Angelo Caranfa's thesis, in Proust: The Creative Silence, reminds me of the once famous and now dated debate between Paul Valéry and l'Abbé Bremond concerning the definition of "pure poetry." For Valéry, la poésie pure was a linguistic phenomenon deriving from the foregrounding of language and the literariness of the text, whereas for Bremond the silence "beyond" language was akin to prayer. Purity was the realm of the ineffable where silence transcends language in order to commune with the Divine.
Caranfa's book defines creative silence as poetic speech through which "the self stands face to face with privileged moments, through which it becomes one with 'l'Espirit éternel.' The poetic word conceals the essence of the Idea, while at the same time disclosing its mystery." There is an essentialism at work in Caranfa's thinking that contrasts with the materiality of language proposed by, for example, Ferdinand de Saussure, among others. Caranfa also assumes that [End Page 524] language is a transparent medium through which to apprehend "reality." "Truth and beauty encounter each other in silence," and "silence is thought expressing itself through signs." Caranfa believes in a corrupt, noisesome world and he opposes its "fallen" presence to the transcendent beauty of God Who exists beyond time, Who is time, and Who redeems the ephemeral, in contrast with the self-centered, privileged moments of Proust's memory and silence.
Caranfa's study focuses on Proust, the author, and it makes no allowance for "the decentered subject" or for the reader's role in the production of meaning. Readers who, with Roland Barthes, believe that "the author is dead" will find such omissions disconcerting. Indeed, it's hard to write informed criticism without a clearly formulated strategy that takes into account theories of language, logocentrism, and the problematic relationship between author, text, and reader.
Despite these failings Caranfa has an impressive ability to synthesize the thinking of artists, writers, and theologians. In his quest for eternal values he contrasts Proust's work and thought with the values of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gabriel Marcel, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Augustine, and the art of Paul Claudel, Georges Braque, Giotto, and Renaissance painting. Caranfa's interdisciplinary range is admirable and his enthusiasm for his subject is often contagious whenever his comparative insights explore, in a frequently eloquent style, Proust's and Claudel's views of music, or Proust's and Braque's views on art, or the differences between impressionism, cubism, and Renaissance art. Nonetheless, perhaps inevitably, in all the comparisons, it is Claudel's, Giotto's, Bonaventure's, and Augustine's views that are privileged. Proust's work may be great, insofar as it plumbs the depths of silence, but, according to Caranfa, it is a flawed achievement because his art does not rise above or beyond the self toward God and His transcendence.
In contrast with Caranfa's "innocent" reading of Proust, Brian T. Fitch's Reflections in the Mind's Eye successfully marshals an array of critics in order to develop a theory of literary representation based on a hermeneutical practice of referentiality. His study moves briskly from realism to reflexive fiction using the novels of Jean-Paul Sartre (La nausée), André Malraux (his revolutionary novels), Georges Bernanos (Sous le soleil de Satan and L'imposture), Maurice Blanchot (Au moment voulu), Albert Camus (La chute), Samuel Beckett (L'innommable), Claude Simon (Histoire), and Georges Bataille (Histoire de l'oeil). Fitch focuses on the possible "concretization" of each work in the reader's imagination and, in order to do so, he uses various reader-reception theories to formulate a critical strategy of his own. It derives in large measure from the works of Paul Ricoeur, Roman Ingarden, Wolfgang Iser, and Hans-George Gadamer. Whereas a critic such as Stanley Fish concerns himself mostly with the effect the text has upon the reader, Fitch foregrounds the...