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Proust and the Effects of Analogy

Proust and the Effects of Analogy

(p.87) Chapter Three Proust and the Effects of Analogy
Strange Likeness
Dora Zhang
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 3 turns to Marcel Proust’s ubiquitous use of analogical descriptions in In Search of Lost Time, distinguishing the structures that preserve an explicit comparative (e.g., “like,” “as”) from metaphor, which he famously valorizes. Rather than the landmark moments associated with metaphor, such as the madeleine episode, which bring together the same sensation felt at different times under the sign of identity, this chapter highlights the passing, ordinary descriptive analogies that are omnipresent in the text. These later reveal Proust’s greater penchant for things that are alike rather than the same, which amounts to a critique of the logic of identity but one that is not grounded solely on difference. The tendency to liken is an expression of what Walter Benjamin calls the "mimetic faculty" and undermines the surface/depth dichotomy that is elsewhere omnipresent. The complication of a surface/depth topology is evident especially in Proust’s juxtaposition of the X-ray against the camera, as well as in his depictions of social life, where precise descriptions of appearances accomplishes the work of exposing social discovery. Through strategies of likening, Proust makes description a technique capable not only of representation but also of discovery and critique.

Keywords:   Marcel Proust, analogy, mimetic faculty, pastiche, X-ray, social appearance

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