This article is in part an attempt to demonstrate Proust's interest in the sociological functioning of talk, where talk is viewed not solely as a medium for communication but also as one in which social work of various kinds is accomplished via nonsemantic features of language. The article also poses the question of what it would mean to approach literary artifacts as forms of language-in-use similar to talk, finding inspiration in Proust's Recherche for elaborating an answer to that question. Attention to nonsemantic, pragmatic, indexical features of talk (habits of pronunciation, rhythms of speech, accent and intonation, word choice, etc.) reveals the occurrence through the use of those features of key forms of sociocultural activity (the production and maintenance of social identities, the reproduction of aspects of a social order, attempts to modify some part of that order). Proust's Recherche demonstrates a keen interest in this kind of language use. Thinking of literary artifacts themselves as examples of language-in-use involves a shift of attention from “the work itself” to the web of social-indexical relations in which any given literary artifact comes to participate throughout its existence (and to the signs, the indexes, within the work and outside it, that signal those relations). Proust's novel, along with the work of M. M. Bakhtin, Pierre Bourdieu, Michael Silverstein, and others, suggests ways of thinking about how meaning unfolds, develops, happens in time around literary artifacts—how different kinds of value accrue to them—thanks to the social-indexical relations established through their use.
Proust and Language-in-Use
michael lucey is professor of comparative literature and French at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of three published books: Gide's Bent: Sexuality, Politics, Writing (1995); The Misfit of the Family: Balzac and the Social Forms of Sexuality (2003); Never Say I: Sexuality and the First Person in Colette, Gide, and Proust (2006); and Someone: The Pragmatics of Misfit Sexuality from Colette to Hervé Guibert (forthcoming), a sequel to Never Say I. His current project, from which the article in this issue is drawn, is called “Proust, Sociology, Talk, Novels: The Novel Form and Language-in-Use.”
Michael Lucey; Proust and Language-in-Use. Novel 1 August 2015; 48 (2): 261–279. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2882681
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