“One Question” with Eric Karpeles


Eric Karpeles is a painter who grew up in New York and was educated there in its cultural institutions. A graduate of Haverford College, Oxford University and The New School, he lived in France in the 1970s, holding fellowships both at la Cité des Arts in Paris, and the Camargo Foundation in Cassis. Karpeles writes about painting and the intersection of literature and visual aesthetics. He lives in northern California.

Neoteric Art: How did you become interested Marcel Proust?

Eric Karpeles: I became acquainted with the writing of Marcel Proust when I was seventeen. At my large public high school in New York, my French teacher sized me up and decided that our year-long one-on-one senior seminar would be devoted to a reading of Swann’s Way. Almost immediately I fell under the incantatory pull of the text and felt grateful for what I received as a gift from my teacher. I had no prior reference either for the book in question, which looked compellingly daunting, or for its author, whose notoriety until then had eluded me. At the start, I had no idea that this book would somehow distinguish itself from all the many other books I had read up to that time. From the beginning I sensed that what I was reading was undoubtedly autobiographical, but when at the end I was released from its spell (or so it seemed at the time; I find now I really never was released after all), I asked myself, “Who was this guy?” So in a way, to answer your question, it was not until I had finished reading the opening volume of A la recherche that I first became interested in Marcel Proust. Immersed in this most fluid of literary masterworks, I came to question the rapport between its writer and the novel’s narrating voice. I became attentive to Marcel the character and Proust the writer as being, on the one hand clearly, and yet on the other hand ambiguously distinct. I became interested in both Marcel and Proust by spending so much time with them. As I continued to read the whole novel, and reread it every ten years or so, I became increasingly interested in various aspects of Proust’s intensely lived life as manifested and often dialectically opposed in his work, one facet after another– his excessively romantic view of the artist; his ethical embrace of Dreyfus and his unflinching portraits of pushy Jews; his ability to provide at once both a central generative force yet also always somehow a detached, marginal perspective; his ambidextrous sexuality coupled with an unquenchable appetite for private, intimate connection. Only much later did I extract myself from the work and become interested in Marcel Proust the writer. From that point on I have continuously devoured what I could, and while I have a healthy hunger, there is a lot to digest. So there was not a single moment at which I would say I became interested in Marcel Proust; nearly forty years ago I began to read his work and my interest has not ceased becoming.