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Philosophy As FictionSelf, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust$

Joshua Landy

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195169393

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195169393.001.0001

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(p.147) APPENDIX

(p.147) APPENDIX

Philosophy As Fiction
Oxford University Press

In what follows, I offer a gallery of specimens that seem to me to exemplify, particularly powerfully, certain sentence-types to be found throughout the novel (albeit not always in so dramatic a fashion). Translations have been modified so that, in each case, the English sentence structure falls into line with the French.

As in the coda, I present the sentences in indented form, with a view to bringing out both the general density of their hypotactic layering and the specific elements of their arrangement (binaries, recursive patterns, and so forth). Besides, I also have a suspicion that they may just be easier to absorb this way. (p.148)


Comment aurais-je pu deviner


ce qu'on me dit ensuite

(et dont je n'ai jamais été certain,

les affirmations d'Andrée

sur tout ce qui touchait Albertine,

surtout plus tard,

m'ayant toujours semblé fort sujettes à caution


comme nous l'avons vu autrefois,

elle n'aimait pas sincèrement mon amie

et était jalouse d'elle),

ce qui

en tout cas,

si c'était vrai,

me fut remarquablement caché

par tous les deux:

qu'Albertine connaissait beaucoup Morel? (III:420)

Another “Zenonian hundred-yard dash,” this sentence is an object lesson in how the mind can, under pressure, turn a simple question into an impossibly abstruse enigma. The nucleus, represented in the original by the first and last five words, is straightforward: “comment aurais-je pu deviner…qu'Albertine connaissait beaucoup Morel?” (“how could I have guessed…that Albertine was on the best of terms with Morel?”). It is repeatedly interrupted, however, by qualifications, justifications, and justifications of justifications.

To start with, an opposite (optimistic) hypothesis makes its appearance almost immediately: perhaps Albertine was not on the best of terms with Morel, in which case there is no point asking the question. This being the hypothesis of the intellect, it is appropriately backed up by argument (Andrée may be lying), and that argument in turn backed up by a causal explanation (Andrée is jealous of Albertine). It is not entirely convincing: Marcel says he has “always” distrusted Andrée, “especially later on”; the two temporal adverbs stand in a certain amount of tension. (p.149)

How could I have guessed


what I was told afterwards

(and of whose truth I have never been certain,

Andrée's assertions

about anything that concerned Albertine,

especially later on,

having always seemed to me to be highly dubious,


as we have already seen,

she did not genuinely like my friend

and was jealous of her),

something which

in any event,

if it was true,

was remarkably well concealed from me

by both of them:

that Albertine was on the best of terms with Morel? (SG 586)

Next, Marcel feels compelled to defend his obliviousness, saying that he had no way of knowing what was going on; and he interrupts his excuses, for good measure, to give voice once again to the optimistic hypothesis (“if it was true”).

What we are left with is a muddle, and the impression of a mind spinning its wheels in irremediable uncertainty, moving from ignorance to blind guesswork and thence to total confusion. At first Marcel knew nothing; later he learned that Albertine and Morel were in cahoots; later still he put that idea into question, ending up worse off than he started (still as ignorant, but even more racked with doubt).

The sentence is as contorted as the mind that produced it. It not only speaks of but also instantiates the intellect's failure to reach reliable conclusions concerning other minds. And it intimates, sotto voce, the one success to which intellect can still aspire: that of rationalizing away what we do not wish to believe. (p.150)


Pour cette fête–ci,

les éléments impurs

qui s'y conjugaient

me frappaient

à un autre point de vue;


j'étais aussi à même que personne

de les dissocier,

ayant appris à les connaître séparément;

mais surtout les uns,

ceux qui se rattachaient à Mlle Vinteuil et son amie,

me parlant de Combray,

me parlaient aussi d'Albertine,

c'est-à-dire de Balbec,

puisque c'est parce que j'avais vu


Mlle Vinteuil à Montjouvain [S 157–63]

et que j'avais appris l'intimité de son amie avec Albertine [SG 499],

que j'allais

tout à l'heure

en rentrant chez moi,


au lieu de la solitude,

Albertine qui m'attendait;

et ceux qui concernaient Morel et M. de Charlus,

en me parlant de Balbec,

où j'avais vu

sur le quai de Doncières

se nouer leurs relations [SG 254–55],

me parlaient de Combray,

car M. de Charlus était un de ces Guermantes,

comtes de Combray,

habitant Combray

sans y avoir de logis,

entre ciel et terre,

comme Gilbert le Mauvais dans son vitrail [S 103]


In the case of this gathering,

the impure elements

that came together therein

struck me

from another aspect;


I was as well able as anyone

to dissociate them,

having learned to know them separately;

but the first set,

those which concerned Mlle Vinteuil and her friend,

in speaking to me of Combray,

spoke to me also of Albertine,

that is to say of Balbec,

since it was because I had

long ago

seen Mlle Vinteuil at Montjouvain [S 224–33]

and had learned of her friend's intimacy with Albertine [SG 702]

that I was


when I returned home,

to find,

instead of solitude,

Albertine awaiting me;

and those which concerned Morel and M. de Charlus,

in speaking to me of Balbec,

where I had seen,

on the platform at Doncières,

their intimacy begin [SG 352–53],

spoke to me of Combray and of its two ways,

for M. de Charlus was one of those Guermantes,

Counts of Combray,

inhabiting Combray

without having any dwelling there,

suspended in mid-air,

like Gilbert the Bad in his stained-glass window [S 145],


et Morel était le fils de ce vieux valet de chambre

qui m'avait fait connaître la dame en rose [S 74]

et permis,

tant d'années après,

de reconnaître en elle Mme Swann [CG 257]. (III:769)

This is an archetypical synthetic sentence, one which brings together disparate aspects of a single life. It does so in terms both of time and of space, yoking two distant epochs—first, a childhood of stained-glass windows, a dame en rose, and a revelation at Montjouvain; second, a return visit to Balbec, where Charlus meets Morel and where Albertine drops her bombshell—and also, in a chiasmus, two different sites (Combray to Balbec, Balbec to Combray). In fact, the spatial fusion is double: not only does the imaginary conceptual barrier between Balbec and Combray start to fall, since Charlus and Albertine seem to straddle both domains, but even within Combray, it turns out that “Swann's way” and the “Guermantes way” can hardly be the hermetically sealed entities they once appeared to be, if Morel can shuttle between them, now identifying Odette, now consorting with the Duc de Guermantes' brother. Marcel is beginning to glimpse here a lesson he will fully learn on meeting Mlle de Saint-Loup (TR 502), daughter of Gilberte (a Swann) and Robert (a Guermantes). (p.153)

while Morel was the son of that old valet

who had introduced me to the lady in pink [S 103–8] and enabled me,

years after,

to identify her as Mme Swann [GW 361]. (C 353)

What is particularly delightful about this sentence is that it reveals an unconscious commitment to the very notion it denies. What the sentence says is that Balbec is much the same as Combray, and that the two “sides” of Combray are much the same as one another. The world does not fall neatly into sites of virtue and sites of vice, sites of nobility and sites of rustic authenticity; it has no “joints” along which it could be carved. What the sentence does, however, is to use precisely those joints as a way for Marcel to organize experience in his mind. While implicitly recognizing that his way of imposing order is nonobjective (“the impure elements …struck me …spoke to me”), and even that he himself could impose order in other ways, Marcel continues to use his own mental geography as a convenient device, one of his numerous useful (perhaps indispensable) fictions. (p.154)



dans ce jeu

où les Japonais s'amusent

à tremper

dans un bol de porcelaine rempli d'eau

de petits morceaux de papier

jusque-là indistincts


à peine y sont-ils plongés


se contournent,

se colorent,

se différencient,

deviennent des fleurs,

des maisons,

des personnages

consistants et reconnaissables,



toutes les fleurs de notre jardin

et celles du parc de M. Swann,

et les nymphéas de la Vivonne,

et les bonnes gens du village

et leurs petits logis

et l'église

et tout Combray

et ses environs,

tout cela

qui prend forme et solidité,

est sorti,

ville et jardins,

de ma tasse de thé. (I:47)

If involuntary memory consists in a moment of contraction by analogy (this madeleine is like that madeleine), followed by a period of dilation by contiguity (that madeleine stood next to the rest of Combray), then it is only appropriate that the madeleine episode should conclude with a sentence that begins by setting up a parallelism as its overarching structuring principle (“just as …so”) and goes on to generate two long paratactic sequences, their thoroughgoing lack of subordination reinforced in the second case by the relentlessly repeated “and.” With hypotactic structures bookending the sentence, it forms a perfect chiasmus, enfolding parataxis within hypotaxis just as the madeleine “contains” Combray.

There is something touchingly traditional about the degree to which presentation, here, mirrors proposition. As the second paratactic sequence progressively (p.155)


in the game

wherein the Japanese amuse themselves

by steeping

in a porcelain bowl full of water

little pieces of paper

without character or form


the moment they become wet,


and twist

and take on colour

and distinctive shape,

become flowers

or houses

or people,

solid and recognisable,


in that moment

all the flowers in our garden

and in M. Swann's park,

and the water-lilies on the Vivonne

and the good folk of the village

and their little dwellings

and the parish church

and the whole of Combray

and its surroundings,

all of that,

taking shape and solidity,

sprang into being,

town and gardens alike,

from my cup of tea. (S 64)

gathers pace (by losing punctuation) and takes us farther and farther afield—from L´onie's room to the garden, and then to Swann's park, followed by the “whole of Combray” and even “its surroundings”—it is almost possible to feel Marcel's childhood home emerging from the cup of tea. So too, in the first paratactic sequence, the pieces of paper communicate their twisting to the sounds, “s'étirent” stretching to “se contournent,” “se contournent” metamorphosing into “secolorent.” The sentence, with its time-honored, almost poetic perfection, rounds off Combray I in the way that a rhyming couplet rounds off a blank-verse scene in Shakespeare. (p.156)


Et au moment où je raisonnais ainsi,

le bruit strident d'une conduite d'eau

tout à fait pareil à ces longs cris




les navires de plaisance faisaient entendre

le soir

au large de Balbec,

me fit éprouver

(comme me l'avait déjà fait une fois

à Paris,

dans un grand restaurant,

la vue d'une luxueuse salle à manger à demi vide, estivale et chaude)

bien plus qu'une sensation simplement analogue à celle que j'avais

à la fin de l'après-midi

à Balbec


toutes les tables étant déjà couvertes de leur nappe et de leur argenterie,

les vastes baies vitrées restant ouvertes

tout en grand

sur la digue,


un seul intervalle,

un seul “plein” de verre ou de pierre,

tandis que le soleil descendait lentement sur la mer

où commençaient à crier les navires,

je n'avais,

pour rejoindre Albertine et ses amies

qui se promenaient sur la digue,

qu'à enjamber le cadre de bois à peine plus haut que ma cheville,

dans la charnière duquel on avait fait

pour l'aération de l'hôtel


toutes ensemble

les vitres qui se continuaient. (IV:452–53)

Marcel is here experiencing his fourth involuntary memory at the Guermantes matinée, one which restores to consciousness the self that inhabited Balbec. The total disposition of that self is resurrected simultaneously—the sight of tables, bay-windows, setting sun and sea, the sound of foghorns, even the future-directed contemplation of a possible walk outside—and the length and density of the sentence seeks in part to render that complexity of mental image.

What stands out, however, is the fact that the sound of the foghorns ends up buried in the very deepest level of the hypotaxis, so deep that it might go entirely unremarked on a cursory perusal. Although the first part of the sentence makes it (p.157)

And now again, at the very moment when I was making these reflexions,

the shrill noise of water running through a pipe,

a noise exactly like those long-drawn-out cries



in summer

one heard the pleasure-steamers emit

in the evening

as they approached Balbec from the sea,

made me feel

—what I had been made to feel

once before

in Paris,

in a big restaurant,

by the sight of a luxurious dining-room, half-empty, summery and hot—

something that was not merely a sensation similar to the one I used to have

at the end of the afternoon

in Balbec


the tables already laid and glittering with linen and silver,

the vast window-bays still open

from one end to the other

on to the esplanade


a single interruption,

a single solid surface of glass or stone,

while the sun slowly descended upon the sea

from which the steamers began to emit their cries,

I had,

if I had wished to join Albertine and her friends

who were walking on the front,

merely to step over the low wooden frame not much higher than my ankle,

into whose groove

so that the air could come into the hotel

they had wound down

all at one go

the continuous range of windows. (TR 266)

clear that this sound is what provides the link to today's sensory experience (a similar noise, made by the plumbing in the Guermantes' residence), it recedes, in the second half, into the background. And in fact it is only appropriate that it do so. For involuntary memory is only possible on condition that the sensation be eminently forgettable, so that the intellect overlooks it and fails to record a (voluntarily accessible) memory. The “cry” of the ships has to have escaped Marcel's notice—just as, in the second half of our sentence, it may very well escape the notice of a casual reader. (p.158)


Certes, ce coup physique au coeur

que donne une telle séparation

et qui,

par cette terrible puissance d'enregistrement

qu'a le corps,


de la douleur

quelque chose de contemporain

à toutes les époques de notre vie

où nous avons souffert,

—certes, ce coup au coeur

sur lequel spécule


un peu

—tant on se soucie peu de la douleur des autres—

celle qui désire donner

au regret

son maximum d'intensité,

soit que la femme

n'esquissant qu'un faux départ

veuille seulement demander des conditions meilleures,

soit que,

partant pour toujours

—pour toujours!—

elle désire frapper,

ou pour se venger,

ou pour continuer d'être aimée,


dans l'intérêt de la qualité du souvenir

qu'elle laissera,

briser violemment ce réseau

de lassitudes, d'indifférences,

qu'elle avait senti se tisser,

—certes, ce coup au coeur,

on s'était promis de l'éviter,

on s'était dit qu'on se quitterait bien. (IV:8–9)

This sentence is a tour de force, a veritable compendium of Proustian devices. It falls into three sections, three ways of considering that “blow to the heart”: first in terms of its post-hoc effect on the sufferer, next in terms of its putative benefit to the inflictor, and finally in terms of the sufferer's earlier fantasies about it. Before the event, Marcel believed he could avoid it, believed that he was in full control, the subject of every sentence (just as “on” is subject of the main verbs at the end); afterward, however, he realizes the extent to which events and emotions always have us at their mercy (“nous,” in the first section, is only the subject of a doubly (p.159)

To be sure, the physical blow to the heart

which such a parting administers,

and which,

because of that terrible capacity for registering things

with which the body is endowed,


of the pain

something contemporaneous

with all the epochs in our life

in which we have suffered

—to be sure, this blow to the heart

counted on


a little

—so little compunction do we feel for the sufferings of others—

by her who wishes to give

to the regret she causes

its maximum of intensity,

whether because,

her departure being only a sham,

she merely wants to demand better terms,

or because,

leaving us for ever

—for ever!—

she desires to wound us,

either in order to avenge herself,

or to continue to be loved,


(with an eye to the quality of the memory

that she will leave behind her)

to destroy the web

of lassitude and indifference

which she has felt being woven about her

—to be sure, this blow to the heart,

we had vowed that we would avoid it;

we had assured ourselves that we would part on good terms. (F 571)

subordinate verb). The third section accordingly registers a tone of tragic resignation, poignantly simple in its parataxis and almost lyrical in its rhythmic, assonant anaphora: “on s'était promis de l'éviter, on s'était dit qu'on se quitterait bien.”

Each section is, in other words, very different. We are dealing here not just with a recursive sentence but with one whose refrain (“ce coup au coeur”) undergoes variations, as if to suggest that our returns to the past reveal not only new information but also new aspects of old information, new perspectives upon what we already knew.

(p.160) Inevitably perhaps, the middle section is the most complex, since it involves speculation as to the contents of another mind. It nests its subordinate clauses obsessively, hedges itself about with qualifiers (“peut-être,” “un peu”), and incorporates the usual two hypotheses about Albertine: (1) she's really leaving (conjecture of the intuition); (2) she's only pretending to leave (conjecture of the intellect). Underneath the first hypothesis, further, a pair of sub hypotheses remind us of Marcel's theory of multiple motivations. For if Albertine is really leaving, then it is in order to wreak her revenge, or in order to leave while Marcel is still in love with her, or both at once.

As well as hinting, via the hypotheses, at the synchronic division of personality, the sentence also points to the persistence of diachronic selves. In the midst of a lucid, detached, even pedantic dissection of Albertine's motives, suddenly a different voice makes itself heard, one for whom the issues being discussed are live, painful topics, not just fodder for reflection: when the adverb “for ever” is repeated, suddenly acquiring an exclamation mark, we understand it to be carried by a moi-Albertine, ostensibly “dead,” resurfacing amid a sea of indifference. Love, in Proust, never fully dies.

Could it be this point of pain, tucked away in the heart of the sentence and deep within the hypotaxis, that Marcel is trying to avoid by speaking of his own specific predicament in such general terms? Is that why there is no “je” in the sentence, but only “nous” and “on”? Certainly there is a hint of irony here between Proust and his narrator, not least when the latter deploys an inset maxim—“so little compunction do we feel for the sufferings of others”—in the middle of his tirade. Marcel may very well complain about Albertine's disregard for his feelings; but what of his disregard for hers? Isn't it this disregard that really explains her flight? And isn't it a mark of his continued apathy that he does not even list this among the reasons he offers, “so little compunction do we feel for the sufferings of others”? How typical of Proust's world that Marcel is, here, right for the wrong reasons, and that we are obliged to take the maxim seriously while at the same time casting the gravest of doubts on its speaker.