Stephan Leopold on Proust – is it back again, the “weak messianic force”?

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Of: Eberhard Geisler


Complex conditions: Without Kundry, there is no Good Friday magic. Here soprano Michaela Schuster, 2005 in Seville. © AFP

Incest and Good Friday magic: Stephan Leopold knows about Marcel Proust.

Need another book on Proust? Who knows. ”The author of this book, a Romanesque philologist at the University of Mainz, developed his insights with his students, but at first he doubted whether he would reach a different audience at all. But he is extremely skilled, confident in his case from the start, and he unfolds his arguments confidently and in control.

Looking at Proust’s great narrative work “In Search of Lost Time”, which he is busy analyzing, he states the goal of his project: “I am interested in the relationship between the narrator and the nation as an affective community”. Leopold is able to show that this novel is actually trying to provide an answer to the great question that characterized European intellectual history in the 19th century: How can one assume that the philosophy of the Enlightenment has led to the loss of binding religious certainties? can a myth be created that, so to speak, fills the gap and again guarantees morality and social cohesion?

sexuality and work

The book

Stephan Leopold: collapse and memory. Proust’s research. Brill Fink, Paderborn 2022. 239 pages, 89 euros.

This question – it should also be noted – had already concerned the German Romantics, and the philosopher Manfred Frank made it one of his great themes of life. And therefore the author undertakes to tie the knot, that is, to show the novel’s dramatic constellation, which is about the longing for deep union and a broad community of solidarity, with sexuality and the author’s calling and as its real, basic achievement to make it understandable.

Marcel, whom Proust had as his alter ego to tell and interpret his own life story, enjoyed not only the memory of the taste of Madeleine dipped in tea from childhood, but also the memory of early entanglements of his feelings in relation to his own. mother and to Richard Wagner’s Good Friday magic from Parsifal. Recognizing the importance of the phenomenon of memory, did Proust therefore want to believe in the literary faculty that Walter Benjamin, persecuted by the Nazis and disappointed by Bolshevism, was to evoke again in 1940? By talking about the “weak messianic power” that belongs to all of us and to which the past has a right?

Stephan Leopold is methodically well prepared. First, he draws on insights from Jacques Lacan’s structural psychoanalysis to present both the novel’s subliminal sexual meanings and, above all, the connection between incestuous temptations, slowed pace, and ultimately successful language acquisition as the basic structure of “research.” He then draws on the work of his academic teacher Rainer Warning, who described Proust’s way of writing as creating chains of differential repetitions that should lead to an unfinished, even unfinished text. Leopold, however, goes beyond Warning, who apparently found nothing to do with Proust’s “ecstasies of remembrance” by referring to the medieval figure typology that as a theological thought figure is crucial to Proust’s novel.

It is a biblical exegesis that asks about the interplay between prior notice and redemption, of prophecy and fulfillment. Thus, Leopold leaves behind not only Warning’s analysis, but also the denialists’ denial of meaning. Julia Kristeva, who described art in Proust as an act of transubstantiation, states her opinion. Marcel can now translate the sensory impressions he has taken from the treasure trove of his memory into mental concepts and language.

Proust must have been happy to write the word “End” under his manuscript, Leopold notes, but concludes his own book with confidence: “But we can now start all over again.”

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