The Proustian search consists of a dialectic process. Time, for example, must be “lost” before it can be “regained.” Involuntary memory itself takes the form of this dialectic: an experience (the taste of the madeleine, e.g.) must be forgotten before it can be remembered. The experience of involuntary memory, in other words, constitutes a type of anachronism: the intrusion of a past sensation within the present. Marcel Proust’s idea of anachronism should be understood in relation to the intellectual world of the turn of the twentieth century, in particular that historical science of language known as comparative grammar. In this regard, scholars have failed to give due consideration to the fact that Proust was related to one of the most celebrated linguists of his time, Michel Bréal. As Proust would have learned from his cousin’s public lectures and published works, there are, in fact, two types of anachronism in language: the irregular form and the idiomatic phrase. Not coincidentally, he explores both of these in the course of his novel. Proust, it would seem, had a far greater interest in and understanding of contemporary linguistics than scholars have previously recognized.

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