Apr 14, 2010

Notes on "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire"

I remember Walter Benjamin writings on Proust's madeleine, the moment he bites into the pastry, memories of his childhood flood into his brain, what Proust calls a memoire involuntaire, but I never noticed before this statement he makes about the search for an object related to a lost memory:

"As for the that object, it depends entirely on chance whether we come upon it before we die or whether we never encounter it" (158).

This comment reminds me of Lacan's objet petit a.

The lost object. The object of desire responsible for obsession and deranged fantasy.

If there is a Madeleine for me, I may taste it, or I may not; the memoire voluntaire is totally necissitated by chance; I happen upon the object, the memory comes flooding in like an impressionistic painting. But, I may never come upon this memory, locked forever in some lost object of desire.

If it is the poet's job to unlock these memories, then I applaud the poet. If it is a poet who can open up a madeleine of lost memories, let's laud him with a crown of laurel.

I am sure there is poem hidden in a taste yet to be eaten.

Am I hedonistic to wish for such a bite?

Proust entrances his reader with the opportunity to invoke memories through the senses. It is the poet who puts these sense impressions into language. Cognitive science confirms Proust's intimation that sense (smell and taste) trigger memory. Proust is right.

The memory Proust, and I think Benjamin is onto something, is alluding to is not a factual memory stuck at a particular moment in time. The memory is much broader than a recollection. Baudelaire uses the term shock - an expression meant to suggest a memory linked to trauma. The shock is a sense impression outside of some romantic notion of memory, and instead a memory of the crowd.

I put away silly notions of private memory. The artist does not pull from something deep inside of him to produce art. It is not a private string of emotions the artist must articulate so others can understand. The memory the artist exposes is already there, involuntary.

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