Prehistoric Proust
in 1913: The year of French modernism
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This essay discusses modernity’s fascination with prehistory as a cognitive and imaginary object, spurred by a series of paleontological discoveries from the mid-nineteenth-century onward, as a way to cope with modernization through the quest of an elusive point of ‘origin’. Benhaïm draws a parallel between this cultural reality circa 1913 and the ‘prehistory’ of Marcel Proust’s A la Recherche du temps perdu, that is the book’s ‘false starts,’ Proust’s various other works and drafts before 1913, and connects them with similar creative processes of ‘false starts’ from other modernist writers and artists, like Valery Larbaud. Ultimately, the structure of the monumental Recherche is seen as dominated by the new concept of ‘prehistory’, understood as a new relationship with time that escapes linear historicity and permits the coexistence of different temporalities.

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