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New Left Review 2, March-April 2000


Reflections on the difference between reading a novel for the first and for the second time. Proust, Mann, Joyce, Kafka—how do they stand the two tests of a fervent discovery and a cool deconstruction, and what is the relationship between the two?

MICHAEL MAAR

THE ORDEALS OF FIRE AND WATER

In the last week of his life Marcel Proust did something which baffles critics to this day. Only a decade ago, it was discovered that he deleted two-thirds of the typescript of Albertine Disparue. Although his intention remains unclear, there is one clue that suggests death interrupted him in the midst of a major revision. At the climax of this section of his work Proust lets the conclusion of a plot stand whose beginning is missing and had to be restored posthumously by his brother from the manuscript. The denouement is incomprehensible without the twists in the narrative that precede it; so Proust would have had either to reintegrate the twists or to cut the denouement. If we imagine that he had lived a little longer, and further assume that he would have taken the second course and suppressed both twists and resolution, there would have been a bang somewhere in the universe. For A la Recherche would have then lost what might be reckoned its last concession to human frailty: its only patent artistic flaw.

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Michael Maar, ‘The Ordeals of Fire and Water’, NLR 2: £3
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