A Dispute about Duration before and after À la recherche du temps perdu: From Alfred Maury to Gérard Genette
In À la recherche du temps perdu, passages on dreams, sleep and narrative time refer, among other sources, to a discussion about “the duration of thought in dreams”, which developed from Alfred Maury’s Le Sommeil et les rêves, published in 1861. The debate was triggered by one of Maury’s dreams, called “the guillotine dream”, which compressed an extraordinary number of events in the smallest possible span of time. Without surprise, problems raised by the dream reappear hardly transformed in Gérard Genette’s influential study of narrative temporality in Proust – through the categories of order, duration and frequency –, which he developed in Figures III (1972). The article aims to show that the late nineteenth-century search for objective and subjective criteria for the measurement of time in experimental psychology is continuous with questions raised in contemporary narratology. In this configuration, Proust acts as a passeur of reflections on these problems and their possible solutions, which were stirred in the debate surrounding temporality in dreams, notably on the duration of reading.