Taking up the time of my encounter with Benjamin Harshav, which was also when PTL became Poetics Today and a key moment in the development of literary studies toward a more theoretical grounding, this essay raises the issue of the place and status of poetics in today's field of literary studies. Through probing a passage from Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, the claim is put forward that the literary text itself,in addition to being poetic, is doing poetics. The passage, in other words,offers an experiment in semiotic sign-making that is fully capable of participating in theoretical debate.
The debate, in this case, concerns the status of visuality in linguistic texts. This is a happy coincidence, since this is a hotly debated issue in today's humanities. After the linguistic and anthropological turns, we are now in the middle of the visual turn. In an attempt to articulate what could be a genuinely visual moment in literature, narrativity and visuality are brought together in the notion of a visual act. To that effect, two standard equations concerning the visual are scrutinized. On the one hand, the equation between image and iconicity is criticized. On the other, the equation between speech acts and acts of looking is underlined. Attending to the subtleties of Proust's text helps understand what a visual act can be instead.
The example allows us to speculate that, among the many advantages the work around the notion of poetics has offered as a tool toward a more theoretical and more scientific literary scholarship, the continued attention to poetic practice as potentially also a theoretical practice is particularly important today, another key moment, when we are turning to interdisciplinarity.