Natural Metaphor II


This is Fowlie writing on metaphor and symbol in Proust:

When Marcel eats the madeleine cake in Du Côté de chez Swann, when he wipes his mouth with the napkin in the library of the prince de Guermantes in Le Temps retrouvé, time is abolished, because two widely separated moments of his life are juxtaposed. This operation of a sensory experience is comparable to the function of a metaphor which brings together two objects that have no relationship in ordinary life; the waiters, for example, in the restaurant of Rivebelle, compared, in their agility and flight, to angels. Much of the aesthetics of Proust is founded on these two laws: the power of a sensory experience to bring back the past, and the function of a metaphor to explain the unknown by the known. Art is not, therefore, a distraction or a diversion. It is for Proust, as for Baudelaire, responsible for the clarification and application of the theory, an instrument of research, a way by which discoveries are made concerning the meaning of the world, of life, of the exterior life of man, and the inner reality of his subconscious. (272)

Metaphor, expanded, becomes symbolism.

The use of metaphor is prevalent throughout the novel, but Proust is seldom satisfied with the creation of a mere metaphor, a familiar image juxtaposed with an unfamiliar in order to explain it. In this use of images, he tries to move beyond the first immediate and simple explanation (the comparison of Charlus to a bee, for example, in the prelude scene of Sodome et Gomorrhe), to a far-reaching philosophical or anthropological explanation (Charlus’ inversion, explained by inherited ancestral traits). This is the practice of symbolism when metaphor is used to designate a significant experience. According to a major tenet of symbolism, not only nineteenth-century French symbolisme, but symbolism of all cultures and epochs, art is able to suggest the essence behind the object.

Proust uses literary symbolism to capture in words the purity of a soul which has become clouded and darkened by the daily contacts with matter and deceit and passion. When Marcel, in the Guermantes library, at the end of the novel, wipes his mouth with a napkin, the vision he has of Balbec is so sumptuous and magical that he thinks of the Arabian Nights. That moment of vision is Marcel’s escape from the mundanity of the present, and the force behind the power of art, based on metaphor and symbolism, by which the present is transformed and explained. (273-274)

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One Response to “Natural Metaphor II”

  1. Proust as Philosopher: Looking for Joy | Proust Reader Says:

    […] how metaphor has this power is the subject of de Beistegui’s book (and in this blog here, here, here and […]

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