interpretation of the novel, that Marcel writes his memoir after a full life learning how to become a writer. Instead, he uses his insights to launch a new novel, one that utilizes, for instance, his understanding of unforced memories and how they can bring autobiographical writing to vivid life. Landy wants to open a distance between Proust and Marcel, between the memoir and the novel. He presents some internal evidence from the novel to support the idea that Marcel has been writing his memoir as he matured as a writer,not after becoming a mature writer. One such item is the reference to Marcel mentioning that he had been writing about Swann and Odette that appears in The Captive (V,493), a chronology that would preclude him from applying the aesthetics only gained in the final volume.
The degree to which Proust was aware of the progressive distance between himself and his erstwhile mouthpiece can of course never by established, but I would like to propose the possibility that Proust knew exactly what he was doing….My submission is that Proust realized the aesthetic treatise no longer fully captured the essence of his achievement, but consciously decided to leave it just as it was, as another index of the distance Marcel would have to travel if he were ever to catch up with his author, and, by consequence, as an index of the distance we too have to travel if we are to understand the nature of what Proust is offering us. (47)
What new insight does this opening of an “ironic gap” offer us? We must leave behind the notion that the novel is a demonstration of formal aesthetics (Time Regained) fashioning a work of art.
He is inviting us, that is, to consider the ultimate fruitlessness of committing our fashioned and continually refashioned self to paper; he is inviting us to take Marcel’s memoir as a model for how we should think about our lives, not how we should write about them (consider that Proust himself left no autobiography behind, only a work of fiction). We should live our lives in the way Marcel narrates his, which is to say as though they were about to be memorialized in prose at any moment. Our ideal should be life as literature, not life in literature. And at the same time, while we live our literary lives, telling ourselves carefully composed autobiographies, we need to take a certain ironic distance from those stories, acknowledging them for the local, ephemeral, partly artificial constructs that they are. (48-49)
Tags: Joshua Landy