Sunday, 12 July 2009

Involuntary Memories - Proust, Florida Fantasy, Wildtrack and Tony Soper


Involuntary memory is a powerful and profound feeling. Rather than remembering the past by thinking back, actively recalling a thing that happened in the past, the involuntary memory envelops us like a cloak at moments that seem to have the strangest cues. For a millisecond you don't merely remember a certain time or event in the past through the filter of your current consciousness ('i remember i was wearing an ugly red jumper on my 18 birthday. What was i thinking!') but you seem to actually live it again, inhabiting the different body of your 18 year old self. Perceiving through those different eyes with a 'feeling memory' of thinking with that different brain.

As we slowly move forwards in our lives, inhabiting the same bodies, we have very few chances to gather any true perspective on who we were at times in the past. It is almost impossible, without the use of consciousness altering drugs, to see our past without the distorting filter of who we are now, with our present consciousness created from the accumulation of our experiences. Yet involuntary memory shows me that i am as different from my self 10 years ago as i am from any stranger i may meet in the street. It allows for the briefest of moments, the unique opportunity of time travel.

Involuntary memory is often triggered by something. For Mirek, the protagonist in the first part of Milan Kundera's, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, it is a train rushing in front of his car at a level crossing. For Marcel Proust it was, among other things, madeleine cakes. For me it is music from the Ratso Rizo dream sequence in the film, Midnight Cowboy. Florida Fantasy.

This short piece of music was used from 78 till around 1982 on the kids wildlife programme Wildtrack and, apparently, in the late 70's to introduce the winter cricket highlights from Australia. I don't ever remember watching either of these shows but the sense of time and place that the music conjures up in me is incredibly powerful. I don't know what the memory is of, it's just a body feeling and an invocation of a certain time. The music stinks of the 70's. It is essence of 70's. If you whistle Florida Fantasy in a pub, within a minute someone will ask you what it is and then perhaps tell you that it is the music to Animal Magic. They are wrong. It seems to evoke powerful feelings in many a child of the 70's. 38 seconds in is where the real magic happens.

Exciting Update!!!
I have just read this awesome passage on another blog This one here I hope the man whose blog it is, who writes with much more clarity than me, doesn't mind me stealing it. It is a bit from Proust's In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower and is brilliantly clear.

Habit weakens all things; but the things that are best at reminding us of a person are those which, because they were insignificant, we have forgotten, and which have therefore lost none of their power. Which is why the greater part of our memory exists outside us, in a dampish breeze, in the musty air of a bedroom or the smell of autumn's first fires, things through which we can retrieve any part of us that the reasoning mind, having no use for it, disdained, the last vestige of the past, the best of it, the part which, after all our tears seem to have dried, can make us weep again. Outside us? Inside us, more like, but stored away from our mind's eye, in that abeyance of memory which may last forever. It is only because we have forgotten that we can now and then return to the person we once were, envisage things as that person did, be hurt again, because we are not ourselves anymore, but someone else, who once loved something that we no longer care about. The broad daylight of habitual memory gradually fades our images of the past, wears them away until nothing is left of them and the past becomes irrecoverable. Or, rather, it would be irrecoverable, were it not that a few words (such as "chief undersecretary at the Postmaster General's") had been carefully put away and forgotten much as a copy of a book is deposited in the Bibliothèque Nationale against the day when it may become unobtainable.

From In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, translated by James Grieve (New York: Penguin, 2002), 222

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