S+ Stimulant: Flashbacks
“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”- Marcel Proust
A flashback, or involuntary recurrent memory, is a psychological phenomenon in which the individual has a sudden, usually powerful, re-experiencing of a past experience or elements of a past experience. These experiences can be happy, sad, exciting, or any other emotion one can consider. The term is used particularly when the memory is recalled involuntarily, and / or when it is so intense that the person ‘relives’ the experience, unable to fully recognise it as memory and not something that is happening in ‘real time’.
According to research, memory is divided into two processes that function independently of each other: voluntary (conscious) and involuntary (unconscious). And while most of us experience these involuntary memories (flashbacks) on a regular basis, very few of us notice this distinction or take the time to acknowledge them.
However, many writers, artists, and musicians have become fascinated with the topic and explored it within their work – the most notable example being Marcel Proust.
Proust was the first person to coin the term involuntary memory, in his novel Á La Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time). Proust believed that involuntary memory contained the ‘essence of the past’, a trait which was missing from voluntary memory.
In his novel, Proust used several examples to contrast the two types of memories, inducing a flashback upon his characters with a sensory experience such as a sight, sound, or smell. These flashbacks often provoke feelings of euphoria and are always shrouded in a deep mystery.
Below is Proust’s most famous example of involuntary memory, known as ‘The Madeleine Episode’, where the simple dipping of a cake in tea unleashes the full force of the character’s subconscious:
No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.
Published: September 9th, 2014