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Reviewed by:
  • The Proustian Fabric: Associations of Memory
  • Margaret E. Gray
Christie McDonald. The Proustian Fabric: Associations of Memory. Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 1991. 247 pp. $30.00.

McDonald's effort here is to explore ways in which the Proustian text mediates between, on the one hand, totality, universality, meaning, knowledge, the general, the rational—and on the other, the individual, the singular, the contingent, fragmentation, uncertainty, relativism, the artistic. This conjugation is mapped as a series of shifting associations, or displacements. The thrust of McDonald's discussion, the importance of association—with its randomness and serendipity—is critically quite daring, yielding as it does a Proustian text more risky, intuitively resonant, weirder. Yet in the end, McDonald's careful conclusion is that the Proustian text, for all its associations and displacements, remains faithful to an "initial project which, while always different, will always be the same." To borrow Descombes's point that Proust's narrative practice is far more daring than his theorizing, McDonald has given us Proust more daring than her theorizing.

In her first section (two chapters), McDonald traces the murky morphology of the Recherche's origins and the associations along which it took shape; it is searing here to read Proust's doubts, hesitations, his query "am I a novelist?" An association is established among the text, the mother and loss that will recur at points throughout McDonald's discussion. Her second section of four chapters begins by scrutinizing the associations, shifts, and relativism of the public sphere, exemplified by the Dreyfus Affair, and engaging ethical questions: where do truth and justice lie amidst the slippages of changing commitments? McDonald goes on to argue that initial errors (the mistaken color of Gilberte's eyes, the elusive indistinctness of Balbec's "petite bande") once established in the past as givens, determine what subsequently appear to be random associations. The final two chapters center around the Albertine "catastrophe," as Beckett called it, complicated now by Grasset's 1987 edition of a severely truncated manuscript; McDonald considers first what the new edition adds (a different reading of the Montjouvain scene), and then what it subtracts, primarily the Venice episode with its return to the past via Carpaccio and Fortuny.

The ambition of her argument notwithstanding, I don't think McDonald's critical apparatus does as much for her as it might. She is generally attentive [End Page 972] to the work being done by French critics of Proust, particularly of the textual-genesis school. But the heavily Freudian cast of her "associations" effort would have been better served, I feel, by greater use of the more psychoanalytic directions of much Anglo-American Proustian scholarship. McDonald points, for instance, to the Carpaccio cloak that inspired Fortuny, and that, contemplated by Marcel in Venice, restores him to a past with Albertine. Pursuing her notion of association, she might have enlisted Malcolm Bowie's argument (mentioned only in a note) for the ways that Carpaccio's Venice channels a mobile sexual energy, mediating a liberating bisexuality through the androgynous Albertine-like Venetian gentleman in his pre-Fortuny cloak. Furthermore, much textual-genesis material in the Fortuny/Carpaccio chapter was anticipated by Mary Lydon in an essay listed in McDonald's bibliography. Bowie on the jealous lover as hermeneut might also have been usefully negotiated by her discussion, as would David Ellison on the maternal intrauterine of Venetian canals, as well as Leo Bersani and Angela Moorjani on the text as mourning, symptomatic of loss.

Nevertheless, this book is an important critical exercise carried out close to, and with exceptional awareness and respect for, the excrescences and unruliness of the Proustian text.

Margaret E. Gray
Indiana University


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