Habit in À la recherche du temps perdu


This article explores the role of habit in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu in light of the history of the concept of habitude in French philosophy. Taking the miniature process of habituation detected in the madeleine scene as a guiding thread, it examines the major aspects of habit that this passage signals and that return in different forms to play an important role in both the narrator’s life and the birth of his narrative. These include habit’s impact on perception and artistic creativity, on the experience of the body and space, and on will, and the role of habit in shaping identity. The reflections on habit of Ruskin and of nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophers, in particular Félix Ravaisson, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Paul Ricœur, help to explicate the background and implications of the narrator’s experiences and account of habit’s actions in these areas. While Beckett’s influential reading of the novel focused exclusively on habit’s negative effects, and subsequent Proust criticism has canonized his interpretation, this article argues that the image of habit is far more complex in À la recherche. More than a simple obstacle to perception and art, it is deeply embedded in, and indispensable for, both.