Remembering From-The-Outside: Personal Memory and The Perspectival Mind (Review)

In this post, Kimm Curran reviews Remembering From-The-Outside: Personal Memory and The Perspectival Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), authored by Christopher McCarroll.

 

Remembering From-The-Outside: Personal Memory and the Perspectival Mind is a look into how memory and the reconstruction of past events, especially remembering from different points of view, has been treated in studies of memory and in perspectives on personal memory in particular. Christopher McCarroll seeks to address how the outsider perspective on memory has been dismissed from the wider discourse of memory studies in general as well as the doubts and challenges of this perspective.  The author provides a thoroughly researched and nuanced approach to the subject, combining philosophy, literature and film, as well as psychology, which has not yet been explored. McCarroll’s research is authoritative and fits into current studies on philosophy of the mind and memory studies.

 

Remembering From-The-Outside is divided into seven chapters, each addressing a particular issue related to perspective and memory. Chapter 1 provides us with an introduction to the key issues related to memory and the field / observer perspective and why there has been scepticism related to observer memory. Memories are put in two categories: field and observer. Field memories are recollected from the first person point of view, as if your eyes are the camera, experiencing an event as they did before,  whereas observer memories are from the third person point of view, recollected, and seeing oneself as an actor, or outsider in the memory. McCarroll calls this ‘remembering from-the-outside’ or seeing oneself from the remembered scene. (14) Chapter 2 explores in more detail the doubts surrounding observer perspective. One of the key questions is whether or not remembering from-the-outside can be faithful to the past. ‘Truth’ and ‘memory’ create a tension. Memory often implies truth, but memory is the blending of fact and fiction (it is flexible, faithful and variable). (37-39) Chapter 3 moves into the discussion of embodied memory and how memory can be reconstructed and constructed in time and place.

 

 

Chapter 4 and 5 deals particularly with challenging point of view and the imagination and Zeno Vendler’s ideas of remembering from-the-outside and field/observer perspective – the distinction between the subjective (inside) and objective (outside) imagination. Vendler proposed a strict different between these perspectives. McCarroll persuasively argues that this dichotomy – the strict separating of the two perspectives —‘need not neatly coincide’ and memory may contain ‘plurality of view and perspectives’ as it can be past, present, powerful, and plural (147-149). Chapter 6 pulls the ideas of duality together and argues how to make sense of the duality of field and observer perspectives; it reconciles the idea that remember from-the-outside is just remembering the past in a particular way, depending on perspective. The final chapter outlines the aims and objectives of the study and how these have been addressed throughout Remembering From-The-Outside. In the context of the book, it allows readers to understand more widely the key issues about remembering from-the-outside, memory and point of view and its complexity. Remembering from-the-outside is a ‘useful lens to illuminate the nature of personal memory and the perspective mind’ and it can also be ‘genuine’. (198)

 

Remembering From-The-Outside is not without some challenges. The assumption McCarroll makes about readership from the beginning, and the sometimes dense prose, could distance or exclude some who may find the analysis beneficial to their work (this was my experience). Also, whilst there are examples from literature and film in the work, wider connections in other fields of the humanities and memory studies would have been welcomed. For example, how collective memory might be seen from the observer perspective; survivor memories of trauma and the impact of field vs observer; memory, landscapes and place, and cultural heritage (especially as these are linked to oral narrative, place, daily routine, ritual, celebrations).[1] A broader contextualisation, plus examples of remembering from-the-outside and how observer perspectives can be used in these areas, would have been a welcome and refreshing addition.

 

However, McCarroll’s treatment of the subject is carefully researched and his arguments are particularly weighty; they alert the reader to the challenges between field and observer perspective in personal memory, which, in my opinion, gives us a well-argued and researched subject on reconstruction and memory and how inside and outside memories can operate at the same time. The significance of the Remembering From-The-Outside is that the duality in memory deserves to be considered, despite the challenges it may bring to the understanding of personal memory and reconstructing memory.

 

 

References:

[1] See for example: Boyer, Pascal, and James V. Wertsch, eds. Memory in mind and culture. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009; Halbwachs, Maurice. On collective memory. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1992; Sather-Wagstaff, Joy. “Heritage and memory.” In The Palgrave handbook of contemporary heritage research, pp. 191-204. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2015.

 

About the reviewer:

Kimm Curran has a PhD in History and research interests relate to memory and place-making, historical memory and heritage, gender and place as well as disability studies.

 

 

 

 

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