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Mary Crenshaw Rawlinson ART AND TRUTH: READING PROUST THE hostility of philosophy to art is older than philosophy's Platonic roots, for Plato himself describes this enmity as "ancient." In the Platonic philosophy this "old quarrel" is taken up only to establish once and for all the sovereignty of philosophy as the discipline of truth. The Platonic philosopher condemns art as a pretender to die throne, and reduces it to a status little better than that of witchcraft or magic.1 The triumph of the philosopher in the quarrel over truth was founded upon his acclaimed access to the one true world of Forms. His vision of this real, imperishable, supersensible world posited beyond the changing multiplicities of the world ofappearance guaranteed the validity ofthe philosopher's thought and action. Confident that he would be restored to his place in this eternal order at death when he would be freed of the "earthly frame," the Platonic philosopher necessarily opposed the finite perspective as die source of all error, loss, multiplicity, and conflict in the world of becoming. If there is but one true world, there can be but one vision of truth, and the difference of the finite perspective must be effaced. Art, however, trades in images, and the Platonic philosopher finds the image offensive, not because it constitutes a copy ofthe real (this is for him the status of the actual world), but because it embodies die perspectiva! differences ofappearance itself. The artist's work always exhibits a style or way of seeing, and reveals reality only in a determinate perspective. Art portrays die shattering aspects of the finite perspective, its multiplicities and differences, and it promises no one true world beyond die world of appearance in which these would be comprehended . The violence of Plato's attitude toward art, then, should evoke no wonder; die pretensions of art to express truth strike at the very heart of his thought, viz., the commitment to the reality of the one true world of Forms and his correlative insistence that the finite perspective is nothing more than a source of illusion. So that there might be one true world where thought, having purified itself by shedding die finite, eardily perspective, may find an eternal home, die Platonic philosopher rigorously and relentlessly opposes the artist and his style. Philosophy and Literature Vol. 6 Nos. 1 and 2 Pp. 1-16 0190-0031/82/0061-0001 © 1982 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 2 Philosophy and Literature What is at stake in philosophy's ancient opposition to art is nothing less than the idea oftruth. And it is for this reason that Proust's A la recherche du tempsperdu is of the first importance to philosophy.2 For Proust the work which art accomplishes is nothing less than the revelation of"essences," and the goal of the entire search is the comprehension of this mysterious accomplishment.3 Proust maintains the Platonic idea of the essence as a "one in the many," a renewable and lasting form or law freed from all particularity. Yet, as this narrative unfolds, a new idea of truth takes shape which admits into the essence the difference of the finite perspective. Proust's text demonstrates not only how the metaphorical expressions of art succeed in conveying truth where the logical propositions and conventional concepts of an abstract intelligence must fail, but also why the essence itself must be identified ultimately with artistic style. It is the purpose of mis essay to track the course of this demonstration which itself governs and guides all that unfolds in Proust's massive narrative. I The whole of the Recherche blossoms from an original impression of the "philosophic richness" of the work of art. As a child in the garden of Combray the hero receives upon the screen of his book a vision of "Truth and Beauty" which affords him a unique and unbounded joy (SW, pp. 63-64). He is impressed by the book's power to open up within his experience new ways of seeing , to reveal worlds whose laws and landscapes are not those of his actual world, and to unfold within him depths and subtleties of feeling which he...


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