One would find it difficult to overstate the importance of Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu to James Merrill's work. Although almost any of Merrill's works could be read with an eye to Proustian concerns and motifs, Merrill's final two collections of poems, The Inner Room and A Scattering of Salts, demand particularly close considerations of the intertextual presence of Proust's novel. Such considerations reveal not only superficial connections between the work of the two authors, but also Merrill's deep engagement with interpretive strategies modeled by Proust. Utilizing the hermeneutic categories Paul Ricoeur established in his Freud and Philosophy (Hermeneutics as Recollection of Meaning and Hermeneutics of Suspicion), categories that implicitly guide his commentary on Proust in Time and Narrative, this essay reads several poems from Merrill's last two collections in light of Proustian hermeneutics. Furthermore, this essay argues that Merrill follows the lead of Proust's narrator in taking steps toward overcoming the partial incompatibilities implicit in the different interpretive modes. Merrill, as did Proust, declares art the means by which the two modes may be brought together and the means by which their results are made permanent, a process which likewise unites time lost with time regained. Such readings reveal the degree to which Merrill adapts those hermeneutic strategies essential to Proust's project to his own poetic ends and also illustrates the French author's remarkable transatlantic influence during the mid- and late-twentieth century.
“Swann's Way. Basic Training”: Interpretation in James Merrill's Late Collections and À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu
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CHRISTOPHER K. COFFMAN; “Swann's Way. Basic Training”: Interpretation in James Merrill's Late Collections and À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu. Comparative Literature 1 September 2009; 61 (4): 400–415. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-2009-023
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