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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Morale et esthétique dans à la recherche du temps perdu Ramsden, Maureen A.


Proust's belief in the supreme value of art and the irrelevance of commonly held moral norms in both the novelist's choice and treatment of a theme are widely accepted facets of A la recherche du temps perdu. Morality and aesthetics would therefore appear, in connection with this work, to be mutually exclusive - yet the contrary is true. Morality, defined as a set of absolute values which give meaning to one's life and which regulate both one's actions and one's perspective, informs the whole of the search undertaken by Marcel, the hero of the novel, up to and including his discovery of his artistic vocation - a point which marks the conscious fusion in Marcel's mind of these two ideals. Absolute moral codes presuppose a certain stability and predictability in human behaviour and the possibility of objective assessment and knowledge of self and "other". However, the narrator (Marcel who has found his vocation as a novelist) early discovers that simplistic moral categories, however reassuring and desirable, are impossible in the face of the relativity and instability which embrace every aspect of life the rituals of the lover and the socialite, the maxims of the moralist, the observations of the psychiatrist. The only means of discovering truth as an absolute and of giving it permanent expression will be the recreation in the work of art of authentically lived moments of experience, recaptured by the involuntary memory. In the words of Shattuck, "Truth ... i s a miracle of vision". A Chapter One will include four contrasting points of contact with reality. The ontological level reveals man's basic anxiety about identity of self and his relationship with external reality. The child's accept tance of an absolute code of conduct exemplifies the flight from reality and the refuge sought in a stereotyped vision of the world. Greater maturity brings the disquieting revelation of contradictions and discrepancies, not only in the moral sphere, but also in our perception of the basic elements of the external world by which we define ourselves: time, place and "other". Finally, there comes the intimation of a transcen- . dental truth, revealed largely through an aesthetic experience, arising from a profound contact with nature, to which Marcel instinctively feels allegiance. Chapters Two and Three will illustrate the attempt to find value in the realms of the ideal, seen in terms of love (Chapter Two) and society (Chapter Three). However, this value, which depends on a subjective vision imposed on an elusive goal, proves to be illusory as an approach to truth. Chapter Four will deal with the discovery at the intuitive level of the psychological and-biological laws which account for human conduct. Love and the social ritual are to be explained in terms of heredity and basic ontological needs - the search for definition of self and "other", flight of "other" to protect one's ego, oblivion and a reforming of the pattern in different guise. Chapter Five will examine the various errors of perspective which have caused Marcel to seek a higher level of reality in the external world, rather than in his own being. A further series of chance intimations of a higher truth leads to the discovery of a new instrument of perception - the involuntary memory. Through its direct and spontaneous apprehension of a moment in time, lived in all its fullness, the involuntary memory becomes a means of opening up a fourth dimension - that of time - and of bringing about a state of expanded consciousness. Objects and beings, which extend in the flux of time, can be captured in their full"temporal significance. The communication of this heightened vision will be achieved through the metaphor, which suggests rather than attempting to define - and thus limit - the multifarious aspects of reality. Style is thus inseparable from point of view, which in turn is the essence of truth - the highest value. The conclusion will touch briefly on the recurring motif of the circle in A la recherche, which unites morality and aesthetics on the structural and thematic level.

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