November 1, 2005

Proustian Memory

Reading "The Lanyard" from Billy Collins' newest book, The Trouble with Poetry we find the line "No cookie nibbled by a French novelist could send one into the past more suddenly"

So, in our October writing prompt we addressed Marcel Proust's madeleine cookie, which I said was once a rather snooty literary reference that has worked its way into pop culture.

The prompt is to "try writing a poem that begins with or concentrates on this Proustian Memory experience where an unexpected re-encounter with a scent from the distant past brings forward a series of memories."

Here's some more on that Proustian memory info for you to use...

read the original passage by Proust at

A novelist I enjoy reading is Umberto Eco - his newest novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, has a protagonist who has forgotten who he is.
"All that he can remember are the things he's read or seen in movies. He has no personal identity; his memory is just a torrent of novels, cartoons, ads and poems. Let's call such a narrowly focused amnesia the "Umberto Eco Syndrome," given the famous novelist's seeming ability to remember everything he's read. He has more than 50,000 volumes in his two libraries back home in Italy, and sometimes, in such works as "The Name of the Rose" or "The Island of the Day Before," he seems intent on citing, quoting, parodying or reflecting on all of them... Marcel Proust famously claimed that all art is distilled and ordered memory. The term "Proustian memory" refers to the way a single stimulus -- the taste of a sweet cake -- can unfold a world of personal associations. As Eco says, "Memory is identity. Memory is the soul. You cannot be punished in hell without the memory of your sins."
read more about the book at

The science of memory & smell
and the psychology

Look at an earlier prompt from Poets Online on childhood memory where Ellen Kaplan addressed this idea

Any thoughts on Proustian memory or useful links? Perhaps you want to add to our discussion but it's not coming out as a poem...

1 comment:

  1. Are these just olfactory memories? What do you call memories triggered by taste (which, if I was Proust, would have been the key cookie sense) or touch or sound?


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