Nietzsche and Proust : a comparative study
Affinities between Nietzsche and Proust have been suggested by a variety of influential critics (Georges Bataille and Maurice Blanchot, more recently Paul de Man, Alexander Nehamas and Richard Rorty), but this is the first full-length comparative study of the two writers. Proust was intimately familiar with nineteenth-century post-Kantian aesthetics, and indeed the narrator in A la recherche du temps perdu glosses his involuntary memories using an explicitly idealist philosophical vocabulary, but by developing Vincent Descombes's thesis that Proust's novel is more advanced than the philosophical interpretations it contains, I argue that Proust ultimately moves beyond the Schopenhauerian position which has often been imputed to him, and that he joins Nietzsche in an overcoming of dualistic metaphysics. After first considering those critical works which have prepared the ground for a comparative study of the two writers - in particular Gilles Deleuze's Proust et les signes, whose Nietzschean contours I argue have been insufficiently appreciated - I then discuss the surprising amount Proust actually wrote about Nietzsche, in A la recherche and elsewhere, and focus on the theme of friendship, which is Proust's chosen terrain for his most extended engagement with the philosopher. In subsequent chapters I address 'Proust's perspectivism' in the light of Nietzsche's radical critique of traditional epistemology, and then turn to Proust's narrator's search for the self, which I argue culminates in an 'ubermenschlich' aesthetics of self-creation. I use Deleuze's emphasis on the difference and repetition in Proustian 'essences' so as to read involuntary memory as the intimation not of an essential self, but of the eternal return. In my final chapter I then attempt to break open the two writers' metamorphoses of the circle by stressing the asymmetries of temporal structure in their work, their exploitation of postmodern 'logics of the future perfect'.