One of the enigmas of Marcel Proust's great novel is the unusual type of engagement it necessitates. It is impossible to read without frequently referring back to earlier portions of the text. Hypotactic sentences and unanticipated developments not only trigger reflection; they sometimes also prompt us to physically revisit pages we have already turned. While many Proust scholars have commented on this perplexing quality of the work and theorists of rereading have offered partial accounts of it, no one has explained for what purpose A la recherche du temps perdu (translated as In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past) cannot be read without also being reread. The answer to this question illuminates a new facet of Proust's aesthetic philosophy, namely, his vision of what literature offers that nonliterary texts cannot. As my title suggests, it is a notable variant of the effect that Victor Shklovsky called defamiliarization. Perhaps what is most interesting about this reward in Proust is that readers must restructure their everyday interpretive habits to experience it. The sensation of renewed vision is available only to those who, through both careful reading and rereading, manage to overcome common cognitive biases or patterns of error that most people make when processing information. In this respect, the value of rereading the Recherche extends beyond Proust and even beyond literature, for ultimately the question at hand is whether literature can change our interpretive habits. My conclusion is that it can, perhaps even in ways that expository and instructive texts cannot.
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Darci L. Gardner; Rereading as a Mechanism of Defamiliarization in Proust. Poetics Today 1 March 2016; 37 (1): 55–105. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-3452619
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