Proust's Binoculars: A study of memory, time and recognition in A la Recherche du temps perdu
Roger Shattuck

I resist Shattuck on Proust. I cannot quite align as he does moral development with an implied evolution of optical technologies.

Our first experience of reality is cinematographic and linear, a primitive continuity that conveys a sense of cause and effect, of what is possible and what inevitable. Subsequently this secure sense of predicatability is disrupted when we encounter contradictions and alterations in Nature and, above all, in people. This second phase of disenchantments, corresponding to the montage principle, makes one aware of conflict and contrast. Still later, unless we allow disillusionments and habit to extinguish completely our sense of irregularity and inscrutability in the world, a moment may occur in which our multifarious experience achieves an unexpected consistency with itself. Out of disorder a tentative pattern begins to appear. Without repeating themselves certain events and sensations usually the most trivial in appearance recur in modified form and reinforce one another in a kind of overlay. Similarity with a difference means metaphor (not pure identity) and stereoscopic vision.

There are two histories: that of moving pictures and that of stereoscopy. The reader is invited to see these histories flowing along one continuous line. An evolution is implied. Even if we entertain the premise that succession precedes superposition how are we, as creatures who re-read, to follow the line Shattuck draws when he stretches the optical taxonomy into a moral typology with his consideration of three types of refuge from error?

Within this skewed world Marcel erects and clings to three structures that offer temporary habitation to the questing mind. There is the refuge of habit, which allows us to adjust to new surroundings and people by becoming blind to all but the parts that we can put to our own personal use; the refuge of laws, which define and explain the mystery of human behavior without penetrating it; and the refuge of the comic, which perceives the ridiculousness of both the above procedures and enjoys it without surpassing it.

In going beyond going deep, in attempting to surpass the penetration, do we not come back to habit? Do we not use our ears to perceive the sound that follows another and the sound that comes with another? Do our eyes guided by reason unfold the time of the image across different dimensions?

All three optical principles, cinematographic succession, montage and stereoscopy, operate on two images and a comparison. This follows that in time. The "that" can be interpreted as the same as "this" giving us Shattuck's primitive continuity. When the "this" and the "that" are interpreted as being different, there is montage. Stereoscopy is like continuity: a "this" is before/behind or to the side of a "that" in space. They are considered as views of the same object. Of course, the "this" and the "that" can be views of different objects that intersect at a point in the viewing space. They thus give rise to effects similar to those of certain representations produced by photomontage.

To literalize Shattuck's metaphor of binocular vision, to unfold it in time, is to come upon the question of pattern. How plural perceptions coalesce into the singularity of objects is but one aspect of the question. Other readers of A la recherche du temps perdu cast their eye or eyes upon the dreamwork and recall the narrator's assertion that "There is no reason why, existing outside ourselves, a real place should conform to the pictures in our memory rather than to those in our dreams" in order to sense how the accidents of the singular become displaced and condensed in the pattern of the waking dream and the tapestry of art.

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