Voluntary Memory

Contemporary World Literature

Review this week’s Lecture Notes about memory. Pay special attention to the fact that involuntary memory is accidental and happens by chance. Discuss a personal experience with your involuntary memory. What triggered it? Suppose you were going to do as Proust did and write a story about it. How might your story differ from a story that follows more linear patterns of thought?

Please make this 1-2 paragraphs and in APA format.

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Be sure to read the lecture notes thoroughly, as they supplement the author’s biography and original work offered in your textbook. You will be responsible to know the information provided here and in your assigned reading.

Notes on Narrators

A narrator is one who narrates or tells the story to the reader. Narrators are typically in either first- or third-person. A first-person narrator is usually part of the story he is telling and the recounting of events is considered to be subjective: “I did this, then I saw that,” etc. A third-person narrator is the most common and usually takes the form of an objective onlooker to the events of the story: “She did this, then he said that,” etc. The author and the narrator are often and mistakenly thought to be one in the same, and you should make it a habit to distinguish between the two in your discussions. Refer to the one who directly communicates the story to you as the “narrator” not the author.

Narrative point of view is a technical term used for literature and has only a little in common with the everyday use of “point of view,” which means an opinion or taking a particular side of an issue. Narrative point of view is very complicated, but only a partial understanding of the term will be needed in your study of Remembrance of Things Past. Narrative point of view refers to the position of the narrator in terms of what he or she is able to perceive. For example, an omniscient narrator who sees all and knows the thoughts and feelings of all the characters has an unrestricted point of view. On the other hand, a first-person narrator who is also part of the story can only see what is in his or her immediate vicinity and cannot know the thoughts of others. Thus the point of view is very limited. Proust uses two narrators with different narrative points of view in the “Overture.” One is the older Marcel, and the other is the younger Marcel. Sometimes it is easy to tell which one is speaking, sometimes not, so you shouldn’t worry too much if you lose track of whether the older or younger Marcel is narrating. The important thing is to know that these two narrators see and remember things differently.


Proust believed that he was unable to fully capture the memories of his childhood using his voluntary memory. Voluntary memory takes a conscious effort, and one is very often unsuccessful at it. How many times, for instance, have you been introduced to someone only to forget his/her name a few minutes later. You try to remember, but it’s usually to no avail. Most everyone has been in this or another similar situation of simply being unable to recall something no matter how much effort is made.

On the other hand, involuntary memory happens by accident. Imagine that a few days after you have been introduced to the person whose name you forgot, you hear a song on the radio that invokes the person’s name (or gives you a clue). Then, suddenly it all comes back to you and you remember the name. The key to involuntary memory, and what distinguishes it from voluntary memory, is that we have no control over the events that might make us remember something. Proust takes the point even further. He claims (and he’s probably right) that most anything can trigger a memory. He uses the senses of taste and smell in a very well-known episode in the “Overture.” When Marcel dips a cookie (á madeleine) into a cup of tea, the sensory experience triggers a flood of memories of when he was a child visiting his grandmother where he often had the same tea and cookie.

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