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From symbolism to consciousness via Proust.

I. Lost Paradises and Concrete Recollections

MARCEL PROUST'S three-thousand-page novel, A la recherche du temps perdu, weaves complexes of imagery and moralistic generalization with concrete personal recollection, albeit fictionally transformed. Reading it convinces one that any discussion without the same concreteness and personal specificity has little value, even a discussion of Proust's obscure relations with conservative thought.

So I begin by recalling how, some years ago, I met the aged Leader of a Catholic rightist cult, practically a recreation of the Action Francaise which had fascinated the young T.S. Eliot. Taking his afternoon tea from a small silver tray which rested upon an ermine pillow in his lap, the Leader pontificated on Western civilization's past, present, and future. I glimpsed something of the aged dandy in him, however, when he languidly rose and leaned upon the cane with the carved ivory handle to greet his guests. His followers regarded the dysplastic posture as the physiological consequence of spiritual warfare's blows and buffets; the cane was to them an object of veneration. St. Sebastian with an ivory-headed cane, apostle of spiritual sprezzatura ... I was shown a life-sized photo-portrait of his mother in pre-Titanic days at Baden-Baden, wearing what might have been a Charles Frederick Worth gown. The Leader felt a powerful nostalgia not only for the high Middle Ages but also for the Belle Epoque of his infancy. As Proust says, all true paradises are lost paradises.

This scene deserves full treatment not in political science annals but in a novel. Yet it is the Leader's opinion of that novel beyond all other novels that I wish to mention. He was somewhat a fan of Proust. I am told that he wished there could be a suitably edited version of A la recherche for his young followers to read, so that they might imbibe the atmosphere of old-fashioned aristocratic society, to learn something of its manners. But what of its morals? Wouldn't one have to take all the adultery, homosexuality, and prostitution out, and what exactly would be left? The gowns of the Princesse de Guermantes and her cousin the Duchesse, and Marcel the narrator's fondness for his mother? Perhaps Proust's Dreyfusism would be excised, and the anti-Dreyfusism of the anti-Semitic characters retained. Proust the snob is, in the end, a severe critic of his idolized aristocrats: perhaps his social microscope would need a softer focus. And yet the tragedy of an aristocracy with nothing left to rule but "society," an aristocracy at once pathetic and grand in its decline, is a good lesson for conservatives to study--as is the phenomenon of the "family genie" which protects the Duchesse's dignity from the consequences of her liberalism and her fraternizing with bohemians.

Ghislain de Diesbach, who wrote a great book of scuttlebutt on Europe's royal families, had a fitting sense of humor about modern nostalgia for ancien regime pomps. "Royalism and snobbery have at last combined to produce a new religion," he says. "Its Bible was written by Proust. One day, after all monarchies have been forgotten, sovereigns without crowns will still reign [over high society] by virtue of this literary consecration." (1) Proust did not concern himself with pragmatic arguments for monarchy; his princes and princesses are redundant royal relatives or politically underemployed descendants of Peers of France; and he savors their disintegration too much. But their snobbish portraiture is seductive, and an enthusiasm for monarchy and aristocracy verging on superstition may be a motive for wandering into Proust's literary maze. My ideal conservative is one who seeks to cultivate and conserve not only "values" but also elites, the social cohorts who embody those "values," whether actually or presumptively; he or she is not squeamish about the hereditary principle as a means of such conservation, and is susceptible to the moral imagination's symbolic magic--susceptible to a fault. Yet he or she would be better off reading Edmund Burke. The true worth of Proust's book to conservatives may be hard to educe.

An examination of Paul Elmer More's late essay, "Proust: The Two Ways" (1933), which takes a strange lead from Edmund Wilson's Proust essay in Axel's Castle (1931), will show how conservative literary criticism could only find Proust indigestible. (2) But parts of Eric Voegelin's Anamnesis (1966, 1978), including an essay specifically entitled "Remembrance of Things Past," contain an oblique tribute to Proust's portrayal of consciousness and to the French symbolist literary movement that somewhat guided Voegelin in his philosophical quest. (3) I juxtapose my studies of More and Voegelin here to show both the worst and the best that conservatives have found in Proust, to do justice to Proust and to the perils of conservative cultural criticism. For A la recherche presents the paradox of a work that does not embody, in form or matter, the civilizational ideals of conservatism (More's position) but that is in itself a civilizational accomplishment able to assist a conservative to form a theory on the complexity of reality (Voegelin's situation).

Reading A la recherche, whether in English or French, is an occupation. How one even comes to plunge into its textual demands calls for explanation. Proust is a writer's writer: other writers read him continuously in order to learn their craft. His high reputation draws many superficial readers, but he demands depth. He belongs to the realm of homosexual chic, yet he must have more heterosexual readers, many of them seeking to understand the homosexual world which is today ineluctably above-ground. More dragged himself through the novel because of a turn in the "battle of the books" (that new quarrel of ancients and moderns, circa 1930, pitting Irving Babbitt and critics sympathetic to his Humanism against American modernist writers such as Hemingway and Dos Passos). Voegelin appears to have read all the great French writers of the symbolist movement, seeking in literature a place where the life of the spirit continued to flourish when ideology and positivistic social science drove it out of other cultural fields. (Religion per se is not the only place where the spiritual life manifests itself.)

Feeling the pressure to explain my own reading, I admit that I once studied the dandy as a nineteenth-century counter-revolutionary type, the male aristocrat (or would-be aristocrat) creating a role for himself in a society that had no use for him: the "out-of-work Hercules" as Baudelaire called him. At the century's close, Count Robert de Montesquiou was dandyism's aestheticist-absurdist culmination and also its homosexual parody. Proust's Baron de Charlus is his analogue in A la recherche, and I read around in the novel for information of Montesquiou and other remnant French nobility sequestered in the Faubourg St. Germain as "emigres of the interior." My T. S. Eliot studies led me to research the Action Francaise (in which Robert's cousin Leon had importance) and the Dreyfus affair. Thus I had a grasp of Proust's fictional setting already when middle age and its discontents made me susceptible to his pathos. Then I noticed the resemblance of his narrator's childhood reminiscences to Voegelin's, and I learned how Proust developed his theory of memory under the influence of Henri Bergson, whom More would have called one of the "philosophers of the flux" but whom Voegelin held in high regard. (4)

I hold in my hands the first edition of More's essay. During the 1980s my study of More's life and his friendship with T.S. Eliot took me to the rare book room at Princeton University Library, to his surviving students, to his former house, and to his grave. At Northwestern a retired English professor, Robert B. Mayo, slipped me a bundle of old copies of The American Review, a long extinct journal devoted to Humanism, Distributism, and Southern Agrarianism, which he had preserved from his graduate school days, including Issue No. 1 from 1933, where More's essay first appeared. These journal issues were physical evidence that the Humanist Antihumanist "battle of the books" had been of some academic importance.

Still reliving Dr. Mayo's past in my own Humanism studies, I tell the story here, in a sequence of dualisms, of More the critic whose ideals were entirely antithetical to modern literature, and of More the unreconstructed Platonic dualist who analyzed Proust in terms of a dualism of "law" versus "nature" (nomos versus physis), but who took no interest in Proust's search for personal endurance in an analogically "Platonic" dualism of being versus becoming, and who likewise disregarded Bergson's dualism of spirit versus matter, upon which Proust's is based. A divergence between literary and philosophical treatments of the "stream of consciousness" leads from More to Voegelin, who perceived a distinction between ideological "ideas" and genuine symbols erupting from spiritual depths, and who verified his theory of consciousness through a personal remembrance apparently encouraged by Proust.

II. More's Dualism and Proust's Symbolism

The sequence of More's interests and "misoneistic quarrels" sets the context for his Proust essay and also parallels Voegelin's search for an answer to civilization's "modern crisis." In the 1920s More the genteel critic had already turned away from literature to write his Greek Tradition, an attempted return to a naive version of Plato's philosophic myths and a pre-Patristic Christianity--eccentric constructions, but consistent with the emerging intellectual revolt against positivism and ideology that Voegelin found inspiring. For More, only philosophy and religion furnished a remedy for society, and finally one might only be able to save one's own soul.

While Voegelin found hidden encouragement in modern literature, More only found manifestations of disease. He chiefly loved the literature that had formed him earlier in life, the Great Books from Homer to Goethe, but also now-forgotten works such as J.H. Shorthouse's John Inglesant (1881) which reflected his interest in the spiritual quest of another age. Yet, as the decade went on, pressure to read the detestable moderns increased. With Babbitt, More was looked to as a leader of the anti-moderns, and there were Nobel prize rumors. At home in Princeton, Dean Christian Gauss, his social friend and verbal sparring partner (and Edmund Wilson's teacher), was making Proustians out of young Princetonians. Perhaps his young friend T. S. Eliot could be enrolled into Humanism as a prestigious anti-modern modernist. One needed to be conversant.

So More read Joyce, Dos Passos, Sherwood Anderson, criticism about the French symbolists if not much of their poetry, and of course Proust. In 1932 he presented a draft of the Proust essay as a lecture to the university's Philosophical Club, not having finished A la recherche yet and suggesting that there was something unformed about his audience if Proust's "trailing meditations on sodomy and sadism" did not bore or repel them. They were offended. Ensuing discussion turned to Edmund Wilson's Axel's Castle. (5)

More's essay, "The Two Ways," occurs in the personal context of his friendship with Eliot and his hostility towards Wilson. Eliot, an alter ego, a younger St. Louisan who had made good, was a human puzzle, and his poetry a textual puzzle. Symbolisme, the movement in which Eliot found his model Laforgue, might provide both the key to the poetry and also the occasion for indirectly refuting Eliot's modernism. Wilson, the leftist critic of the New Republic with an affinity for Marx and Freud, had attacked More in the "battle of the books;" yet More found Wilson's middlebrow analysis of Proust in Axel's Castle helpful. Perhaps Wilson's imitation of More's "life and letters" approach paid him an unconscious tribute. Wilson's essay is blunt-edged: his definition of symbolism is slippery; (6) his vulgar Marxism renders the social nuances of what he calls Proust's "snobbism" irrelevant; and his vulgar Freudianism prompts him rather freely to interject the word "hysteria" as a politely atavistic code-word for Oedipal and homosexual issues.

More condemns the novel's ethically deficient depiction of love and its morally de-centered depiction of consciousness, consistent with its view of love; and then he assaults symbolism's "heresy" of art for art's sake. Now the questionable classification of Proust as a symbolist agreed with Wilson's purpose of castigating a broadly defined group of elitist modern writers for fleeing to art's imaginary realms from the glory of proletarian revolution. Wilson's version of Proust, already subjected to a liberal critique, was all the more vulnerable to More's conservative critique.

More quoted Wilson: "the atrocious cruelty which dominates Proust's world," in the behavior and relations of its characters, "is the hysterical sadistic complement to the hero's hysterical masochistic passivity." (7) Accepting Wilson's categorization of Proust as a symbolist because the novel's "dense mesh of complicated relations" (8) creates an artistic universe in its own right which is supposed to possess formal beauty, More echoes Wilson in his own dismissal of Proust: "These airy imaginings of metaphor and simile are really no more than vapours floating up from the abyss of the subconscious where nature lies embedded in the double slime of hysterical sadism and hysterical masochism." (9)

Somewhere in this essay is a paragraph that T.S. Eliot greatly approved of, and quoted in his After Strange Gods lectures, applying it in condemnation not of Proust but of D.H. Lawrence, who was doubly sick with a "spiritually sick" vision of reality in general and a "distinct sexual morbidity" in particular. (10) In a paragraph containing the heart of More's analysis, the "two ways" of his argument (punning on the two paths of Swann and the Guermantes) are those of the classical humanist and the modern naturalist in portraying love: the humanist portrays the conflict of nomos (spiritual, ethical, hierarchical "higher law") with physis (the anti-hierarchical lower "nature" of animal drives, "the brute fact," "the physical fact"), resulting in tragedy; the naturalist portrays the triumph of physis or else its unfair and unhappy thwarting by a nomos which is only the empty, outward convention of a decaying culture. (11) On the pragmatic scale of 3,000-page novels, Samuel Richardson's Clarissa Harlowe (1747-1748) is an excellent example of the former, Proust's A la recherche of the latter--and in fewer pages, Zola (and, as Eliot would have it, Lawrence).

Realists and symbolists, More says, are both naturalists who choose the side of physis against nomos, and for a narrative technique they employ the subjectivist portrayal of mental awareness called "stream of consciousness" which insults human dignity by reducing man to his moment-to-moment life of sensations and erupting urges, and which repudiates "rational selection and spiritual authority"--so that, as he says in an essay on Joyce, "the only law governing the flux is the so-called association of ideas, the fact that one image by some chance similarly evokes another, and one sensation fades into another." (12) The soul submitting unresistingly to this flow is passively dissolved and expansively diluted and opened to degeneration. "The truth remains that sheer ugliness and morbid perversions abound in this stream from the bottom of man's being" (81). This is where Joyce and Proust have located "the ultimate reality of human experience." More uses the term "field of consciousness" in opposition to "stream" or "flow" to suggest that the soul's dynamic awareness has dimensions of fixity as well as fluidity, including a "faculty of responsible selection" that functions in normal experience and determines character in life as well as novels (55).

No doubt Proust does strip love of More's "sentimental penumbra" (54) which integrates sex imaginatively into hierarchies of value; "Marcel" the narrator knows only physical desire and obsession and jealousy, presenting not only a restricted view but one aimed towards degradation. While Wilson sums up the degeneration of Baron Charlus as becoming "perverse for the sake of perversity," making "viceitself" his "ideal" (156), More charts Proust's plumbing of the depths more precisely, from the level of physical desire and jealousy between men and women, to the level of "pure physical pleasure uncontaminated by sentiment" and uncomplicated by sexual differentiation (62-3), to the allegedly simpler desires to inflict pain and humiliation and to suffer them. There the "ultimate fact" is located, at the bottom of the "stream" (64).

When More extends this "stream" metaphor, it becomes a complex Mississippian murk with levels and layers, deep currents and toxic sediment. Overreaching Heraclitus and Plato, he may concede too much to Wilson and Freud. After all, the "stream" began with William James and Henri Bergson as a simple image representing a flowing sequence of mental states, a visibly moving surface. (13) Proust is not Joyce; Proust's digested, analyzed, moralized recollections do not constitute a simulated "stream" of sensations in the fictional present; his narrator reclaims the past by trusting associative processes which retrieve and structure memory. Rather than upon the narration, then, More's attack on Proust focuses upon this associationism, which he ascribes oddly to "an older discredited psychology" (55) and depicts as mental anarchy, a mind without logos. But Proust is not Sterne; and Lockean ideational atomism was only a pretext for Sterne's meanderings. Proust's philosopher Bergson believed that consciousness depended on an inherently purposeful and directed process of association, organizing the self for action; for memory brings forward to consciousness exactly what it most needs in order to complete perception with apprehension. (He considered persons prone to speculation and reverie imbalanced "dreamers" who re-treat into the realm of pure memory from the battlefront of memory's engagement with perception. (14) But since Bergsonian epistemology has no room for Platonic Ideas, More takes no interest in Bergson and misses the issue of Proust's departure from him.

For Proust manifests an utterly un-Bergsonian anxiety in his essentialism, his Platonic-Augustinian recoil from the Realm of Becoming and his desire for fixity in the knowable essences within experience. Bergson trusts in the mostly unseen but permanent presence of memory, showing itself only as it engages the world dynamically in attention and action in the "now"; Proust desperately wants to seize and rest within memory as in a realm of immortality, spared from contingency. (15) To More, the philosophy of memory as adapted by Proust is only a futile defense against the loss of personal being in the abyss of oblivion. I conclude that More saw in Proust's dualism of memory versus phenomena a human recoil from the existentialism evident in Bergson's dynamism. Bergsonian dualism was not dualistic enough for Proust; but Proust's dualism was not enough to make him interesting or ethically exemplary to More, even as a kind of "metaphorical" or analogical Platonism. (16)

"Marcel" achieves a kind of self-salvation from the flux by building a mental structure of self-awareness grounded in memories that are authenticated by their spontaneity, and Proust the author achieves the same by the artistic construction of "Marcel." Mallarme's poems are microcosmic by comparison with Proust's macrocosmic novel, private worlds protected by ambiguity and compression unlike Proust's novelistic expansiveness and explicitness; paradoxically his poems seek, in their "memories of horizons," (17) a personal immortality through the construction of a poetically depersonalized work of art. The symbolist poet and the allegedly symbolist novelist share a Lucretian veneration of matter as the ground of being, which from its pure potentiality gives rise even to the pure thought of poetry. Wilson the ideologue is closed to such mysticism. Peculiarly, More the philosophical dualist values the inner life that gives rise to "intuitions" of theism, moral choice and responsibility, but is anti-mystical. (18) Both More and Wilson have political concerns alien to the symbolists. One may legitimately complain that the symbolists' artistic world is walled off by elitist obscurity and egotistical idiosyncracy against the public and therefore they can contribute nothing towards "saving" civilization from its crisis. But the fact remains that secularized elites, having nowhere else to find refuge in the age of ideology, sheltered what remained of their spiritual life in this aesthetic compound.

Though the major poets whom we call "symbolists" rejected the epithet, critics found "symbolism" a valid name for the school because, once the poets cleared away formal concerns extrinsic to the heart of poetry, the symbol remained. If imagery and metaphor are made intrinsic to the poem, then the poem becomes its own internal world of suggestion; instead of imitating the external world it evokes its own mental structure and lives its own life of identity with its symbols. Moreover these poets took an interest in the symbolic realms of the occult, of mythology (as religion and cosmic analogy rather than allegorical system), and of dreams; and they contrived their poems as private spells, rituals, visions--artificial contexts imitating the spontaneous contexts of cultus and psyche. In such a context the symbol will tend to become a self-luminous entity rather than an opaque token representing an agreed-upon concept, not a container of meaning but the actuality of meaning. The concept and its representative image become a simple unity, both expression and existence in one, concrete and abstract at the same time, the unique product of experience and imagination together, having sovereign priority over any mere interpretation or abstracted moral. (19)

To a positivist taking for granted epistemological distinctions between noumena and phenomena, or between things perceived and their mental images, or between concepts and the language used to express them, this poetic theory would indeed have looked like mysticism as well as mystification. This pursuit of the numinous symbol--an artistic endeavor transcending medium and genre, from Proust's water lilies and monocles to the lustful eye of Mallarme's faun to the floating eyeball-balloons of Redon--meant nothing less than revolt against positivism. The furor of the age against symbolism suggests that the "age of ideology" really was, at bottom, the age of Destutt de Tracy's crassly materialist "ideology" which identified epistemology with physiology.

III. Voegelin's Memories of Horizons

Eric Voegelin experienced the clash of ignorant ideological armies firsthand, adopting Marxism at age eighteen for two months as he read Das Kapital, and later publishing analyses of Nazism of which the Nazis did not take notice till in 1938 they forced his flight from Austria. Perceiving the formal resemblance of the mass political movements to religious cults, and nothing the claim of each ideology to be the universal science, he embarked on an erudite history of "ideas"--doctrinal words, conceptual forms which may have once been lively symbols. Detached from some original context of meaning, emptied and restuffed over the centuries by intellectuals and demagogues, the ideas ended up as zombie like agents in the ideological warfare.

Unlike ideas, symbols are rooted in a personal context: the lives of prophets, poets, and philosophers who experienced illuminations and expressed them in words, simple metaphors, images. These words or symbols are, in the end, one with the concept they are said to "represent." They arise, inexplicably and unbidden, from the apeiron or "depth," Anaximander's word/symbol for an unbounded and unconscious realm of potentiality, a place neither for the explosive confinement of unspeakable Freudian urges nor for closed colonization by Jungian archetypes. (20) In the 1940s Voegelin turned his attention away from the ideas whose deterioration led to crisis, and towards the undogmatized and unpsychologized symbols which underlay the founding of civilizations, religions, and the elite intellectual tradition called philosophy. This work on symbols led to study with scholars ranging from Mircea Eliade to Mario Praz; but it was foreshadowed by a taste for Mallarme and Valery. (Voegelin even made a pilgrimage to Valery's cimetiere marin. (21)

Voegelin's work on symbols and civilizational order needed a foundation in a theory of consciousness, of human knowing, discovering, questing: a flexible and unrestrictive theory enabling him to describe the search for order across historical time in all its richness, even in encounters with something usually called divinity. The factual basis for this theory had to come from the direct experience of the analyst's own concrete, embodied consciousness, the only one completely available to him for analysis, not a trans-personal or trans-historic Spirit or Ego. This concrete consciousness is, moreover, an event within the universe, and the universe determines the content of that consciousness; there is no experience suggesting that consciousness itself creates or constitutes reality. And so the analyst must try to remember experiences that constituted his consciousness. Proust had already done something very like this in his novel's first two hundred pages. (22)

Voegelin did not credit Proust directly as his model, but in 1977 at age 76 when he wrote about this decisive moment of his journey, which took place in 1943, he entitled his memoir "Remembrance of Things Past." (23) Bergson is another hidden participant. His epistemology located perception in the object perceived, in order to defeat Cartesianism's false dualism that isolated the mind from the perceived universe. Bergson's move made possible the return to a classical dualism of spirit and matter, in which the seat of perception and memory is the spirit. Similarly, Etienne Gilson launched his return to the commonsense realism of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas from Bergson. Voegelin, via William James, found his way back to Plato's methexis or participation. He did not want to be a Neo-Thomist. (24)

In 1943, Voegelin contends with Husserl's phenomenology, but his discussion reads like an implicit commentary on Bergson. Husserl was bogged down in the curious nineteenth-century project of trying to discover what human consciousness is by stripping it to the simplest, purest perception of a stream, a flow of external time, usually in the contemplation of a musical tone. And contemplation is the operative word: Voegelin notes satirically that this speculative exercise has replaced medieval Christian spiritual exercises intended to achieve union with divinity. William James said it resulted in consciousness of nothing but breathing: nothing more, one might say, than temps perdu in the emptiest sense (15-16).

Both Voegelin and Bergson understand man to be a time-bound creature with a time-constituted consciousness. For Bergson (as for Proust), internal or psychological time, whose moments are a sequence of mental states, triumphs over the external or clock time ruling man's physical nature, to which Husserl had looked for consciousness's essence; and memory transcends time altogether. So Voegelin, while nodding to Husserl's nugatory accomplishment of grasping a "'vanishing point' of fleetingness," realizes that it is not the function of human consciousness to flow, "but rather to constitute the spaceless and timeless world of meaning, sense, and the soul's order" (16). Bergson's "attentiveness" (Voegelin's "concentration") is consciousness's act of being present to the world, poised to strike at objects perceived, to grasp them physically and intellectually, alternately relaxing and tightening in order to involve memory in perception and action (20). Furthermore, Bergsonian "openness" to transcendence places man, for Voegelin, in a state of "tension" between dualistic poles of human (finite) being and divine (infinite) being; and the position experienced between them is not a state, not a position at all, but something dynamic, like Bergsonian movement.

There remains the necessity of vindicating the analyst's own consciousness experientially as something composed of simple, primary awareness in childhood that become, over time, the building blocks of complex rationality, and that connect the self to its body, to the world outside the body, to a human community, to history, and to the "ground of being"--instances of the self transcending itself. So the forty-two-year-old Voegelin (with Proust as his apparent model) recalls twenty specific cases of childish wonder ("excitements") regarding the perplexing nature of time, space, and matter, of the horizons of history and even "the end of the world" (36-51). These naive experiences, he says, "let themselves be recaptured because they were living forces in the present constitution of [my] consciousness" (13).

Some of Voegelin's memories of "excitement" are always with him; others are retrieved with effort by association. When Marcel bites into the madeleine, a spontaneous memory erupts, akin to the involuntary flashbacks of trauma cases; then he understands his duty to himself to restore the entire picture of his past, to map the associations which have become consciousness's inherent structures and which suggest an ordered development in cognition, though more often they manifest affective development. It becomes a quest for personal unity, giving rise to happiness, or at least to an acceptance of death. Voegelin has no equivalent for the madeleine, only the strong motive of his quest for truth. There can be no perfect correspondence between the memories of Proust's narrator and Voegelin's. Marcel dwells on the particularity of his experiences while pleading a case of tragic emotional solipsism; Voegelin seeks something integral and universal in his experiences to prove that his rationality is consubstantial with that of the rest of humanity through history, enabling him to apprehend, participate in, empathize with the insights of the great spirits of the past.

For Marcel and for Voegelin, a landmark is the nexus of association: Marcel's is the church of his native town Combray with its steeple, reference point of all perspectives for the rest of his life, the axis of consciousness needing no madeleine to evoke it; Voegelin's is the Rhine, his Heraclitean river, where he lived between ages four and nine. Landscapes fool the eye; the childish mind tries to connect the world of stories and legends with the real world; history's residues provide evidence of time's passage. All these experiences connect with Marcel's church and Voegelin's river.

From his childhood, Marcel seizes upon the story of Golo, told in a sequence of magic lantern slides which impose a two-dimensional world of legend on a three-dimensional real world with door knobs and other irregularities in his nursery, introducing disturbing non-flatnesses to the projected illusions. Then the church tower, the universal reference point, enables his mind to leap through space, from his window at home to imagined goings-on in the marketplace at the church porch. The tower changes color in various lights without changing its matter; it has looked down upon Saint Louis in that marketplace and still seems to, because the domain of the parish church is so obviously encrusted with layers of history that, he says, one entered the fourth dimension. And its glowing windows depict historical personages who are intermediaries across time and the domain of legend, between Golo of the slide show and the living Duchesse de Guermantes of the historic name.

Voegelin siezes upon the legendary Monk of Heisterbach, who transcended time like Rip Van Winkle, but by meditation rather than sleep (4); (25) and upon the toy house atop St. Peter's mountain, which turned out not to be a toy house but a real house when he came face to face with it, one of many perspectival problems raised by the river and its mountains (8). He had believed that ships sailed down it to the land of the Siegfried saga (11), and that legendary knights inhabited the mountain castles (7). Once the "Kaiser" rode by in a car (alas, it was only the Kaiser's equerry--16), and although Voegelin was always sceptical of leaders, he found this monarch's place in the reversed timeline of a pictorial history book, in which men were physically bigger as one went further back in time towards the age of heroes (15). He saw parties on passing riverboats, festivals of a community larger than his family (10). Foreign sailors who imported cheeses also opened the horizon beyond Germany (12).

Did the pinnacle-like bread loaves in Marcel's home, consecrated by their resemblance to the Combray steeple, provoke Voegelin's remembrance of the Rhineland's conical bread loaves (14), whose uneven slices inspired his later interest in Zeno's paradoxes, which are in turn an argument for Bergson's dynamic theory of movement? In the end, Voegelin has many more crucial remembrances than Proust, some of them poignantly foreshadowing the great themes of his work, such as "immanentizing the eschaton": in 1910 Halley's comet appeared, raising fears of the "end of the world;" and while a nine-year-old Voegelin felt disconnected from the general fear, he did suppose that matter was scary stuff if a chunk of it from outer space could destroy houses and kill people (13).

The magical topography of the loaves, and the imagined power of a comet, and the mysterious difference between clouds that cause rain and clouds emanating from smoke stacks of steam launches that do not cause rain (9), taken altogether, might indeed plant the seed of a mysticism of matter that culminates in an appreciation for Valery's poetry, and that can be related to Proust. For the Combray steeple also appeared as the veritable finger of God, an immanent material god whose hand was buried beneath the pavement with the flowing dust of dead abbots. In maturity, Voegelin was open to Christian mysticism. The important point here may be that Halley's comet was not just an objective correlative for the concept "eschaton"; experientially, naively for the child Voegelin, it was the eschaton.

Proust the novelist and Voegelin the philosopher overlap each other's disciplines, both portraying the mind constructing itself as it responds to the real world impinging upon it. Sentiment and sensualism limit Proust's vision, but he richly documents the reality remaining in view. Proustian anamnesis begets Voegelinian anamnesis; analogously, "Lucretian" symbolist poetry begets Eliot's Christian modernist poetry. Eighty years after Proust's death and The Waste Land's publication, a conservative still feels neoclassical qualms like More's over manifestations of spiritual ataxia. Renewal is possible where there is not closure against the spirit. Meanwhile, one remains critical of disorder while trying to integrate works of genius into one's cultural tradition.

(1.) Secrets of the Gotha (New York, 1968), 365. (2.) More, On Being Human (Princeton, 1936), 43-68; Wilson, Axel's Castle (New York, 1959), 132-190. (3.) Voegelin, Anamnesis (Notre Dame, 1978), trans. Gerhart Niemeyer. The word "symbolism" will refer, throughout this essay, to the symboliste movement in French poetry. (4.) The literature on Proust and Bergson is huge: e.g., Robert Champigny, "Proust, Bergson and Other Philosophers," in Proust, A Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1962), 122-131; A.E. Pilkington, Bergson and His Influence (Cambridge, 1976), Ch. 4. See Voegelin's praise for Bergson in Conversations with Eric Voegelin, ed. Eric O'Connor (Montreal, 1980), 31. (5.) A.H. Dakin, Paul Elmer More (Princeton, 1960), 325n39f.; The Papers of Christian Gauss, ed., Jackson and Haydn (New York, 1957), 282-3. (6.) In order to force Proust into the symbolist movement, Wilson must turn Marcel's spotaneous memories and other recollections and experiences into "symbols"--"incidents and personalities as well as landscapes" (162). Proust would not have considered himself a symbolist, but it was fashionable by the 1930s to include him in the school: see Valery Larbaud's preface to Emeric Figer's L'esthetique de Marcel Proust (Paris, 1933). (7.) Wilson, 166, More, 66. (8.) Wilson, 158, More, 65. (9.) More, 67. (10.) The University of Virginia lectures, published as After Strange Gods (New York, 1934), 65, 63. See Eliot's letter to More, 18 May 1933 (Princeton Univ. Library collection). Eliot left More's paragraph out of the published version. He had thought of dedicating the book to More (Eliot to More, 7 November 1933). I recall no significant utterance by Eliot on Proust. Though he published C.K. Scott Moncrieff's translation of "The Death of Albertine" early in The Criterion, he seems to have shied away from the subject. (11.) More, 54-55, beginning, "But suppose on the other hand the novelist, and with him probably his circle of readers, has lost the sense of ethical reality .... " (12.) On Being Human, 80. (13.) Cf. More, "The Pragmatism of William James," Shelburne Essays, Seventh Series (Boston, 1910), 202, 206. More knew that consciousness for James and Bergson was "a summing up of all the past," based solely upon an inner experience "flowing with ceaseless change about endlessly differing sensations presented to it from without." Bergson would call this a distortion; there is no "within" and "without" for him; consciousness transcends the body and enters the perceived object. (14.) Bergson, Matter and Memory, trans. N.M. Paul and W.S. Palmer (New York, 1991), 153. Babbitt's attacks on romantic "revery" come to mind. (15.) See Pilkington, 174. (16.) On Proust's "Platonism," see Champigny, 127-8 and Jean-Paul Weber, "Bergson and Proust," In Search of Marcel Proust, ed. Monique Chedfor (Claremont, Calif., 1973), 55-77. (17.) Souvenirs d'horizons," in "Toast Funebre," 1. 29. (18.) See More, The Sceptical Approach to Religion (Princeton, 1934). (19.) In the 1886 Symbolist Manifesto, Jean Moreas called for a poetry in which "primordial ideas" are clothed in "a tangible form," yet with neither the concept nor the sensuous form as the poem's object, but rather the "esoteric affinity" between them; and in 1900 Henri de Regnier said that the poet's goal is to achieve "the most perfect and complete figurative expression of Idea through Symbol." See Robert L. Delevoy, Symobolists and Symbolism (New York, 1978), 70-1, 190. (20.) See Voegelin, "Equivalences of Experience and Symbolization in History," in Philosophical Studies, 28 (1981), 96. (21.) See Sandoz, The Voegelinian Revolution (Baton Rouge, 1981), 40; Voegelin, Autobiographical Recollections (Baton Rouge, 1989), 31. (22.) "Ouverture" and "Combray." (23.) C.K. Scott Moncrieff encumbered Proust's title, better translated as In Search of Lost Time, with the reference to Shakespeare's Sonnet 30, on friendship. Still Voegelin's choice of title makes a tribute to his fellow-student of the issues of consciousness, Alfred Shuetz, to whom the Anamnesis essays were sent in the 1940s as personal letters. (24.) Autobiographical Reflections, 72; Anamnesis, 5, also mentioning Gilson. (25.) Numbers refer to the twenty "anamnetic experiments," Anamnesis, 36-51.

T. JOHN JAMIESON is a long-time contributor to Modern Age: A Quarterly Review.
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Author:Jamieson, T. John
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Date:Jun 22, 2003
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