Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Rosa Slegers

Rosa Slegers

Courageous Vulnerability: Ethics and Knowledge in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu Approached through the Philosophies of Bergson, James, and Marcel

Dissertation directed by Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei, Ph.D.

This dissertation shows a close connection between philosophy and literature through the philosophical investigation of involuntary memory and the privileged moment, phenomena taken from common experience but “discovered” and made visible by Marcel Proust in his À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). A privileged moment brings with it a knowledge that is experienced with such force that it deserves the name felt knowledge. An example taken from À la recherche is the experience the narrator has a year after his grandmother’s death: because of a memory that has hit him involuntarily, he for the first time feels, and not merely knows as one knows a fact, that his grandmother is gone. Though nothing has changed on a factual level, the knowledge is of a different nature. The term “courageous vulnerability,” indicating both effort and openness, is used to describe the attitude required to attain this knowledge.

In order to gain a better understanding of privileged moments and their ethical and epistemological implications, a connection is made between the philosophies of Gabriel Marcel and William James. Within the narrative, Proust creates and evokes something that escapes rigid philosophical analysis. Both philosophers recognize that there always is a “something more” to experience that cannot be captured in technical discourse. This recognition not only makes these thinkers eminently useful in a investigation into privileged moments; it also shows their close philosophical affinity. Perhaps because James and Marcel belong to different philosophical currents, there are very few studies in existence comparing their philosophies. This dissertation shows that by using their ideas and concepts pertaining to the “something more” mentioned above, one gains an understanding of privileged moments and the courageous vulnerability they require, as well as an insight into the way in which the works of Marcel and James are not only related but can be used to elucidate and complement each other.

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