Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The nature of plain old boring conscious memory

Potential backtracking here, but as I was sitting here at work, a memory of a description I read in Swann's Way came floating into my mind from nowhere, like a palid, dyspeptic cousin of Proust's own powerful recollections. It was the image he ascribes to his old school memory of Combray, where there was a house, two floors connected by a staircase, his room, the dining room, the garden and the gate. And that was about all - islands of light floating in darkness, areas of recollection surrounded by a general and passive amnesia.

How apt! That's how I remember cities, locations, even people. When I think of Barcelona, I recollect the Gaudi Cathedral (or more accurately, the marvelous facade), a few rooms in Picasso's house, the exterior of a bar at which I sat, all connected by a vague impression of cobbled streets lit by lamplight at dusk. And that's about it. A childhood home is but the series of cascading little pools in the front surrounded by ferns, a massive pool in the back, an impression of a brick-walled kitchen, and the steep road outside down which I would glide on my bike and labor back up every day.

Even friends seem so distilled - a few key memories, rich moments that are tied to faces and names. Though, to refine this a little, I find that my impression of friends, even long term friendships, the tone, if you will, is predicated by the previous few months experiences. With conscious effort I can summon our rich history, but casual thought brings to mind only the previous few encounters, the general sense and feeling I have directed towards them. Thus a friend that I've known for the previous ten years, if I am still in regular contact, is viewed through the lens of the past few months, while a friend I haven't seen in ages is viewed in a more casual, poor Proustian sense, composed of a few signatory memories that are statically keyed to my memory of them.

Has this made sense? My point is that Proust's recollection of his Combray world pre-madeleine is fantastically accurate as to how I visualize and recollect my past. Now I need me some madeleine-style memories to explode those fragments into submersive wholes!

For that matter, have any of you guys ever experienced a total sensory immersion memory experience Proustian extravaganza before? I'm going to try and recollect if I have, but the problem is that my memory of that moment of complete immersion is now fragmented by the imperfect nature of my experience and memory since! (Did that make sense as well?)


Blogger Stefanie said...

The recent overwhelms the past and the past is fragmentary. I have a friend I have known since kindergarten. I remember her current self more vividly than I do her 6 year old self, her 10 year old self and so on. In fact, I don't think I can remember her without the current her interfering.

I don't think I have ever had a real honest to goodness Proustian involuntary memory extravaganza. There are sounds and smells and a certain slant of light that have reminded me of other things, but none of them have been a complete there in the moment recollection.

3:34 PM  
Anonymous Proust Lover said...

Once, while in "corpse pose" following yoga, I was drfting off, and the instructor began saying my name. But it seemed to me the voice of my (dead) mother. It was summertime, late afternoon, and the smell of freshly mowed grass wafted into the room. I was transported, and remember it well. It was exceedingly pleasurable, although I suspect Proust would have been even more pleased than I at hearing his own mother's voice.

1:24 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home