ART & ORGANISM
REDINTEGRATION and ECPHORY
The nature of MEMORYbecomes a focus when the experience of PROUSTIAN MEMORY is encountered. It involves phenomena that involve “redintegration” and “ecphory,” two terms from different domains of scholarship that share a powerful and often exquisitely poignant sensibility. It is also known as “involuntary memory.”
“PROUSTIAN MEMORY” is the term frequently deployed in literary studies emphasizing the connection between small, possiby unremarkable experiences and their capacity to evoke a much wider recollection: for example look at the British Psychological Society’s blog on “Smell and Memory — The Proust Phenomenon”
(“The Proust Phenomenon shows that literature is capable of allowing different disciplines to speak to one another. Neuroscience can explain why smell is a strong trigger, and psychology can show which stimuli have particularly vivid and emotional effects, but literature has an equally important role to play in revealing how memory works. We might argue that without literature, emotions remain silenced, that literature is the key to giving voice to the silent sense.
The Proust Phenomenon’s wider significance is not only to do with nostalgia for our personal, subjective past: by triggering strong, emotive childhood memories, we are being reconnected with our former selves, with the selves that we (may) have forgotten. This process is beneficial because it gives us a different perspective upon our lives—which afford us the possibility of perspective and contemplation. These moments confront us with our younger selves, perhaps different, more innocent, and thus asks questions about selfhood and causation—we come to wonder how we ended up where we are now—what life choices, motives and desires have brought us where we find ourselves today.”) (quoted in BPS blog from Sebastian Groes and Tom Mercer, in the book ‘Smell, Memory, and Literature in the Black Country’ )
“REDINTEGRATION” is “the process of reconstructing a entire complex memory after observing or remembering only a part of it.” In the memory recalled there are likely other “seeds” or “attractors” that can then trigger a cascade.
(“Many people find that such memories are also touched off by distinctive odors out of the past—a farm visited in childhood, Grandma’s kitchen…The key idea in redintegration is that one memory serves as a cue to trigger another.” As a result, an entire past experience may be reconstituted from one small recollection.”) The recent experience can trigger a recovery of old, forgotten memories (possibly forgotten because they seemed so irrelevant at the time they were acquired) and their reinterpretation in the light of recent experience in which they may be highly relevant.
[Q. “What do you think is meant by “Proustian Involuntary Memory?’ A. Possibly the type of memory psychologists refer to a redintegration which is “the process of reconstructing a entire complex memory after observing or remembering only a part of it.” // “Many people find that such memories are also touched off by distinctive odors out of the past–from a farm visited in childhood, Grandma’s kitchen…The key idea in redintegration is that one memory serves as a cue to trigger another.” As a result, an entire past experience may be reconstituted from one small recollection.” [from INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY: EXPLORATION AND APPLICATION, 7th ed. by Dennis Coon]
“The past” Proust thought, “(was) hidden in some material object…which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not….” http://www.triggers.com/tcup_and_mad.html (engaging “involuntary memory.”)
Remembrance of Things Past (more accurately titled, À La Recherche du Temps Perdu/In Search of Lost Time )
(in a recent New York Times article titled “Emotional Malady Is Linked to Smell,” Erica Goode wrote that “the sense of smell, as Marcel Proust and his Madeleine made clear, is intimately tied to feeling and memory. So it is perhaps not surprising that in schizophrenia, an illness that plays havoc with the emotional capacities of those who suffer from it, the sense of smell is impaired”).
Ecphory is a process by which retrieval information provided by a cue is correlated with the information stored in an episodic memory trace, thus providing the basis for the subjective experience of remembering and the corresponding memory performance. Particularly relevant to the study of ecphoric processes are experiments in which the material that is to be remembered is held nominally constant and in which both encoding conditions and retrieval conditions are systematically varied. The results of such experiments have imposed certain constraints on theories of retrieval and have led to the revision of several previously popular theoretical ideas. Some illustrative experimental data are described, and one version of a theoretical schema of retrieval is summarized. The schema holds that what a person remembers is a product of a synergistic interaction between the memory trace and the retrieval information, the nature and particular features of the recollective experience being determined by the properties of both the trace and the cue. (Abstract from Tulving et al. 1983. Ecphoric Processes in Episodic Memory Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 302(1110) · August 1983 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.1983.0060
Forgotten ideas, neglected pioneers: Richard Semon and the story of memory By Daniel L. Schacter (Psychology Press, Philadelphia, 2001)
“… a key notion embodied in the law of ecphory is that of redintegration, the reinstatement of a whole via one of its parts. The classical historical reference, of course is to Sir William Hamilton, who argued for a redintgrative position in 1859. (p260)
“… One of Semon’s most striking and innovative applications of redintegrative ecphory to a problem of memory concerned the question of association by contiguity vs association by similarity.” (p261)
Individually experienced events acquire meaning through the redintegrative mechanism. The wide spread and relatively independent adoption of this mechanism in recent years is surprising. In the author’s mind it was formulated some ten years ago, apparently on the basis of Bradley’s critique of Hamilton, and under the influence of the general dissatisfaction felt with the prevailing account of symbolism, the unconscious, and the conditioned reactions. Meantime the mechanism has been vigorously developed by others under various names, such as ‘law of ecphory’ (Semon), ‘mnemic causation’ (Russell), ‘law of combination’ (Woodworth), and it had already been clearly expounded by Burke and others.” — PARTICULAR FEATURES OF MEANING H. L. HOLLINGWORTH Columbia University http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/rev/31/5/348.pdf \ (needs APA login)
*Excerpt from “Remembrance of Things Past” by Marcel Proust