‘Le Moyen de lire eux-mêmes’: Self-understanding and the Aesthetic Experience of reading in Proust’s A la Recherche du temps perdu

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis discusses the aesthetic experience of reading in Proust’s A la Recherche du temps perdu, with a special emphasis on the Narrator’s proposition that a literary work may enable its readers to become ’les propres lecteurs d’eux-memes’ (RTFIV, 610). This view prompts two crucial questions about self-understanding through reading: (i) what is meant by ’self and (ii) what makes the process of reading literature special, as opposed to other aesthetic experiences and the reading of other kinds of texts. The first part of the thesis focuses on subjectivity and the relation between primary experience and mediation in Proust, addressing the underlying tension between two views of selfhood in the Recherche - a self which evolves around some kind of essence at the centre of experience, and a much more fragmented subject which needs to be constantly recomposed. Rather than being an exclusively metaphysical enquiry into how subjectivity is presented in the novel, this study focuses, though close analysis of Proust’s text, on the ways in which this potential self-understanding can be attained through literature; the second part therefore compares reading to other aesthetic experiences - those of visual art, music and performance - while the third and final part focuses specifically on literature’s communicative possibilities and the different modes of reading in the novel. The thesis argues that the specificity of aesthetic reading is attached to the absence (or at least subsidiary role) of material, sensory stimuli from the artwork itself, which compels readers’ imagination to work closely with (and largely depend on) their past and present experiences outside the text at hand. This collaboration is the germ of the Proustian ’moyen de lire en soi-meme’ (RTFIV, 610) as it enables the reader to overcome the separation between the actual, direct, affective experience in the world and the mediated, reflectiv
Date of Award1 May 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJohanna Malt (Supervisor) & Patrick Ffrench (Supervisor)

Cite this