I’m reading and enjoying Roger Shattuck’s book Proust’s Way, but I found myself puzzled and amused by part of one chapter where he complains bitterly and at length about how awful the 1989 Pléiade edition of Proust’s novel is. He quotes himself on the subject at one point, inserting part of a talk he gave at a conference into his text (this practice of quoting himself strikes me as odd — why not just rewrite the idea so it will make sense in the new context?):
I propose that we boycott the overblown, misconceived, and over-priced new Pléiade edition. It saps and traduces Proust’s life-long devotion to a single work … Let us not yield to the temptation to accept unthinkingly the prestige of the Pléiade collection.
Why the religious language of temptation here? The problem with the Pléiade edition Shattuck hates so much (the earlier 1954 version is acceptable) is that it includes extensive notes, early drafts, and variants, so that Proust’s 3,000 page novel swells to 7,300 pages — and that this edition isn’t meant to be a scholarly one. It’s not just that he can’t stand all the textual apparatus, but that the textual apparatus, especially the drafts of the novel, isn’t confined to a book produced solely for scholars. The general reader, he thinks, should have only the novel itself with just the essential footnotes.
He’s making an argument against “genetic criticism”: “the study of the evolution of a work out of earlier outlines and drafts and sketches into its (presumably) final state.” According to Shattuck, the editor of the Pléiade edition, Jean-Yves Tadié, is a practitioner of this form, and Shattuck sees his 7,300-page edition of Proust as an embodied argument for this form of reading and study.
Shattuck hates this. He wants to see the author’s final version, and that’s it:
The genetic critics, particularly when led by so disciplined and informed a figure as Jean-Yves Tadié, were able to do something that deconstructionists never succeeded in accomplishing. They unmade a work of literature. Intending to carry In Search of Lost Time to its final apotheosis in their sumptuous 7,300-page edition, Tadié and his associates have in effect buried Proust’s novel in trappings and distractions and commentary. The volumes honor scholars’ decisions about what to include more than they honor Proust’s decisions about what to exclude … [the edition] shrouds and demeans the author’s work.
Am I the only one who thinks this is going a bit too far? I don’t see how all the textual apparatus could demean an author’s work. Shattuck seems entirely too worshipful of Proust and of authorship generally. I do see that there’s a theory of reading built into the way an edition is shaped (and I find that an interesting idea), but I don’t agree with Shattuck’s argument that this particular way of reading is a bad one. I think having the early drafts and variants is valuable. Why not have a multiplicity of ways of reading Proust? If the Pléiade edition were the only one available, I might see his point, but that’s not the case.
He’s careful to say that he thinks all the apparatus ought to be available — but available only in scholarly editions. I don’t like this idea at all — I’m not likely to want to read early drafts of Proust’s novel, but why assume that only Proust scholars would be interested? His argument strikes me as an insult to the general reader.