13 October 2012

The Proust Phenomenon: Volunteers Required

Where: Institut Français, 17 Queensberry Place, London, SW7 2DT
When: 15 November

With: Kirsten Shepherd-Barr (Modern Drama, Oxford); John Downes (Neuropsychology, Liverpool John Moores); Sarah McCartney (Perfumer); Barry Smith (Philosophy, School of Advanced Study)

This first MemoryNetwork event debates the changing relationship between literature and science in the twenty-first century by re-inventing the iconic ‘madeleine’ episode in Marcel Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, in which memories of Combray involuntarily flood back into the mind of the author. Neurogastronomer Gordon Shepherd has recently disputed many a literary critics’ claim that this episode is driven purely by involuntary memories. According to his reading, these memories are not involuntary but rather the result of ‘metonymic expansion’ that also draws on voluntary memory. What does this knowledge add to our understanding of the madeleine passage and our reading of Proust’s work in general? Can neuroscience really reveal higher truths about the workings of the human sensory system than Proust’s remarkable art of memory?

In order to investigate and contextualise these questions, we are inviting members of the public to take part in a series of experiments. Due to the experimental nature of the event, we are unable to disclose many details at this point. However, we can reveal that it will involve a comparison of different sensory responses, and the recording of the audience’s autobiographical memories triggered by the ‘blind’ smelling of laboratory-generated scents. For more information, sign up as a volunteer by writing to memorynetwork@roehampton.ac.uk with the subject line ‘Proustean Phenomenon: Volunteer’. Please note: the experiment is not suitable for smokers or those with impairment of smell

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