Patrick ffrench’s new book, Thinking Cinema with Proust, has just been published by Legenda as number 7 in its Moving Image series.
Patrick is a Professor in the Department of French and Vice Dean for Research in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities. The book is the product of several years of research into the many connections and resonances that exist between Proust’s novel A la recherche du temps perdu and film theory and philosophy.
Rather than looking at the existing screen adaptations of the Recherche, Patrick begins from the acknowledgement of the ‘structural’ absence of the cinema from the world depicted in the novel; written predominantly in the second decade of the twentieth century, and covering, in its fictional diegesis, a period roughly from the turn of the century until the end of World War I, the Recherche coincides with the birth of cinema and its rapid expansion as an industry and as a cultural form.
Yet no-one goes to the cinema in the Recherche, or barely, and among the many cultural references that punctuate the narrator’s meditations, on music, painting, architecture, literature, fashion, philosophy, science, biology, zoology, and much more, the cinema is conspicuous by its absence. The novel does feature, however, recurrent reference to devices and motifs from the pre-history of cinema — photography, the magic lantern, the kinetoscope, the stereoscope, the modalities of projection and of the screen. This prompts the hypothesis that the Recherche enters into a ‘functional competition’ (Christian Metz) with the cinema, which it pursues through a dismantling of the constitutive elements of the cinematographic dispositif [apparatus], a regression to earlier forms, and a re-imagining of cinematic experience; the Recherche offers an account of a virtual cinema, different from the actualized cinema as we know it.
Patrick’s aim in Thinking Cinema with Proust is to bring this account to bear on the critical theories of cinema which, themselves, have sought to deconstruct the institution of film and to think it differently.