Version: v1, Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 20, 2019, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/memory/v-1
2. Contemporary work: retention, imagery and feeling
Retention and recollection. Those who suffer from amnesia, knowing neither who they are, nor any event of their previous lives, retain most of their know-how intact. An amnesiac victim might join in a philosophical discussion, only learning from the impression made on others that they must have practised philosophy during that lost section of their lives. No one is surprised that an amnesiac can speak their mother tongue, nor that they can walk, sing and bargain. Thus, memory as retention of skills is different from the recollection of events, neighbourhoods, smells and sounds.
Imagery. As practised by Wittgenstein, Ryle and J.L. Austin, philosophy broke away from an entrancement with memory as a present image within which one must discern pastness and valid indications of the past. Much of what we call remembering has little to do with the possession of imagery. And, though some events come back to us in flashes of imagery, more is required before one remembers anything coherently. On the other hand, aware of little but the buzz of our conversation we may be recalling things with great accuracy. Similarly, depending on no prior image of the tune, one may hum a melody heard at a concert the previous evening. The recall may leave us with images; images of the past need not have provided the recall. Unable to remember someone’s expression, we might mimic it. A flash of an image may facilitate that mimesis but, equally, the effort of producing the facial expression may be what lets loose our imagery. Thus images, sometimes central to remembering, may be more product than cause of recall (see Imagery).
Feelings. Though displaced from the centre of our picture of memory, imagery remains strongly associated with our elemental feelings about this power to recall. Perhaps this is because of the importance to us of certain intimate forms of remembering, particularly reminiscing and reliving, which vitally involve either imagery or emotion. True, reliving the past in animated conversation may involve little imagery of it. Yet, in the absence of specific imagery, our feelings – some shadow or reanimation of how we felt at the time, are essential to our reliving the past rather than simply reporting it from memory. These feelings we have in reliving prior experiences themselves have something of the quality of images. So, while memory does not consist in a memory image, the existence of a complex interplay of image and affect in the processes of recall is important to the cluster of ideas brought together under memory.
The dead past. To undergo an experience of recall is to be subject to the return of the past – only a metaphor, yet irreplaceable in a philosophy of memory. (In French, the principal verbs of recall are se souvenir – to bring oneself under (the past), and se rappeller – to call (the past) back to oneself.) Yet, remembering as bringing back what happened, or as reliving the past, encounters an impasse – accounts of memory are haunted by the notion of the past as dead, as if requiring memory’s miracle of resurrection. The desire to remember thus encounters the limits met by mourning – itself a principal paradigm and emblem for memory in general. As memory would revive the events known to be past, in mourning the impulse is to address, as if to recall, the one known to have died.
Deutscher, Max. Contemporary work: retention, imagery and feeling. Memory, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V020-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/memory/v-1/sections/contemporary-work-retention-imagery-and-feeling.
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