8 months ago



12 Architecture

12 Architecture Madeleine Region—Neural Paths When defining its themes, neuroarchitectural research rightly makes mention of Marcel Proust’s great novel, in which the madeleine episode (also known in English psychology as the Proust phenomenon), triggered a world of multisensory images in the memory. Embedded in an environment whose atmosphere is for the most part cold and menacing, a sensory experience becomes the center of a biographical account and the main thread of a narrative in which it is almost impossible to untangle the search for traces and images in the memory without a list of names and places. In the context of sensibilité, Proust’s style makes sensory experiences the basis of his descriptions—neurologically motivated perspectives according to the modern view—whose origins have something in common with Henri Bergson and his theory of memory. Right from the opening paragraphs, things remembered are described as inscriptions in the memory. Engravings, traces, and then patterns testify to sensory experiences and relate to rooms and atmospheres. In the field of architecture, this creates a combination of cognitively effective events linking neurological research and practical applications. Extra effort is required when reading in order to decode the syntax and references. Gilles Deleuze sees an extensive plan in the unusual structure and complexity of Proust’s novel, which he compares to an almost incomprehensible accumulation of boxes and containers 1 filled with objects, people, and names. Reading the novel turns into the discovery of a series of related rooms and their architecture, which can be revealed like an unfamiliar city through experiences and later through internalized plans, maps, and mind maps. Recent research developments at the interfaces between neurology, hermeneutics, memory and biographical research, location theories, and architecture are identifiable in Proust’s novel as an unusual density of literary material. Moreover, it is only in the context of contrasting spatial situations that the “madeleine experience” can develop the power that then manifests itself as sensibilité in individual actions. It becomes a regular point of reference for the reader and suggests a chronology of events, although images of these form many layers

ARCHITECTURE 13 in the memory. Thus, the quality of the text is built on sensorily exaggerated or even hypersensitive moments, whose stylized perception may lie outside the boundaries of what is felt to be “healthy.” Exaggeration becomes systematic; sensual events become the cornerstones of the narrative. “The author develops border areas and nuances of human perception and feelings with admirable precision; he reveals their changeability, their bewilderment, their insincerity and ambiguity, as well as their nobility.” 2 He also places his narrative within the framework of an architecture that is described with equal accuracy. The quality of the detail Proust achieves places him in an area of literature that has its own distinct typology. “With regard to the structure, it is possible to recognize features of literature that are closely associated with the Enlightenment’s concept of sensibilité. The homme-sensible is a figure promoting identification, intended to make the readership aware of their own emotionality and moral quality. The aim of ‘sensitive’ literature in France and England is not entertainment but emotional instruction.” 3 The author describes himself as vessel and as a room, whose body relates to other bodies in the form of people, things, and even architecture. Deleuze uses the image of the box and nest of boxes, as well as their arrangement in a chronological sequence, and draws attention to the musical composition of the narrative. It is about composed periods of time and makes use of imagery that may refer back to Arthur Schopenhauer. Proust’s portrayal of idealized rooms in the houses of his childhood, which are described in past times as atmospherically charged environments, is worthy of especial study. Here physical experiences are always experiences of spaces, embedded in a delicate, unusually nuanced, depiction of the rooms, which is conditioned by a particular view of the architecture. Before the architectural details of the setting, we first have the proportions, which Samuel Beckett described as follows: “The narrator cannot sleep in a strange room, is tortured by a high ceiling, being used to a low ceiling.” 4 Reading these scenes thus offers a sensually exaggerated perception, as experienced by the delicate, sickly, pubescent boy. The author presents himself as the focal point of a scenario with a timescale alternating between experience and memory, whose changing levels are set against the constants of mental images. In order to make it possible to work out the course of the narrative and its chronological relationships, the scenes are set in a sequence determined by the seasons. The seasonal composition is reflected in various places in a small town and in private rooms. Summer and winter rooms of town and country houses reveal their destiny by day and by night. Rooms become dynamic stages, experienced as atmospherically charged zones and presented by the author as a framework for sensory details and their contexts. Things that appear fixed and immovable by day begin to move in the dark. For