WHITE GLOVES: How We Create Ourselves Through Memory by John Kotre

WHITE GLOVES: How We Create Ourselves Through Memory

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A psychologist attempts to answer some basic questions: Why do certain memories stay with us while others fade? Why do our recollections of events change over time? And why does memory seem to play tricks on us? A river of memory flows through our lives, according to Kotre (Univ. of Michigan; Seasons of Life, 1990), and its purpose is the creation of meaning about the self. He describes memory as a hierarchical system. At the bottom are vivid recollections of specific events; above them are general impressions, or generic memories; as one ascends the hierarchy these become more thematic, more laden with meaning. At the apex of Kotre's scheme is the self, which he says is both the product of the hierarchy and the creator of its meaning. He traces the ways in which the remembering self and the remembered self -- the ""I"" and the ""me"" -- develop from birth to adulthood, and he speculates that memories may become more mythic in old age as individual events take on special significance in shaping the story of one's life. Kotre liberally illustrates his ideas with his own memories (the white gloves of the title belonged to his grandfather), numerous case histories from psychological literature, and recent events (John Dean, Ronald Reagan, and Anita Hill all appear in these pages). He sidesteps the controversial issue of recovered memory, saying merely that as a juror he wouldn't convict if such a memory were the sole evidence, but that as a therapist he would take these memories on their own terms and trust what he encountered. There is little hard science here but lots of behavioral data, conjecture, and theory. The construct of memory that Kotre offers seems flimsy once it's stripped of the padding provided by his own memories and numerous stories. Readable and often entertaining, but hardly compelling.

Pub Date: June 21st, 1995
Page count: 268pp
Publisher: Free Press