Trust and Contingency in Marcel Proust’s 'A La Recherche du Temps Perdu'
The novel A La Recherche du Temps Perdu (1913-27) challenges conventional ideas about trust in various ways. Most obviously, perhaps, Proust’s scepticism about personal identity – his view that individuals comprise multitudes of distinct selves – seems a precarious basis for trustworthiness and responsibility. However, La Recherche also reimagines the conditions of modern trust in other, arguably more fundamental, ways. According to the sociologist Niklas Luhmann, trust is a way of dealing with the pervasiveness of contingency in the modern world: the fact that almost everything could be otherwise, that chains of cause and effect are too numerous and complicated to be grasped by any given observer. A La Recherche du Temps Perdu is a novel about the unreliability of personal relations, but it is also a novel fascinated by contingency, in which not only one’s future, but also one’s past, can be determined by the merest accident. In its attempt to articulate a narrative response to this condition of pervasive contingency, La Recherche sketches a singularly fluid and episodic model of social trust, which anticipates many of the features of our contemporary networked world.
Dr John Attridge, Senior Lecturer in English
Dr John Attridge
Senior Lecturer in English
University of New South Wales
John Attridge is a Senior Lecturer in English at UNSW Sydney. He is coeditor, with Rod Rosenquist, of Incredible Modernism: Literature, Trust and Deception. His essays have appeared in journals such as ELH, Modern Fiction Studies and Modernism/modernity.