STS 2007, Part I - Book History; the Modernist Material Text; Ecclesiastical Proust Archive Demonstration and Q&A

Today was the first day of panels and plenaries at the conference of the Society for Textual Scholarship, held at NYU. I attended a plenary and a panel in the morning and demonstrated the Ecclesiastical Proust Archive in the afternoon. I'll only summarize what happened here but will elaborate in more detail later on.

The plenary was titled, "Book History, Textual Criticism, and Bibliography: Relating and Distinguishing the Sub-Disciplines." Since I entered late, I can't really summarize it, but it seemed to be about defining the discplinarity of book history. Ezra Greenspan talked about how book histories tend to have a national focus -- the history of the book in China, India, the nations of Latin America, etc. -- and that there needs to be a transnational focus on geographic trends. He also mentioned that his journal was the first, during the early 90s, to use GIS to map trends in book readership and distribution.

David Greetham asked an astute question about why the term "book" in "book history" seemed to have been ignored. Given the contextualization of studying books as objects in their national, economic, political, and cultural contexts, does it matter whether the book has a substantive essence of its own? What could be the influence of the book itself on its own history?

There was also a palpable disdain of digital text and electronic editing. One audience member mentioned his project that seeks to digitize the papers, letters, notes, and other artifacts of a Canadian writer and make them accessable through a website. He raised the intensely interesting question of how his project relates to the sub-disciplines of book history. There was virtually no response from the panelists, though Katherine Harris, a digital archivist in the audience, made an attempt to further the conversation.

After the plenary I thoroughly enjoyed the panel "The Modernist Material Text: Gender, Politics, Versions," composed of four grad students from U Michigan. Russell McDonald talked about D.H. Lawrence and cross-gender collaboration. Jenny Sorenson analyzed Virginia Woolf's play on genre and material text in Flush (a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's spaniel). Olivia Bustion discussed gender and priority in versions of three early poems by Marianne Moore. And Jamie Olson focused on cosmopolitanism in Seamus Heaney. All the papers were very good, and I especially liked the Woolf one for its smart discussion of genre.

Questions of genre were prominent in the Q&A during my own panel in the afternoon. It was a fascinating mix. Karsten Kynde and Kim Ravn of the Soren Kierkegaard Research Center demonstrated their archive of Kierkegaard's papers ( Jennifer Stertzer, an archivist at UVA, addressed the issues faced during the digitization of George Washington's papers. Those two presentations contrasted nicely with this site, which archives a motif of the Recherche as opposed to the disparate materials of writer.

The moderator, Peter Robinson, at one point challenged the notion of whether this is really an archive. I thought it was a great question because this site aims to do exactly that (among other things): apply the archival model in such a way that its nature becomes exposed and directly questioned. Can this site be considered an archive if what it collects and makes available are the instances of a narrative motif and images associated with it? I think the answer is yes, as did the audience, to my delight.

After the panel finished I had a really good conversation with a junior faculty memember at my alma mater, Providence College. William Hogan made some interesting points on how this site isn't quite an archive, not quite an edition, but it's somewhere in between and more Internet native than the other resources available.

I'll have more to say on this soon. Time to get some sleep.

Apocalyptic Pilgrimages

Two Fridays ago I went out to celebrate my friend Terry's dissertation defense. It was a night of great conversation, and among the new acquaintances I made was Marsha Fulton, an art historian currently teaching gothic and romanesque architecture (among other things) at SUNY New Paltz.

Our discussion caused me completely to reread a couple of major sections of the Recherche.


Marsha explained that the flourishing of romanesque architecture in France during the 10th and 11th Centuries was characterized by two different climactic events. During the 10th Century there was widespread fear that the world would end, so romanesque churches were built in expectation of the apocalypse. When that didn't happen, in order to thank God more and more churches were built during the 11th Century on a larger scale and with greater ornamentation. They began in the romanesque style and later evolved into the gothic.

The fact that churches were sites where people mapped apocalyptic associations reminded me of the same during the WWI section of the Recherche. At least that's what I thought it reminded me of. But when I did a few searches in the archive to find some passages to write about, I discovered that Marcel the narrator and his contemporaries are somewhat indifferent to the destruction of cathedrals. They are more concerned with the destruction of what cathedrals represent, which differs for various constituencies.

A search on the War association brought up the best apocalyptic results.

Searchlights, WWI, Venice, by Giulio Aristide Sartorio || Source - Verdurin had visited Venice during the war, butâ€â€like those people who cannot bear sad talk or display of personal feelingsâ€â€when she said that "it" was "marvellous" she was referring not to Venice, or St Mark's, or the palaces, all that I had so loved and she thought so unimportant, but to the effect of the searchlights in the sky, of which searchlights she could give you a detailed account supported by statistics. So from age to age is reborn a certain realism which reacts against what the previous age has admired.) (6 1 1 51)

[Painting: Searchlights, WWI, Venice; by Giulio Aristide Sartorio; original here.]

This passage I remembered well for its expression of a modern(ist) attitude toward cathedrals and monuments of the past. The experience of Mme Verdurin, the avante-garde salon-keeper, is anaesthetic, much in contrast to the intoxication of Marcel's reveries about St. Mark's and the church of Combray. However, even the passages I thought would contain a more cataclysmic sense of what was lost with the destruction of great cathedrals are actually somewhat muted.

amiens-st-firmin-01-sm.jpgFor example, during a conversation between Marcel and Charlus, the Baron compares the destruction of the church at Combray -- which literally embodies his family history -- with the destruction of Rheims and Amiens. He says that if the statue of St. Firmin at Amiens has been broken, then "the loftiest affirmation of faith and energy ever made has disappeared from this world." Marcel quicky chastizes him for confusing real faith with a symbol of faith.

"And I adore certain symbols no less than you do. But it would be absurd to sacrifice to the symbol the reality that it symbolises. Cathedrals are to be adored until the day when, to preserve them, it would be necessary to deny the truths which they teach. The raised arm of St Firmin said, with an almost military gesture of command: ‘Let us be broken, if honour requires.’ Do not sacrifice men to stones whose beauty comes precisely from their having for a moment given fixed form to human truths." (6 1 1 154)

[Photo: statue of St. Firmin, left porch, Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens; by Deborah Fulton, November 2003; original here.]

I'm struck here by the unease with which Marcel greets Charlus' admiration of the art instead of the men who fought and died to preserve the French nation. The importance of the cathedral here is not its status as priceless art-object but the real people it "stands for". In the archive, the passage is paired with the famous, iconic image of the woman with a sword, using the destruction of Rheims to rally the public. The emotional rendering of the burning cathedral and its protector is like the "loftiest affirmation of faith and energy" that Charlus admires in the statue of St. Firmin. Obviously the medieval statue and the early 20th Century poster are both propaganda. But what's interesting is the repurposing of the iconic image for the new context.

Juxtaposing the government poster of Rheims with a documentary photograph of its porch during the same period can illustrate the cognitive divide between Marcel and aristocratic and upper-class characters like Mme Verdurin and Charlus. Both images here are from the Library of Congress online archive.

rheims-propaganda-02-sm.jpg rheims-porch-guarded-01-sm.jpg

No image is free of political influence or effect, but the more realistic photograph on the right is a matter-of-fact presentation of the same familiar ediface that represents France. Marcel's patriotism seems a little less grounded in idealism and more in realism. When reflecting on the character of different social groups during the War, he excoriates the "vile shirkers like the arrogant young man in a dinner-jacket" he saw at Jupien's brothel, who are "redeemed by the innumerable throng of all the Frenchmen of Saint-André-des-Champs, by all the sublime soldiers and by those whom I rank as their equals, the Larivières," Françoise's rich but low-class cousins (6 1 1 226). There is a profound -- almost apocalyptic -- sense of the failure of the governing classes, of "the sky falling".

An even more "truly" apocalyptic effect is conveyed by a photograph of Rheims that, rather than focusing on the iconic cathedral, presents a panorama of the town that includes the ruined towers. The photo is also from the Library of Congress.


Marsha also explained to me that the flourishing of romanesque architecture in the 11th century coincided with a boom in pilgrimages. A vibrant tourist industry brought travelers on long walking trips where the effect of visiting churches in towns along the way reached a crescendo at the large cathedral that was the end point. This was done (as far as I can remember) largely to thank God for not destroying the world at the turn of the century, but also for a host of other reasons. She made me want to reread the Canterbury Tales.

As she talked about this, I was immediately reminded of the scenes at Balbec in which Marcel and Albertine cruise the Normandy roads in his new car visiting (and painting) old romanesque churches (roughly 4 2 3 535-70). This series of events is a kind of pilgrimage that stops at churches but is really about exploring the mysteries of love, absence, Albertine, beauty, technology, modernity, and other motifs.

car-tourism-unic-sm.JPGAs often as not I went no further than the great plain which overlooks Gourville, and as it resembles slightly the plain that begins above Combray, in the direction of Méséglise, even at a considerable distance from Albertine I had the joy of thinking that, even if my eyes could not reach her, the powerful, soft sea breeze that was flowing past me, carrying further than they, must sweep down, with nothing to arrest it, as far as Quetteholme, until it stirred the branches of the trees that bury Saint-Jean-de-la-Haise in their foliage, caressing my beloved’s face, and thus create a double link between us in this retreat indefinitely enlarged but free of dangers, as in those games in which two children find themselves momentarily out of sight and earshot of one another, and yet while far apart remain together. I returned by those roads from which there is a view of the sea, and where in the past, before it appeared among the branches, I used to shut my eyes to reflect that what I was about to see was indeed the plaintive ancestress of the earth, pursuing, as in the days when no living creature yet existed, her insane and immemorial agitation. (4 2 3 558-9)

The new experience of automobile travel is a search for origin and purity, though marked by the apparent aimlessness and whimsy of modernity. Interestingly, the only direct references pilgrimage (in the archive) come from aristocratic characters, Orianne and Charlus. They speak impatiently of making pilgrimages to Paray-le-Monial and other tourist destinations. The impression they give is that visiting old churches is done for bland relaxation and art appreciation.

chartres-facade-top-mono-01-cropped-sm.jpgContrasted with the profane attitude of the modern elite, however, is that of intellectual/creative characters like Marcel, Swann, and Elstir. It is Swann who in the appropriately titled Swann's Way sets Marcel's imagination on the path toward the Persian-influenced church at Balbec and St. Mark's in Venice. Those two churches, mixed with his early reveries in the église Saint-Hilaire and his contemplation-in-motion of the twin steeples of Martinville, awaken his vocation as a writer and set the reference points that shape his life and the changing modality of his meditations (and re-meditations). Observations of churches at different points of the narrative form a network of events that bear a synecdochic relationship to the Recherche as a whole. The pilgrimage ends on the final page when he sees the eighty-three-year-old Duc de Guermantes as one of those men who "never cease to grow until sometimes they become taller than church steeples, making it in the end both difficult and perilous for them to walk and raising them to an eminence from which suddenly they fall" (6 1 1 532).

Thus the plot-device of the pilgrimage, alternately implicit and explicit, has a wide-ranging valence within the narrative. It bears upon it the church motif, which acts as a lightning rod to highlight disparate characters' reponses to the Great War, to modernity, to homosexuality and decadence, to the cognitive faculties as they negotiate subject and object, and much more. It is also one of the main reflexive metaphors of the Recherche. It embodies the journey with its endpoints in the past and future, and changes as the nature of the journey changes at its different stages.

And it ends, as the West ends, with an apocalypse. The images presented here attest to the great "cataclysm from above": the search-lights over WWI Venice, St. Firmin's upraised arm, the government-produced fire and brimstone above Rheims, the artillery-produced fire and brimstone around and below it. The end of Marcel's journey, however, is not a revelation of ultimate or divine purpose -- far from it -- but of the processes of history and human purpose.

Guest Spot on if:book --> Thoughts-Illustrated

The Institute for the Future of the Book was generous enough to let me write a post on their blog, which can be found here:

The post was picked up by RSS feeds all over the world. Thanks!

In addition, Dave Davison, who has a blog called Thoughts-Illustrated, posted a comment comparing this archive to his project of "editorially segmenting and tagging encapsulations of longer serial archives such as recorded speeches, audiovisual/video content, and finally 'Networked Books'". Admittedly, I haven't had time yet to read his blog in depth, but what I've seen so far is a series of very interesting posts on annotating visual media for better reading and reducing Constant Partial Attention, a term he picks up from Linda Stone.

With the explosion of technologies like RSS and Web 2.0, it's very important that educators help students think critically about managing information. That might include using technology to tag longer pieces used in courses -- whatever media might be used -- and evaluating research sources.

essay.jpgI've seen a demonstration of courseware that takes this into account at Columbia's Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CNMTL). One of CNMTL's applications, VITAL (Video Interactions for Teaching and Learning), is an environment that allows students to play digitized movies and music, select segments, annotate those segments with as much text as they like, and file the segments with annotations for when they write their integrative multimedia essays -- all in the courseware. Granted, this type of activity occurs in controlled learning environments where the media are pre-selected by the professor. I wonder if the courseware allows students to import, segment, and annotate media they've garnered through research -- or even digitize it. Applications like VITAL (but with the ability to act upon any media the reader might import, including text) ought to be readily available to students as stand-alone tools, especially now that much of their research will involve multimedia.

I could see using such a technology to teach novels. It would enable students to archive, tag, and illustrate passages, connect them to articles and other sources they've researched and imported into the environment, and so on. This might spark a radical (and possibly unfortunate) change in the English major. One of the unquantifiable skills that the English major has been touted to impart is the ability to see the Big Picture in a complex, hazy jumble of information and ideas. At the center of that is a highly flexible memory that is both detail-oriented and conceptually driven.

It's important, as technology is increasingly appropriated to our intellectual pursuits, not to become too dependent on it. But if it's used in such a way that it enhances those personal skills, then so much the better.

Obviously, one task accomplished by the Ecclesiastical Proust Archive is to serve as the memory for the vast amount of material I want to study but couldn't physically remember in its entirety. Sure, my unaided memory will recall the most important material: the early descriptions of the Église St-Hilaire at Combray, of Marcel's epiphany with the twin steeples of Martinville, and sundry short passages that made impressions on me while reading the Recherche. And I'll remember where to find them when I need to write about them. The usefulness of this archive, however, is a virtue of its "narrow" focus that keeps the field of information from assimilating and ballooning endlessly, like The Blob. (I say narrow, but really -- this archive comprises 336 passages, 184,181 words, over 700 associations, and roughly 500 images.) The focus on churches keeps the project thematically and conceptually unified.

I'm starting to think, as a result of writing this post, that opening this archive to the inclusion of passages and paratextual information not related to churches is probably not the way to go. (Read this post and this post for more on that topic.) There's enough that could be done under the church rubric -- say, a variorum of different translations and editions -- to make it textually and scholarly interesting. The vast jumbled archive of editions, translations, articles, books, pamphlets, websites, films ... ... is already there. One could simply use a wiki, perhaps with customized search tools, to make sense of all of them, which would be great. But this archive is really a tool for narrative and textual analysis.

Why Churches? Why Motif?

In the final pages of In Search of Lost Time Marcel the narrator says of his intended book that he would “build it up like a church†(VI.507). He would also stitch it simply like a dress, regroup his forces like a general conducting an offensive, endure it like a medical regime (VI.507-9). But the book that he has written over the six volumes leading to this point features the church motif more prominently than the others mentioned in these ending pages. In fact, the connection between self reflection and churches is prefigured on page one, where Marcel begins the story by explaining his nightly shift between waking and sleep.

And half an hour later the thought that it was time to look for sleep would awaken me; I would make as if to put away the book which I imagined was still in my hands, and to blow out the light; I had gone on thinking, while I was asleep, about what I had just been reading, but these thoughts had taken a rather peculiar turn; it seemed to me that I myself was the immediate subject of my book: a church, a quartet, the rivalry between François I and Charles V. (I.1)

The apparent blending of subject and object “did not offend [his] reason†(I.1) and became the major motivation for his search of Lost Time. One critical aspect of this passage is that it establishes the conflict between perception and imperceptible reality, of which Marcel’s other conflicts are types (i.e. questions of Albertine’s fidelity and sexual orientation, the nature of Time, the relation of self to nation). The church and quartet are significant here in that they embody and document time itself. Time and harmonics are the essential elements of the art of music, the bringing to life of a continual emotional present that can be re-performed but never duplicated. An old church brings to life the presence of the past and is a supreme exemplar of the general in the particular. It also incorporates many arts -- architecture, sculpture, stained glass, painting, tapestry, music, narrative, fashion, even food and drink -- and combines their special effects to express the whole of human experience. It is therefore not surprising that the narrator concludes that books of the magnitude he will undertake are never complete: “How many great cathedrals remain unfinished!†(VI.508).

Saint-Lô, by Corot (1850-5)There are many motifs that contribute to the rich texture of the Recherche, yet the church is probably the most frequent and consistent throughout. A motif is a recurring thematic or structural element in any art, especially music, architecture, painting, and literature. In addition to manifestation through plot and character, motifs can be embodied in place or time. The recurring elements that unify Proust’s novel -- the Madeleine, the Japanese paper game, the little phrase of Vinteuil's sonata, the parish church at Combray, to name a few -- allow for the modulation of themes and function like motifs in a piece of music but also like the pan-aesthetic motifs of a church. Churches fulfill several functions in the novel ranging from elements of setting to objects of discourse, and they embody both place and time. Just consider the import of the first time Marcel sees Mme de Guermantes in the church at Combray, his meditation on the twin steeples of Martinville, or all the love fantasies he has before the commencement of his relationship with Gilberte. For these reasons the church motif seems a sufficient subject for a large-scale study.

The current mission of this archive is to provide textual and visual material to enhance analysis of the Recherche and the study of the nature of narrative. The relation of some of the materials might not be clear, but the purpose here is not so much to track down original references (though there is a lot of that) as it is to provide thought-provoking experiences. Anyone who is seriously interested in working with Proust or the topics pertinent to this archive (see the categories list in the sidebar), or on the archive itself, is encouraged to contact me at

Starting a Community

About two weeks ago I met with a few folks from the Institute for the Future of the Book to talk about starting collaborative communities. Right before our meeting I had a couple of ideas about creating commentary space within the archive search results and making the whole thing more editable by readers. So I went to the Institute's place in Williamsburg thinking we'd have two "separate" discussions about community and interactive functionality. But once the brainstorming session got going I was struck by how intimately the two were bound together.

One of the recurring points was that this archive, as currently constructed around the church motif, is "my reading" of Proust. I began to see that it would probably be difficult to interest others in participating when their readings of the Recherche -- re: gender, airplanes, phenomenology or whatever -- would have little impact on the archive itself. There was also a sense that it would be difficult to form a community around a project that an individual has already brought to a fair level of completion.

Most literary digital archives provide scholars with material but go no further. The value here would lie in taking the next step of providing commentary space within the search results themselves -- not just in the blog and discussion board spaces. The ability of readers to add images, tag passages, or even add new passages would take that principle even further and make the archive itself a collaborative reading of the Recherche. And of course making the commentary searchable would add yet another dimension.

But why bother? What purpose(s) does this archive serve? What would it contribute to the field of literary scholarship?

Put plainly, The Archive has changed. The traditional model of humanities research commonly identified as 'the lone scholar in the archive' has been opened by digital networks and social software. This has been the case for years, especially since blogs and wikis became popular. Yet scholarly blogs tend overwhelmingly to be individuals' personal web journals, which means that the model of the lone writer -- despite post comments -- still persists. That's not a bad thing, and I'm not saying it should go away, but neither is it an effective use of the advantages offered by the technology.

The distributed, long-term conversation that has been happening in articles, books, conferences, and classrooms over the years will continue, of course, and it should. But social software allows us to publish at will, to communicate with similarly interested scholars wherever they are, whenever we like, and thereby to generate and hone ideas collaboratively as they are being developed.

A couple of interesting experiments along this line have been tried by Mitchell Stephens, a journalism professor at NYU who has been collaborating with the Institute for the Future of the Book. He put up a blog where his book on the history of atheism, Without Gods, was discussed, challenged, corrected, and questioned by readers during the composition process. Similarly, he put up a paper designed as a discussion: The Holy of Holies features a more effective commentary space, developed by the Institute, that ties comments to specific paragraphs. I could see working something like that into the search results of this archive. There was word, too, of making that comment functionality a WordPress plugin, which would be very useful for a number of projects.

This archive could take some lessons from the collaboration of Mitchell, his readers, and the Institute. I envision the Ecclesiastical Proust Archive as a more open-ended work of collaborative literary criticism, one that has the purpose of thinking and writing about Proust for its own sake, of developing ideas in conversation, but also as a space for spawning other projects. That is to say, blog members need not write about Proust and churches, but as long as there's some focus on Proust or other related topics such as technology, media, publishing, theory, and so on, it could have that eclectic interest but guided by a common thread. And one of the possibilities could be that people working on books or articles might develop them collaboratively at the archive.

That suggests to me that the Ecclesiastical Proust Archive could instead become something with a broader focus, where people can enter and tag passages, images, and other media to influence the structure of the archive with their own readings. The issue of copyright (I had to pay for the use of the text featured here) is a can of worms I don't have space to address in this post. Regardless, the amount of development required to expand this archive as mentioned would likely necessitate substantial funding. So probably a preliminary group would need to figure out what needs to be done in order to apply for a grant and then take it from there.

But the point is that if this is to become a useful resource where people think and also learn by doing, it will have to become editable by readers in some form or other, and by that very admission I can't determine it all by myself.

So, this is a preliminary step to see what kind of feedback is out there. I would greatly appreciate any thoughts, suggestions or criticisms. And I would especially like to thank Ben Vershbow, Jesse Wilbur, Eddie Tejeda, and Dan Visel for taking the time to meet with me. If anyone is interested in participating somehow, please don't hesitate to contact me at

Call for Collaboration

I'm very excited to announce the next phase of the Ecclesiastical Proust Archive. It is now hosted by the Center for Media and Learning at the CUNY Graduate Center and will become a collaborative project. Upcoming changes are detailed below.

If you'd like to participate in a lively writing community, to have a substantial editorial impact, or to develop technical features of the archive (you don't have to do it all), with the goal of creating a critically acclaimed scholarly resource, please contact Jeff Drouin at

1. Blogging Staff:

A lively community of writers in any language to explore topics related to Proust and this archive. The topics might include but are in no way limited to the following.

  • Proust, the Recherche, other works.
  • Translation and other editorial issues.
  • Textual issues and theory.
  • Technology and digital media.
  • Information, communication, archives.
  • Copyright and the economics/politics of publishing.
  • Narratology.
  • Aesthetics, synaesthesia.
  • Architecture and the visual arts.
  • Literature and the humanities.
  • Pedagogy and education.
  • Disciplinarity and the future of academia.
  • Conference reports.
  • Book and website reviews.

Posts could be as long or short, as frequent or infrequent as desired. We would work out a mission and editorial policy together, but at present I see the blog's basic purpose as mining these interdisciplinary issues collaboratively, over time, using the same central text(s). My primary inspiration for this is the fantastic if:book blog at

2. Archive Enhancement / Development:

Another major change will be the addition of French components, including the search engine and possibly some of the static content such as the about page and rationale. Scholars of French will be critical to ensuring that these are done correctly.

A. Develop a French version of the search engine. This involves:

  • Editorial decisions on which text(s) to use.
  • Reading the volumes to record or copy-paste the church-related passages into the database and determine their interpretive keys...
  • ...which entails additional editorial and scholarly decisions.
  • Apply for a Grad Center study-grant (probably about $500) to compensate scholars for their time in this activity.
  • Most likely each person working on this would read/transcribe only one volume so the burden is not overly great.

B. Determine whether and how French parts of the site should be developed:

  • Should there be an entire French version of the site?
  • Or should certain pages include both French and English? If so, how is this best designed?

C. Devise and implement enhancements to the search engine. Some ideas I have at present are:

  • Rewrite the search engine in PHP/MySQL (it's currently in ASP/Access on a different server) to make it more extensible.
  • Develop a comparative (i.e. English + French) component of the search engine.
  • Develop a variorum component of the search engine.
  • Devise and implement any other major or minor changes in search functionality.

D. Make general enhancements or changes to the site:

  • Improve the layout, color palette, navigation, sidebar widgets, banner image, etc.
  • Change images that appear in the search results and image galleries, possibly because they are a better match...
  • This might include researching the originals of churches mentioned in the Recherche.
  • Editing existing images for better clarity or color quality.

E. Apply for grants at the Grad Center or other institutions:

  • Get compensation for time spent on editorial and development activities.
  • Being able to say people gave us money would make us (look) prestigious.

F. Get the Ecclesiastical Proust Archive peer-reviewed, widely known, and recognized:

  • Work together to find journals and other resources to assess the site.
  • Attend conferences, panels, and other gatherings.
  • This could be the chance to (a) make a great scholarly resource that people will use and (b) add a really nice line to a CV.

Basically, I'm opening the door to scholars and developers interested in working on any or all aspects of this project. I can't offer any compensation unless we get grant money. However, participation in this project constitutes substantial editorial and scholarly practice, as well as theoretical rigor, making it a significant addition to a CV, especially if it gets recognition.

One last addition: many aspects of this project are on the cutting edge of the disciplines it crosses, giving it the potential for spinoff projects and scholarly publication. One thing to consider might be the collaborative writing of a scholarly book (print or online?) after the project has run for a while and we have results to assess. But for now that might be a more appropriate topic for a blog or discussion forum posting.

A History of This Archive

This archive is the culmination of work begun in three seminars during my first year in the English Ph.D. Program at the CUNY Graduate Center. At the beginning of Prof. Eve Sedgwick's year-long Proust seminar in 2002-03 I found that the passages having to do with churches were electric to me. I've always had a profound fascination with Gothic cathedrals, but beyond that and my being a lapsed Catholic I couldn't say exactly why I was having such an intense experience. What was happening in these particular narrative and textual situations, what was consistent within and accross them, that was resonating so strongly within me? Since the main goal of the course was to read the Recherche closely, I decided my term papers would constitute an extended meditation on the church motif with an eye toward writing a book-length study in the future.

When I began working on the paper near the end of the first semester I had an impulse to document each occurrence of the motif along with some interpretive information. Spreadsheet applications were not able to handle the formatting that I needed, so I devised in for Linux a horizontally oriented document with a table. Across the page, from left to right, I included the pagination information (volume, part, chapter, page numbers); the passage itself; what I thought were themes, concepts, motifs, or other structural features of the passage (together, what I call Associations); plus a note on the narrative context in order to keep in mind the larger picture. The idea was that this document would help me recall passages for whatever I ended up writing about. Aside from some general impressions on the motif and a statement of purpose, that was about all I completed during that semester.

During the January intersession I took the Program's required course in research and critical methodology with Prof. David Greetham. Our readings on textual theory and criticism piqued my interest in the Proust project even more. When we got to the readings on archives I realized that I had been putting one together all this time. What did it mean textuallyâ€â€and therefore in terms of readingâ€â€that I was containing and documenting this particular category of experience? What would happen if I turned this spreadsheet into a searchable document whose content could be displayed and rearranged according to particular words or the abstractions I was teasing out of the passages? I raised these issues with Prof. Greetham and asked whether I could make a database as part of my final project for the course. He agreed and went one step further by suggesting that I add images or other multimedia elements. So I took his advice and began searching the Web for pictures of the churches mentioned in Proust's novel.

I quickly realized that the database skills needed to make such a thing were well beyond what I already possessed and had time to acquire, so I asked my friend Jonathan for help. He very generously designed a database in Microsoft Access that allowed me to record all of the information and generate reports. I put all this together with the information already garnered from the novel and the images from the Web, wrote a rationale (which forms the basis of the Rationale page of this site), and submitted it to Prof. Greetham as my term project.

After the January course I worked on the archive intermittently. One productive stint came during a trip to France and Switzerland in July 2004 for my friend Anthony's wedding. Before leaving for France I had it in mind that I would try to make it out to Illiers-Combray, the town in Eure-et-Loire that was the original of Combray in the Recherche (the name was hyphenated in 1970 in honor of Proust), and packed two cameras for the occasion, one for color film, the other for black and white. I managed to get some photos of Notre Dame and other parts of Paris. During a day trip to Chartres, where I took many photos of the exterior and interior, I learned that Illiers-Combray was an easy 30-minute train ride from there. I decided to go the next day and, when morning came, persisted in this despite having just finished a very late night out in Paris. I made it to Illiers-Combray barely awake and in desperate need of coffee, headed toward the center of town, wandered into a café and, while sitting at the counter, realized that what I was staring at across the street was the little porch I had seen in so many pictures before. I had walked right past the church without even noticing it.

I finished my coffee and began photographing the porch and façade of the church, first in black and white. Unfortunately, on the fifth or sixth shot my camera, a Canon FTb manufactured in 1974, decided to stop cooperating and the shutter froze. From then on I could only use my Olympus Zoom2000 snapshot camera. I went round the outside of the church and found the apse to be exactly as described in Volume 1 of the Recherche:

It was so crude, so devoid of artistic beauty, even of religious feeling. From the outside, since the street crossing which it commanded was on a lower level, its great wall was thrust upwards from a basement of unfaced ashlar, jagged with flints, in which there was nothing particularly ecclesiastical, the windows seemed to have been pierced at an abnormal height, and its whole appearance was that of a prison wall rather than of a church. (1 1 1 84)

I then went inside to photograph the chapel, altar, windows, and other objects, and was delighted to find so much color. The walls of the nave were deep red with a golden diamond pattern, the ceiling of the chapel a vibrant royal blue, the arch leading into it painted with religious scenes, and the beams below the boat-hull ceiling painted with multi-colored patterns and coats of arms. Each panel of the ceiling had a nearly life-sized portrait of a saint, which can be seen at this page on the website of ASEPIC (Association Pour la Sauvegarde de l'Église et du Patrimoine d'Illiers-Combray).

The stained-glass windows, too, were beautiful, and I was surprised to find one with women in yellow, much like the window in the Recherche depicting St Hilaire, "a lady in a yellow robe" (1 1 1 145). My overall impression of the church was that it felt like a well-worn and well-loved home.

After taking pictures of the interior I went out to the parking lot to get some distance shots and then headed into the tourism office. I spoke there with a very nice woman about the various books they had concerning Proust and came away with several. A book on the history of the Parish, written in the 19th Century by the Abbey J. Marquis and the original of the one written by the Curé of Combray, is a fount of information with great photographsâ€â€very easy to become immersed in. I also picked up a cartoon book by Stéphane Heuet, which is an adaptation of the Combray portions of the Recherche, and two books by P.-L. Larcher on the relation of Illiers to Proust's Combray, Le Parfum de Combray and Le Temps Retrouvé d'Illiers.

As our conversation caused me to miss the noon train back to Chartres, I now had nearly two hours to spare before the next one. So I began heading back toward an inn I had noticed near the station and was just past the church when it began to pour. Wearing all linen, I ran to the inn as fast as I could in flip-flops, burst through the door, shook the water off my glasses, and asked to be seated for lunch. My hope was to have a sandwich and maybe fix my camera but I instead found myself seated with five men who worked together and under the obligation to order a four course meal. It was a cozy, turn-of-the-century dining room with beautiful wainscoting and patterned wallpaper. Since I was very tiredâ€â€which the sausage plate, cuisse de canard, rich mashed potatoes, cheese and wine did not alleviateâ€â€I found it difficult to hold up my end of the conversation. But my companions were gracious enough and we had an interesting talk about family names in the region. I left Illiers-Combray thinking I would return under better weather in order to explore the town and its environs a little more.

Development of the archive really didn't pick up again until December 2004 when it came time to complete the independent study for the Certificate in Instructional Technology and Pedagogy (ITP). The ITP program requires an independent study of a teaching activity involving interactive technologyâ€â€in a real classroomâ€â€followed by a written assessment of its success. Since I had already committed to building the Proust archive, I decided to write a proposal incorporating it into a lesson. It was unlikely, however, that an undergraduate literature course would contain enough of Proust to make the archive a viable tool. I therefore decided to conduct the activity in our graduate research and methodology course, the very same in which I began to develope it. If few people in the course had read Proust, at least they would have been reading the theory on which the archive was based and the activity could have a variety of approaches. Prof. Greetham agreed to let me conduct the study in his January section of the course.

Now I had to make the archive available on the web in time for the independent study activity. This had been a goal since the beginning, but though I had some web development skills they were not up to the task of integrating a site with a database. So I asked my friend John, a professional web developer, for help in this. I made a page showing how I wanted the search results to look, and he wrote the ASP pages that implemented the text search. With that working, I had to transcribe the rest of the church passages into the OpenOffice document and then enter them in the database. This was a very intense week, during which my girlfriendâ€â€now my fiancéeâ€â€helped by transcribing passages I had marked in two whole volumes (how could I not marry her after that?). The initial site was finally finished and uploaded to our web server for private use by the class.

At the time of the independent studyâ€â€January 2005â€â€I put in a request with Random House to use the text in a public, fully developed version of the site. This process took about a year and three months in which there were many questions and answers given back and forth, and in which I was referred also to Éditions Gallimard.

With the text usage permission finally granted in March 2006, I put off work on my dissertation prospectus to finish the archive. My friend John worked very hard to implement four more search functions and made them integratable. In the meantime, I scanned all the negatives I had taken at Paris, Chartres, and Illiers-Combray, optimized them for the website, and did much more specialized image research to enhance the variety and accuracy of the pictures.

With much of that finished, the final step was to get permission to use the many hundreds of images in the archive that are not my own. This started as an epic, multi-lingual nightmare that ended up putting me in touch with some of the strangest, nicest, and most generous people I've ever had fun with. Be sure to find them in the image credits and Links pages.

I hope you enjoy this archive and find it helpful for your studies, whatever they might be. There are many people who contributed to this resource, so please do read the Contributors page and the Copyright section of the About page.

About This Archive

This is a site for researching and discussing Proust. It provides a searchable database of all church-related passages in the Recherche along with related images. Many of the images depict the original churches described in the novel or a scene that otherwise evokes something in the passage to which it is attached.

The site also features image galleries of the churches included in the search engine, and more. While only the blogging staff may post to the homepage, there is a discussion forum that anyone may register for and use.

Please be sure to read the about and rationale pages for more information about this site's purpose and uses.