Proustian performance: role-playing, repetition, and ritual in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu
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This dissertation investigates Marcel Proust's observation and depiction of performative discourses and identity in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. The first-person and semi-omniscient narrator's transgression of traditional narrative practices provides him with the unique perspective of both an actor and a spectator in the public and private performances that structure the creation and perception of identity. Accordingly, this analysis explores the methodical confinement of identity to orthodox systems of categorization and considers how these rigid systems affect social, psychological, and sexual economies. I argue that Proust's unique narratological approach and stylistic techniques allow him to expose the conventional codes that define identity as he simultaneously undermines them, thereby proposing new, creative ways for understanding the concept of identity. Chapters 1 and 2 explore the narrator's introspective look at the evolution of his own individuality in relationship to his surroundings and other characters. In chapter 3, the focus shifts from the analysis of the narrator to a consideration of his mise en scène of several similar homoerotic encounters that, when viewed as a whole, combine to form a queer and innovative discourse on sexuality. Chapters 4 and 5 study the construction of social image through the narrator's portrayal of interaction in and among different economic classes in society. The study concludes with a discussion of the aesthetics of performance art as it is compared and contrasted to performative behavior in Proust's novel. My work contributes to the ongoing inquiry into human behavior and identity formation as portrayed in A la Recherche. Looking beyond conventional notions of identity, I resist the temptation to classify characters in specific categories and focus instead on the narrator's representation of identity as a fluid, circumstantial exchange. Combining performativity theory, queer and gender studies, and narratology allows for an original analysis of the narrator's interpretation of the various factors that influence characters' perception of their own identity as well as others'. On a larger scale, my dissertation advances the scholarship on performative discourses and identity insofar as it brings to light one author's revelation, subversion, and replacement of traditional practices of discerning identity.