(Bautista, personal photograph through a window in HRM taken 01-17-2015)
The thought of self-identity becomes a compound perpetually shaped by the contexts of our lives. Much more than a one-dimensional notion, identity is laced with historical, cultural, and social influences and is shaped further by personal factors, including but not limited to, experience, time, and memory. In this post, I travel through what I deem three personal realms of identity: experience, time and memory. I attempt to convey where my thoughts lie at this point in time and so, I do not set my understandings of identity in stone. I know they will change because identity is an ever-changing principle of understanding the self in relation to others.
Through examining our role in our experiences, a notion of the self is created. Miller (1994) writes of the “surprise of a recognizable person” (p.505) as the self who is constructed through language and other forms of social organization. This “recognizable person” is the product of history, culture, society and language. These contexts then shape the constructions and representations of self and other.
For the self and other, Laing (1971) argues for complementarity, “the function of personal relations whereby the other fulfils or completes the self….This function is biologically determined at one level, and a matter of highly individualized choice at the other extreme. Complementarity is more or less formalized, culturally conditioned” (p.82-83). From Laing (1971), I gather that the interrelationship between the self and other may sometimes conflict, but positive or negative, the two co-exist. When we objectify identity, for example, we say we lose our identity, we are acknowledging that we do not presently know our relationship between self and other. “Every relationship implies a definition of self by other and other by self. This complementarity can be central or peripheral, have greater or less dynamic significance at different periods of one’s life…A person’s identity cannot be completely abstracted from his identity-for-others. His identity-for-himself; the identity others ascribe to him; the identities he attributes to them; the identity or identities he thinks they attribute to him; what he thinks they think he thinks they think…(Laing, 1971, p.86). From Laing, there is no complete separation between self and other.
Identity exists over time. The self over time represents experiences gathering within the wider contexts of history, culture and society. Crites (1971, 1986) asserts that I is the recollector (present) in discussion of self (past) and further discussion of the future. As the story of the self begins to weave its way into the tapestry of meaning, some parts of it become more important, “emerging from obscurity”, and others become less so. Crites (1986) sees self as an aesthetic construct; “the more complete the narrative story, the more integrated the self becomes” (p.161). Similarly, Kerby (1991) understands selfhood as “a degree of identity, of self identity over time” (p.4). For me, another way of understanding identity is through time as it influences my past and current personal narratives.
From Zinsser (1987), I read how the credibility of one’s memory and the perception one has of a vivid moment of life are problematic. An individual’s specific memory of a life event is recounted and re-experienced by the speaker, but others involved in the memory might have a different understanding of the same experience.
In recounting the past, I must be aware of the status of the memories I choose to share. When I write them down, they become my interpretations of my lived experiences. Reading my memories is like looking at paintings and so I might interpret something differently than another who lives within the memory.
As Zinsser (1987) writes, “one of the most powerful of a writer’s tools, is one of the most unreliable” (p.12) or inventive. Likewise, Schachter (1996) writes, “our memories are the fragile but powerful products of what we recall from the past, believe about the present and imagine about the future” (p.308). My memories are my (re)visions of my past. They are slices of time as relived by me but I cannot write about them as the definitive way of knowing the past. I can, however, write about them as contributory to the current and future puzzling of my negotiation of identity.
Experience, time and memory, my three dimensions or ways of beginning to understanding identity, travel with each other inward and outward upon the self. I reiterate that the contexts of the self/other relationship, the knowledge of experiences over time and the power of memory become vital tools of negotiation for my explorations of self-identity. These aspects of identity construction take place in my personal and professional experiences, and they resonate with my understanding of who I am in the classroom.
At a used bookstore on College Street in the summer of 2003, I found Laing’s Self and Others on a shelf marked Critical Theory. I wondered at the simplicity of its title, and picked it up. The book found me. I bought it. This is not the end of the story.
 My work advocates inclusiveness, yet Laing, refers to a patriarchal sense of mankind=humankind, where “he”=s/he, or so I assume. I could rewrite the passage in politically correct form but choose not to because they are Laing’s words.
Crites, S. (1971). The narrative quality of experience. American Academy of Religion Journal. v.39(3), 291-311.
Crites, S. (1986). Storytime: Recollecting the past and projecting the future. In T. R. Sarbin. (Ed.) Narrative Psychology: The Storied Nature of Human Conduct, (Chapter 8). New York: Praegar Special Studies.
Kerby, A. P. (1991). Narrative and the self. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Laing, R.D. (1961). Self and Others. Middlesex England: Penguin Books, Ltd.
Miller, J. L. (1994). “The surprise of the recognizable person” as a troubling presence in educational research and writing. Curriculum Inquiry. 24(4), 503-12. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
Schachter, D. L. (1996). Searching for memory : the brain, the mind, and the past. New York, NY : BasicBooks.
Zinsser, W.K. (1987). Introduction. In W. K. Zinsser (Ed.) Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. Boston,
Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1-6