Unguarded Moments. Spectral spaces of the unsuspecting mind
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Marcel Proust’s meditation as he picked over the crumbs of a long-eaten madeleine biscuit has inspired and informed several areas of inquiry into (the uncertain science of) memory and recall. The Proust-effect, defined by Cretien van Campen (2014) as ‘an involuntary, sensory-induced, vivid and emotional reliving of events from the past’ goes some way towards illustrating the experience of having a memory triggered by something ordinary. But where Proust’s experiences all progress from a brief awakening though a slow unfolding of recollections to a full-blown memory, the experience that interests me is less gentle and a lot more immediate.
Strange word associations and sounds-likes are common enough experiences for bilingual people, and it is something that has been documented in cognitive science. But there’s an altogether different occurrence, not unique to the bilingual mind although central to that experience, when something trivial—a shift in light, for example—throws the sense of reality and the experience of being to the other country and sometimes the other language.
Where Proust found that sensory experiences allowed him to unravel a memory, I have found that sensory experiences throw me directly into another space and its associated time. This paper documents these shifts and attempts to explore them via the metaphor of spectral space borrowed from mathematics.
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