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Archive for May 11th, 2011

“overgeneral memory” / depression / flaubert

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From the NYT:

OXFORD, England — The task given to participants in an Oxford University depression study sounds straightforward. After investigators read them a cue word, they have 30 seconds to recount a single specific memory, meaning an event that lasted less than one day.

Cues may be positive (“loved”), negative (“heartless”) or neutral (“green”). For “rejected,” one participant answered, “A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with my boss, and my ideas were rejected.” Another said, “My brothers are always talking about going on holiday without me.”

The second answer was wrong — it is not specific, and it refers to something that took place on several occasions. But in studies under way at Oxford and elsewhere, scientists are looking to such failures to gain new insights into the diagnosis and treatment of depression. They are focusing not on what people remember, but how.

The phenomenon is called overgeneral memory, a tendency to recall past events in a broad, vague manner. “It’s an unsung vulnerability factor for unhelpful reactions when things go wrong in life,” said Mark Williams, the clinical psychologist who has been leading the Oxford studies.

Want to come back to this when there’s more time, but it’s interesting to think about this in relation to certain “trick” temporalities in modern narratives. Here’s an extract from the thing I’m (interminably) working on (footnotes below main text):

And it is fitting that when Emma meets Rodolphe again, they make love in the same forest, with Emma “lui demandait, en le contemplant les paupières demi closes, de l’appeler encore par son nom et de répéter qu’il l’aimait” (1, 440). [1] The relationship quickly slides into pure repetitiveness, repeat performances of the same romantic gestures and acts of love, as Flaubert renders in brilliantly irregular verb tenses in paragraphs such as the following:

Les rideaux jaunes, le long des fenêtres laissaient passer doucement une lourde lumière blonde. Emma tâtonnait en clignant des yeux, tandis que les gouttes de rosée suspendues à ses bandeaux faisaient comme une auréole de topazes tout autour de sa figure. Rodolphe, en riant, l’attirait à lui et il la prenait sur son coeur.

Ensuite, elle examinait l’appartement, elle ouvrait les tiroirs des meubles, elle se peignait avec son peigne et se regardait dans le miroir à barbe. Souvent même, elle mettait entre ses dents le tuyau d’une grosse pipe qui était sur la table de nuit, parmi des citrons et des morceaux de sucre, près d’une carafe d’eau. (1, 441)[2]

This is one of Flaubert’s trademark techniques for rendering the everyday. Here, he describes a highly detailed action, too detailed to be precisely repeated again and again, in the imparfait tense, as if they were habitual actions. [3] Passages such as these are challenges for translators, since they border on the absurd: were drops of dew really often hanging in Emma’s hair “like a topaz halo around her face”? These magical moments of illicit love just keep happening, or so we are told, and it is no wonder that the thrill begins to fade almost immediately, especially for Rodolphe. After six months of this sort of thing, their romance has itself become like a marriage: “quand le printemps arriva, ils se trouvaient, l’un vis-à-vis de l’autre, comme deux mariés qui entretiennent tranquillement une flamme domestique” (1, 447). [4]


[1] and watching him with eyes half shut, she insisted that he speak her name again, that he repeat the words of love (131).

[2]             The long yellow curtains, over the windows, softened the light to a dense golden blur. Emma would grope her way, eyes blinking, and the drops of dew hanging in her hair were just like a topaz halo around her face. Rodolphe, with a laugh, would draw her to him and press her to his heart.

She would explore his room, opening the drawers, combing her hair with his comb and looking at herself in his shaving-mirror. Often she would pick up the big pipe from the bedside-table, where it lay beside a carafe of water, among pieces of lemon and lumps of sugar. She put the stem between her teeth (132).

[3] Flaubert uses this technique, writing what would seem to be a unique and highly specific event in the habitual and repetitive tense of the imparfait, throughout the novel. A brilliant example of this approach comes early in the novel, during Charles’s first meetings with Emma while he is treating her father:

Elle le reconduisait toujours jusqu’à la première marche du perron. Lorsqu’on n’avait pas encore amené son cheval, elle restait là. On s’était dit adieu, on ne parlait plus ; le grand air l’entourait, levant pêle-mêle les petits cheveux follets de sa nuque, ou secouant sur sa hanche les cordons de son tablier, qui se tortillaient comme des banderoles. (I, 307)

She always went with him as far as the doorstep. Waiting for them to bring his horse, she stood there by him. They had said goodbye, they had no more to say; the fresh air wrapped all about her, fondling the stray locks of hair at the nape of her neck, or tugging on the strings of the apron around her hips, fluttering them like streamers. (17)

Or another, which captures Emma’s voluptuous boredom early in her marriage and which concludes with a line brilliantly evocative of her ambivalence toward her everyday life:

Elle portait une robe de chambre tout ouverte, qui laissait voir, entre les revers à châle du corsage, une chemisette plissée avec trois boutons d’or. Sa ceinture était une cordelière à gros glands, et ses petites pantoufles de couleur grenat avaient une touffe de rubans larges, qui s’étalait sur le couvre-pied. Elle s’était acheté un buvard, une papeterie, un porte-plume et des enveloppes, quoiqu’elle n’eût personne à qui écrire ; elle époussetait son étagère, se regardait dans la glace, prenait un livre, puis, rêvant entre les lignes, le laissait tomber sur ses genoux. Elle avait envie de faire des voyages ou de retourner vivre à son couvent. Elle souhaitait à la fois mourir et habiter Paris. (I, 346)

She would be wearing her dressing-gown unbuttoned, revealing, between the copious folds of her corsage, a pleated chemisette with gold buttons. Round her waist she had a cord with big tassels, and her little wine-red slippers had large knots of ribbon, spreading down over the instep. She had bought herself a blotting-pad, a writing-case, a pen-holder and envelopes, though she had nobody to write to; she would dust her ornaments, look at herself in the mirror, pick up a book, then, dreaming between the lines, let it fall into her lap. She yearned to travel or to go back to living in the convent. She wanted equally to die and to live in Paris. (56)

[4] when spring came around, they were, with each other, like a married couple tranquilly nourishing a domestic flame (138).

Anyway, I’d like to say more soon about this, actually draw out the connection between the one and the other…

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 11, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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Ah, an invitation to participate in a bit of Mass Observation tomorrow.

(Actually, it’d be interesting if we posted them on-line… As you might imagine, I love that sort of thing, dailiness etc…)

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 11, 2011 at 10:04 am

Posted in mass observation