Cano, Christine M. Proust's Deadline.
Christine M. Cano presents a concise account of the practical and theoretical difficulties that beleaguered Proust over the production and publication of his multi-volume A la recherche du temps perdu. Contributing to the oft-discussed relationship between metaphor and metonymy in Proust's text, Cano contends that although his narrator celebrates metaphor as the aesthetic form capable of redeeming time, Proust's dealings with his editors, critics, and privileged readers betray his anxiety over that form's metonymic rupture. As such, her study details how Proust went to great efforts to control the terms of the Recherche's publication and reception in order to protect his novel from fragmentation or incompleteness. But the threat of discontinuity did not expire with Proust: Cano also surveys the critical reaction to the discovery of Proust's unpublished drafts, an event that continues to elicit debate over the novel's definitive form.
In her first two chapters, Cano considers the symbolic constructs Proust struggled to articulate when called upon by publishers and reviewers to define the structural clarity and cohesion of his project. Comparing his work to a tapestry in danger of being arbitrarily cut, Proust feared that if the Recherche were released in intervals or volumes his readers would fail to grasp the organic logic immanent to his aesthetic. Proust's prepublication strategies were accordingly intended to orient his readers toward a proper reception: Proust insisted, for example, that his work be projected as an exploration of involuntary memory rather than an episodic narrative. Along with a judicious selection of Proust's correspondence with friends and editors, Cano contextualizes how Proust's engagement with nineteenth-century organic theory put him at direct odds with the publishing norms in France. To resolve the impossibility of publishing all his volumes simultaneously, Proust drew from Gabriel Seailles, who held that a work of art had an internal purpose which erased the barrier between an idea's conception and its execution. This method of conceptual continuity became crucial for Proust when the First World War suspended the publication of Recherche, resulting in its deferral and complete transformation. Cano explores the critical response to Proust's wartime revisions in her third chapter, "Organicism Gone Awry." We learn that Proust's earliest genetic critics, such as Feuillerat, considered the revisions a structural aberration; specifically, these critics maintained that the integral pre-war drafts had been torn asunder by the addition of Albertine, whose possible real-life parallel to a male love object of Proust's remains a point of contention. Cano further analyzes how critical reaction developed from these precursory claims. Notable is Mountjouvain's response: far from a deviant character introduced by chance (i.e. Agostinelli's death), Albertine in fact fulfilled an authorial intention that long-preceded her introduction.
These concerns over planning and accident during Proust's writing and publishing processes reach their climax in the final chapter, which details the critical controversy over Grasset's 1987 publication of a previously unreleased version of Albertine disparue. This alternative edition, heavily revised and pared down by Proust immediately before his death, threatens the coherence of the novel's end; and Cano reviews the varying critical arguments over the legitimacy of competing editions. But it is Proust's impossible attempt to compress lived temporality into a book, Cano suggests, that makes Albertine's resistance to finished meaning all the more poignant: "a resurgence of uncertainty at the heart of the fixed form" (118). An energetic and rewarding read, Proust's Deadline offers both a publication history and a fresh approach as to how Proust and his scholars continue to confront the threats of contingency and time.
Daniel Gomes, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
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|Publication:||Nineteenth-Century French Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2009|
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