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Proust and the Avant-Garde: Perception, Knowledge, Representation

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis compares Proust’s Recherche with the work of the Cubists, Futurists, and Surrealists. Few scholars have considered the novel’s engagement with avant-garde ideas and aesthetics, despite Proust’s geographical and temporal proximity to avant-garde activity. Without arguing extensively for direct influence or even significant interaction between the two, my research focuses on a broader pool of ideas and cultural-historical developments, around which Proust’s work can be brought into dialogue with both the collective aims of particular groups within the avant-garde, and with the paintings and (to a lesser extent) writings of individual artists. Throughout the thesis, I use their work as a means of shedding light on the conflict and crossover between states of ‘insidership’ and ‘outsidership’, and on the manner in which these states define relations between perceiving, acting subjects and the external objects and spaces they encounter. Chapter 1 focuses on the artistic perceptive faculty and the relation it enables between the artist and the external world, using Bergson’s opposition of ‘analysis’ and ‘intuition’ as a theoretical framework. Chapter 2 is centred around the metaphor of the work of art as a ‘window on the world’ and its implication that a painting is primarily a representation, rather than an object in its own right. Chapter 3 investigates the influence of mechanised transport technologies both on perceptions of space and on relations between people, while Chapter 4 uses Didier Anzieu’s theory of the Moi-peau to argue that the self is defined not only by bodily but by architectural boundaries, which also shape the subject’s relationships with other people. Ultimately, the thesis asks whether the work of Proust and the avant-gardes conceives of the subject’s interaction with the world as a function of surface or of depth, or as a more complex troubling between the two.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2018

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