À la recherche du temps perdu is a novel by Marcel Proust, often translated as ‘Remembrance of Things Past’, or more literally ‘Searching for lost time’. It is famous for the exploration of the theme of involuntary memory. When the author dips a Madeleine in tea and eats it, he is transported psychologically to the time of his childhood, when he shared the same food with his aunt. In the process his mind unlocks memories that were long forgotten.
The memory of the taste of Madeleine dipped in tea is a trigger to the memories stored when he was familiar with the taste.
Proust was contemporaneous with Freud, but there is no evidence that one read the other. Each, in his own way, was exploring the power of the unconscious and pre-conscious mind. Each was examining triggers to unlock suppressed or hidden memories.
My own work in Market Research has made frequent forays into the realms of pre-conscious thought. I have worked with a clinical psychologist who is a proponent of the work of Jacques Lacan. Lacan is a revisionist Freudian who explored language as a seat of meaning. In the modern, consumerist, paradigm language as a seat of meaning has extended to brands, logos and products. Product consumption constellations are a blueprint for understanding self-identity.
The point of this post, if any of my blog posts have a point, is to comment on self-identity and remembrance in the context of Remembrance Day, which is tomorrow. The WW1 armistice on the 11th hour, 11th day, 11th month gives us the anniversary upon which we remember those who fell in battle.
For us here in Ireland the wearing of the poppy is a foreign and rejected symbol. It celebrated those who fell defending Great Britain. After the Easter Rising in 1916 those Irish fighting in France found themselves on the wrong side. They wore the Khaki of the British Imperialist oppressor rather than the Green of the Irish Volunteers. Sadly, they were ‘unremembered’ by Ireland for 100 years. Now, at last, we begin to recognise their right to remembrance.
An important step on this journey was the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland. She laid a poppy wreath in the war memorial garden in Islandbridge. For many Irish people it was the first time that they were aware that we even had a monument dedicated to the Irish soldiers who fell in WW1.
However, I do not think the poppy will ever gain widespread acceptance in Ireland. Already in England there is increasing rejection of the symbol. For many it is increasingly seen as a celebration of military violence rather than a memoir of heroic sacrifice.
Conscientious objectors who choose not to wear the symbol are vilified by the bully boy tactics of proponents of the poppy. This further reinforces the aggressive nature of the symbol. Tune into British TV at this time of year and you quickly draw the conclusion that someone in the wings is pinning the things on everyone, regardless of their sympathies.
Two of my father’s grand-uncles wore Khaki in Gallipoli. My grandfather wore the Green in the War of Independence. If I choose to remember them it will be with the far older symbol of a sprig of Rosemary. Like Proust’s tea-dipped Madeleine, the Greeks believed that the Rosemary herb improved memory. So it became a symbol of remembrance. Ophelia calls it such in Hamlet. Poppies as symbols of remembrance are far more recent, and are accredited to the John McCrae poem.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.