The starting point for the book is a series of metaphors used by Barthes at a round table discussion on Proust in 1972. He suggests, for example, that À la recherche is comparable to Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations insofar as it is made of ‘variations without a theme’, and he observes that a novel constructed in this way requires readers and critics to ‘rewrite’ and to ‘operate variations’ on the literary work rather than to interpret it. By unpacking these (and other) figures and connecting them to others that appear in Barthes’s (and Proust’s) writing, the remaining chapters of the book provide answers to the following questions: Are the variations in Proust’s novel indeed themeless? What is it that makes Proust’s writing, for Barthes or generally, both endlessly seductive, productive and unamenable to more conventional, hermeneutical forms of criticism? What does Barthes do with À la recherche, and how, in his approach, is Barthes different from other critics who have written about Proust? What possibilities do Barthes’s Proust variations open up for the future of criticism more generally?
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