Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dust and diamonds

Daniel Karlin isn't impressed with William C. Carter's Proust in Love:
Carter's main problem is a perennial one in modern literary biography, which can neither let go of the 'literary' nor truly do it justice. [...] Literary criticism which relies on biography attracted Proust's scorn - the original title of his novel was 'Contre Sainte-Beuve', the critic who he considered to epitomize this failing - but biography which relies on literary 'evidence' is in an even more parlous state, since it reverses the alchemical process by which experience gets transmuted into art, and offers us a handful of dust as compensation for the diamonds it has pulverised. Carter cites the opinion of Benjamin Crémieux that 'To take the true measure of Proust's achievement, it is perhaps a great advantage not to have known him' but fails to transpose the paradox: 'To take the true measure of Proust's life, it is perhaps a great advantage not to have read his book.'
From the latest TLS, not online.


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