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In Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, the narrator is sur-prised to notice that the simple phrase “the head of the Ministry of Posts and his family” [la famille du directeur du ministère des Postes] evokes for him a very peculiar, bitter-sweet feeling. He happens to overhear a stranger say these words, and though the phrase in itself is of no particular interest to him, he realizes that it is linked to a time in his past when he was in love with Gilberte and heard her use this phrase in conversation. Th e narrator has long since lost interest in her, but the trivial, forgotten phrase brings back the feelings of heart ache that he was experiencing when he heard her say those words. It is exactly because the words were trivial that they have preserved their freshness and are able to evoke a forgotten feeling. Habit dulls the edge of memories, but only of those memories that are readily available to it. Memories that are, contradictory though it may seem, “forgot-ten,” preserve their strength because the mind has had no chance to neutralize their emotional impact and mull them over until they lose their flavor.
- Sociology