Proust Among the Nations: From Dreyfus to the Middle East

Michael Wood writes:

Rose opens her book with the diary Dreyfus kept on Devil’s Island, later published asFive Years of My Life ‘Until now,’ he writes, ‘I have worshipped reason, I have believed there was logic in things and events, I have believed in human justice!’ But now: ‘Oh, what a breaking down of all my beliefs and of all sound reason.’ Dreyfus also says that he had trouble finding room in his mind for anything that was bizarre or extravagant: ‘Tout ce qui était bizarre, extravagant, avait de la peine à entrer dans ma cervelle.’ Rose draws our attention to the word ‘worship’ (culte) and the insistence on reason, and wonders whether such thinking ‘might not be a type of folly in itself’. The suggestion runs all the way through her book, beginning with the reminder that ‘Dreyfus and Freud are contemporaries,’ and the proposition that ‘we have much to learn from this coincidence,’ especially in relation to our ‘need to understand, rather than to judge or expel, the forces of unreason that inhabit every human mind’. Rose adds, in a guess that has the force of an epigrammatic truth, that Dreyfus himself would not have had any time for psychoanalysis, could not have come to see ‘that reason is never more endangered than when it refuses to countenance anything other than reason itself’.

(LRB 20 December 2012)

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