A decade ago Rita Felski argued that reliance on context shuts down a text’s meaning by enclosing it in a restrictive historical “box” and alienating its individuality. This essay offers a rebuttal to Felski’s critique, first by delineating the genealogy of her concerns in literary, philosophical, and architectural thought of the late nineteenth century, and second by exploring an alternative model of context as type, as revealed by a close reading of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. Proust’s novel repeatedly makes use of a notion of the type (a person, an artwork, a battle) that prioritizes the act of typifying, an act that does not sacrifice but discloses, or even constitutes, the individual. Like the Proustian type, context is best understood not as an alienation from, but as a route to, the particularity of the literary object.

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