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By Rose, Jacqueline.

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Proust has given a political twist to the craft of fiction. He has turned the art of the writer, who is nothing if he cannot make such leaps of imagination, into a life and death matter. He has run a direct line from the power of thought to make illicit crossings—say, across the French-German border—to the struggle against a corrupt and deadly form of political power, one which at this point had nearly the whole of France under its sway. ” Jean would have killed for Couzon.  What is most striking in this moment is the deceptive ease with which Proust slides between courtroom and fantasy, between politics and spirit, between the law of the world and of the inner life.

Body and soul, Picquart has submitted to a lost inner landscape. ” As the passage progresses, the sleeping child grows into a young poet. His father indulges him as long as his poetry is simply a pastime that excites the praise of adults but is roused to fury when the young man refuses all conventional professions and claims writing as his true and only life’s vocation. ” Picquart belongs to a different species from his accusers, lives on another planet. ” “Ceasing to be himself,” Picquart becomes the other, makes the other’s soul his own, even when he holds that other in utter contempt.

Indeed, in the Armenian episode, he describes it with something akin to relish. Being on the side 23 24 Chapter 1 of justice and knowing one’s own cruelty—the two are unlikely companions which do not often sit together in the political vocabularies of our time. Those who proclaim the justice of their cause do not normally wish to taint that cause with the complex, often ugly, vagaries of the heart. I would suggest, however, that in politics the rhetoric of innocence is deadly.  In 1898 Proust attended the trial of Zola, charged with libel after the appearance of his famous open letter to President Félix Faure, known today under the title “J’Accuse”—it was a stroke of genius of the editor of L’Aurore, the paper in which it appeared, to splay these words in a bold headline across the front page.

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