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Autobiographical Memory and Identity Updating - page 13 / 19





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she both is and isn’t in the early family picture.  In her account, Mary (Sue) marries into a family with a number of women sharing the name “Mary Sue.”  This may or may not be a coincidence, but clearly Mary comes to see her family as containing not just individual women named Mary Sue, but a kind of slot for “ a Mary Sue” which she eventually comes to occupy.    The way she intones the line of Mary Sues in her new family, together with her insistence that she be distinguished as “Mary” suggests the degree to which she maintains a hybrid identity, at once distinct and yet also incorporated by both first and last name into her new family.  She has a strong collective identity that in no way prevents her from having a strong and assertive sense of self.13

Salem campers enjoy having their photos taken holding photos of their mothers or fathers who are no longer alive or pictures of themselves at the campground when they were young. There is a strong sense of identification with relatives and earlier incarnations of self through comparing oneself with old photographic images.  I watched with fascination as one of Mary Ramsey’s grandaughters held up an old photo of her great grandparents next to her own face.

Mary: This is Spence’s mother and daddy. Your grand father’s mother and daddy.

Grandaughter: Yes, last year we were looking at this and saying how we thought I kind of look like him. [To her mother] Do you think I look like him.

Mother: I think you do.

In addition to photos campers use old height markers on doors, or even drawn hand prints they left decades earlier on house rafters as a way to mark both continuity and change.  One woman who married into the camp meeting traditions took us on a tour of her tent and pointed to old markings and drawings on the rafters of the attic bunk room.

When I first came here the thing that got to me was I would see the things (points to the rafter marks) my husband had written when he was a little boy. And now my kid’s handprints are up there.  Me and my husband wrote that one before our kids were born. We used to sleep up here when we first got married.

Reciprocal Identification and the Blurring of Generations

Many campers have virtually a whole lifetime of common history at Salem as well as a symbolically powerful mutual framework of through which to relate.  The shared memories and the shared ritual becomes important collective resources for identity updating.  Such a setting  

makes possible very powerful strategies of reciprocal identification which allows individuals to coordinate their identities and memory structures such that their identities are always both personal and collective.  People come to see themselves in and through one another in a way that is possible only in a deeply shared symbolic setting like camp meeting.  For example, following the eveniong service, as people streamed out of the Tabernacle and headed to their tents, an older man approach a little boy who was getting on his bicycle.  “What’s your name?” he asks the boy.  “Jack,” the boy relies.  “Well Jack, I knew your mother when she was your age.”  This kind of link establishes between the older man and the boy is a complex kind of identification, in which the boy is forced to imagine his own mother as a little girl of his age, standing in the same place as he is now.  This kind of complex historical reciprocity of identification is very common at camp meeting and appears to have significant memory effects for campers as they grow older.

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