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French Research Seminar: Alessandra Aloisi (Oxford), 'On the Threshold of Dreams: Proust, Maine de Biran, and the Differential Unconscious'

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Location: FAB3.30

Abstract: In the first page of Proust’s novel, the narrator describes the fluctuations of his consciousness between sleep and wakefulness as a dialectic between passive identification and active separation. Among all the possible philosophical references that, more or less openly, underpin this passage, there is one reference that has been rarely pointed out. This famous and yet enigmatic page can perhaps be enlightened if we look at a specific conception of consciousness that was first introduced by the French philosopher Maine de Biran (1766-1824) at the beginning of the 19th century. While Bergson’s influence on Proust has often been discussed, the possible afterlife of Biran’s philosophy and psychology in Proust’s novel is little studied. However, it can bring new light to the literary and philosophical understanding of key aspects of La Recherche.

This paper is part of a larger research project on the afterlife of Maine de Biran and his thought in the long nineteenth century, with special reference to the question of the unconscious, in which Biran’s legacy was overshadowed by the emergence of psychoanalysis. The hypotheses that guides this research is that, while Freud conceived of the unconscious in a conflictual relationship to consciousness, Maine de Biran, taking up Leibniz’s legacy, proposed a differential (rather then oppositional) view of the unconscious. For the idea of “differential unconscious”, I draw on Gilles Deleuze’s reading of Leibniz.

This seminar will take place in the Warwick Faculty of Arts Building, room FAB3.30.

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