Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Proustian Touch: The Pampas

In the last week alone I've heard three people refer to Proust's madeleine--the biscuit whose taste unfolds the ever-expanding memories in In Search of Lost Time: Swann's Way.
How wonderful to be Proust! To own the concept of encountering an object that sends one off into labyrinths of memory!
Yet funny that the sensation is taste more than smell as the olfactory functions are the human sensations most closely linked in the brain to memory.
But my own recent memory sensation-trigger is tactile. Little patches of Pampas grass are cultivated here and there around Decorah, tiny microcosms of prairie--and I'll be writing soon on William Cullen Bryant's "The Prairies"--but by name they allude more to Argentina than to the U.S. Midwest or Great Plains. Walking down the gravel alley near my home here I reached out to grasp gently a cluster of the grains and was transported madeleine-style to my pre-5-year-old days when I was told this was Pampas grass and stalks were bent low by an adult for me to touch.

But rather than unfold a novel or novels here, I savor the sensation, like the first touch of another's calf, and I recall a line Mario Ben Plotkin wrote, using a Pampas grass appropriate metaphor, in the Introduction to his book, Freud in the Pampas: The Emergence and Development of a Psycho-analytic Culture in Argentina:
"The history of ideas is also the history of their implantation, appropriation, and elaboration by different cultures."

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