À la recherche du temps perdu: THAT TASTY MADELEINE CAKE
In Search of Lost Time/À la recherche du temps perdu—previously also translated as Remembrance of Things Past—is that novel in seven volumes, written by Marcel Proust (1871–1922), often heard about, often to-be-read, often-never-read (finished). It is considered his most prominent work, known both for its length and for its theme of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the “episode of the madeleine” which occurs early in the first volume. The novel recounts the experiences of the narrator (who is never definitively named) while he is growing up, learning about art, participating in society, and falling in love. The novel has been pronounced as “the most respected novel of the twentieth century” or “the major novel of the twentieth century.”
Involuntary memory, also known as involuntary explicit memory, involuntary conscious memory, involuntary aware memory, and most commonly, involuntary autobiographical memory, is a subcomponent of memory that occurs when cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort. (Voluntary memory is characterized by a deliberate effort to recall the past.)
Precious fragments are those parts of involuntary memories that arise in everyday mental functioning, comprising the most common occurrences, characterized by their element of surprise, as they appear to come into conscious awareness spontaneously. They are the products of common everyday experiences such as eating a piece of apple pie, or the smell of Crayolas, or the sound of a fire engine or freight train, bringing to mind a past experience. (Not-so-precious fragments are some involuntary memories arising from traumatic experiences, repetitive memories of traumatic events, like those parts of PTSD).
Proustian memory: Marcel Proust was the first person to coin the term involuntary memory. He viewed involuntary memory as containing the “essence of the past,” describing an incident where he was eating tea soaked cake; then a childhood memory of eating tea soaked cake with his aunt was “revealed” to him. From this memory, he proceeded to be reminded of the childhood home he was in, and even the town itself. This becomes a theme throughout In Search of Lost Time, with sensations reminding the author-narrator of previous experiences. He dubbed these “involuntary memories.” [Wikipedia information]
For further interest and current research on why you might be reminded of…when you see…, look at Chaining, Priming, Reminiscence bump, Trauma-related Intrusions, PTSD.
(Stressful and traumatic events, which may manifest as involuntary memories called flashbacks, may trigger a wide range of anxiety-based and psychotic disorders. Social phobia, bipolar disorder, depression, and agoraphobia are a few examples of disorders that have influences from flashbacks.)
“The role of memory is central to Proust’s novel, introduced with the famous madeleine episode in the first section of the novel; and in the last volume, Time Regained, a flashback similar to that caused by the madeleine is the beginning of the resolution of the story. Throughout the work, many similar instances of involuntary memory, triggered by sensory experiences such as sights, sounds, and smells conjure important memories for the narrator and sometimes return attention to an earlier episode of the novel. Although Proust wrote contemporaneously with Sigmund Freud, with there being many points of similarity between their thought on the structures and mechanisms of the human mind, neither author read the other.” [Wikipedia notes]