Term Paper: Proust, Narratology F. Specifications

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[. . .] He explains: "From this perspective the sensible world as a whole becomes the object of the quest for signification. As long as it takes on form, the world appears, as a whole and in its various articulations, as potential meaning. Signification can be concealed behind all sensible phenomena; it is present behind sounds, but also behind images, odors, and flavors, without being in sounds or in images (as perceptions)" (Greimas, 1976) The bridge connected the disjointed tenets of language to their intended meanings are best presented in the roles of characters, or the view that characters come to symbolize.

In weaving the complexity of the story, often the necessity of revealing opposites is inherent in bringing forth the true nature of the character, s.a. good and evil, hero and villain, or passive and aggressive. A character may fluctuate at times between the two until the more powerful emerges, or he or she may lean decidedly in a single direction, as opposed to other characters in the story. Greimas uses the term semiotic square to describe the point at which actantial oppositions connect (actant referring to the actual character in the narrative). The semiotic square is a methodology that can be used to achieve closure through juxtaposition. Frederick Jameson views Greimas' semiotic square as "a virtual map of conceptual closure, or better still, of the closure of ideology itself." (Jameson, 1976)

Gerard Genette authored "Narrative Discourse," in which his theory on narratology is associated with a single work, that of Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past). In Proust's work, the protagonist Marcel recites a succession of memories as told by the central character. The memories are induced by certain instances, such as insomnia, resembling the use of Barthes' proairetic code. Genette's analysis of Prousts' novel also parallels Barthes' rendition of timing, in that the entering and exiting of memories forms a cyclical rather than linear (or traditional narrative) progression of timing.

In examining the concept of timing further, however, Genette defines four movements associated with time: scene, summary, pause and ellipsis, with pause and ellipsis being the polar extremes. The relationship between these elements can be described like this: "in a pause the narrative time is infinitely greater than the story time, and in an ellipsis the opposite is true." (Genette, 1980) In narration, a pause can take one of two forms: time can completely stop, or a lengthy description can be irrespective of time altogether. Proust's lengthy descriptions, according to Genette, do not necessarily constitute a pause, but become part of the narrative itself, "bringing each aesthetic object into view for careful contemplation." (Genette, 1980)

In Prousts' text, for instance, we hear the thoughts of Bergotte on his deathbed which logically no-one, including Marcel, would have knowledge of. The narrator then, is 'omniscient' in that he transcends the limits of standard narration. Genette comments, however, that "the truth quite obviously is that two concurrent codes are functioning here on two planes of reality which oppose each other without colliding. (Genette 207-08)

Gennette adds that this double focalization of the narrative voice defies "the conditions of realistic illusion: it... transgresses a 'law of spirit' requiring that one cannot be inside and outside at the same time" (Genette 210). Normally, differing points-of-view from the narrator's perspective would be difficult at best, but Genette support Proust's departure here by arguing that his focalization results in "textual coherence and narrative tonality." (Genette 208)

Any thoughtful analyses of Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu is complicated by the iterations of translation that the work has endured over time, and the consequences of those translations on the original meaning of Proust's text. Scott Moncrieff was the first to translate the gargantuan work into English prose shortly after World War I. When Moncrieff died in 1930, leaving all but the final section complete, Stephen Hudson took up the task of completing the translation. The translation, however, was destined to evolve, for as soon as one rendition was complete, an outside development such as the revision of the original French version (which was intended to correct errors in the first edition) was underway, requiring a new translation.

At the same time, tell me whether you have chosen a translator for England. It is very important...They like my books better in England than in France; a translation would be very successful there." letter to Gaston from Gallimard

December 2, 1919

Terence Kilmartin's was charged with the task of revising Moncrieff's translation and in doing so, he set out to capture erroneous errors. Completed in 1981, Kilmartin's revision would have remained the definitive version had not the cycle repeated itself, when yet more French text was released in the late eighties. All of these revisions and translations had some harrowing results. For instance, the title itself was one of the items in question. Kilmartin pointed out that A la recherche du temps perdu did not in fact mean "Remembrance of Things Past," but rather "In Search of Lost Time." Kilmartin claims that Moncrieff borrowed the title from one of Shakespeare's Sonnets, but that it was incorrect. Proust's actual title, he asserts, implies a quest and is closer to the true meaning of the text. He adds that the secondary meaning in the latter part of the phrase, "temps perdu" has a dual implication in that "lost time" can also refer to "wasted time."

The latest translation was that of D.J. Enright, who had assisted Kilmartin and later revised that edition in response to a newer French Pleiade edition. This provided yet another opportunity to right some interpretive wrongs. In one example of the evolution of the translation, a scene in which the narrator observes the setting sun and its reflection on the top of a line of trees was misread by a prior translator as a vertical division, so that the shadow appears on one side of, rather than below the trees. The mistake reached beyond the description of a setting, but related to Prousts' meaning of a transition of feeling about the sunlight's effect from one of entrancement to boredom. This transition was integral to the development of plot and therefore, this error in translation markedly inhibits the power of the narrative. (Enright, 1992) In another discrepancy, Moncrieff, reluctant to be as explicit as Proust intended about masturbation, appended a description of semen smearing the leaves of a flowering currant with "until passion spent itself and left me shuddering," effectively getting the point across and touching upon Brooks' use of metaphor in delivering narrative prose. (Moncrieff, 1970) Moncrieff conceded, however, to include the following quatrain:

Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs' tails,

And dirty sluts in plenty,

Smell sweeter than roses in young men's noses

When the heart is one-and-twenty. (Montcrieff, 1970) in place of:

Qui du cul d'un chien s'amourose,

Il lui para "t une rose. (Pleiade-Gallimard, 1987-89) which means roughly: "Fall in love with a dog's behind and it will seem like a rose."

Lastly, when Kilmartin substituted "carbon copy" for Proust's metonymy, referring to the "double" that existed in his mind of a white linen dress and a coloured flag, he seemed to be missing the intent of the comparison. Prendergast suggests that, since Proust's "extraordinary syntactic structures" are themselves "often strange even to French ears," "there may well be a respectable argument to the effect that oddly unEnglish shapes are sometimes the best way of preserving their estranging force." (Prendergast, 2002)

In Paul Davis' article entitled "Reviving the Dread Deity" which appeared in the Guardian in November of 2002, he writes: "A great part - perhaps the greatest - of Proust's writing is intended to show the havoc wrought in and round us by Time; and he succeeded amazingly not only in suggesting to the reader, but in making him actually feel, the universal decay invincibly creeping over everything and everybody with a kind of epic and horrible power." (Georges Lemaitre in Four French Novelists, 1938)

It is Proust's use of the iteration of time that brings the reader to the center of the experience alongside the author, espousing Genette's analysis of cyclical vs. linear timing. It is impossible not to notice the parallel that exists between Proust's character Marcel and Proust himself, even in the style of narrative composition. Davis notes: From 1910 he spent much time in his bedroom, often sleeping in the day and working at night. "For a long time I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, when I had put out my candle, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say to myself: "I'm falling asleep. And half an hour later the thought that it was time to go to sleep would awaken me; I would make as if to put away the book which I imagined was still in my hands, and to blow… [END OF PREVIEW]

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