Каталог :: Психология

Сочинение: Consistency

Liza Mirkovskaya
Professor Shaffer
English Composition 3
10 November 2003
                      Harmony within the Split Self                      
A person needs to be in harmony with himself or herself and the surrounding
world. Psychoanalysts assert that it is the main condition of the wellness of
a person. Inner harmony can be achieved only when consistency within the self
is present. Human memory is an instrument of creating consistency within the
self. Why and what do we remember? A memoir writer, Patricia Hampl, and a
psychologist, Susan Engel, have developed their own theories of memory. In
her essay, “Then and Now: Creating a Self through the Past”, Engel presents a
psychological viewpoint of creating oneself through memory. She argues that
the characteristics of the present self are determined by the past
experiences and memories one possesses. She suggests that a person cannot
exist without having memories; moreover, these memories need to be consistent
and coherent for the person to feel secure in society. Engel also expresses
the idea that the past and the present are connected through memories. Engel
presents a paradox between the self for the self, which strives to achieve
inner consistency, and the self for others, which brings up different
memories in different situations to create a different persona. Hampl bases
her theory of memory in the piece “Memory and Imagination” on her first piano
lesson. In her essay, she explores why human beings use their imagination
while remembering the past. She also asks herself why people write memoirs.
According to Hampl, a person is an interaction of two selves.  The reflective
self looks back at the narrative self to make sure that no openly false
memories are brought up. Hampl’s essay provides some deep insight on Engel’s
theory of memory. Some of Engel’s ideas about why memory is created fully
apply to Hampl’s first piano lesson. Engel claims that a person strives to
achieve harmony and consistency in the present through reconstructing past
memories. Harmony of inner world is achieved through the interaction of two
types of selves: self for the self and the self for others, according to
Engel, and narrative and reflective, according to Hampl. Each of these selves
acts differently to produce consistency within the individual. Engel also
believes that some memories serve to evoke other ones by associations.
Engel argues that human beings attempt to create a sense of consistency
within themselves. People tend to believe that their personas are coherent
and constant over time. As Elliot Aronson contends, “we like to believe we
are consistent over time and across situations” (Engel 199).  When this
coherence within the self is disrupted, an individual feels empty and
confused. A person feels that his or her moral foundation and concepts are
destroyed. Engel mentions that “we construct reality in a way that restores
our self-concept” (199). Our self-concept can only be restored in the
presence of inner harmony and consistency; thus, we try to make our reality
consistent over time. Sometimes it is hard to achieve this consistency. One
of the reasons for this matter is that it is impossible for the human mind to
store all of the images of the past. Therefore, we forget some of the events
that might have served as links, connecting other memories. As a result, our
memory tends to sometimes be abrupt and inconsistent. Engel’s claim that we
strive to achieve greater coherence within the selves applies to Hampl’s
first piano lesson in that inventing imaginary events of the past helps us to
achieve greater consistency.
According to Hampl, invention “isn’t a lie, but an act of necessity, as the
innate urge to locate personal truth always is” (187). Hampl implies that
invention of past events is an inevitable step for searching for accuracy in
memories. By truth, she refers to her knowledge of herself. Hampl asserts
that she writes to “find out what she knows” (184). As a result, she invents
some parts of the past to unify it, which helps her to find out more “truth”
about herself. Hampl acknowledges that some parts of her first piano lesson
memory are, in fact, invented. She has invented that the nun’s name was Olive
and that she possessed the Thompson book, a piano text. Hampl agrees that she
“remembers envying children who did have this wonderful book with its
pictures of children and animals printed on the pages of music” (183).
Therefore, possessing what she wanted to possess elevated her self-esteem,
which ultimately led to the greater harmony and consistency within her mind.
However, striving to achieve consistency within the self is only one part of
Engel’s theory of memory. Engel implies that part of her theory is a paradox
between the inner consistency that an individual struggles to attain and
numerous selves that the individual presents to others. Engel argues that “we
work hard to create and maintain a sense of inner cohesion and consistency in
our self-concept.” (199). While doing that, we refer to our “self for the
self”, which tries to preserve this precious inner balance by creating a
positive image of itself (198). Positive image of the self, in turn, leads to
elevated self-esteem, which leads to greater inner harmony, and, ultimately,
greater consistency.  In the meantime, a person displays many different
selves depending on the situation that person is in. Engel suggests that “we
are always remembering in the company of others”, meaning that other people
influence the kinds of memories that we bring up in the conversations (193).
Depending on how others expect to perceive our personalities, we will recall
certain events to justify their expectations. As a result, “we create
different faces, or selves, in response to different social situations”
(198). These different faces are manifestations of the self for others. Each
time, while communicating with others, we create a different persona to
emphasize certain qualities that will be valued the most at this given time.
Engel mentions that “we change past experiences so that they confirm how we
see ourselves in the moment” (200). Thus, depending on the moment, we might
recall particular events from our past to prove and display a particular
persona that we wish to be at the moment. Therefore, it is the social setting
that influences the kind of persona we would like to present, thus affecting
the memories we select.
Engel’s idea of recalling the past in the “company” (193) of other people
applies to Hampl’s first piano lesson. Hampl depicts her first experience
with the piano music by describing the people surrounding her. She talks
about what Sister Olive Marie looked like and how she acted. She mentions
that it was her father who led her into the room. Hampl remembers that Mary
Katherine Reilly was better at the piano than she was. Nowhere in her
description does Hampl describe herself: what she looked like, what she was
wearing, etc. Thus, by putting an emphasis on the description of others in
her memoir, Hampl reinforces the idea that we do recall events as they were
occurring in the company of other people.
Engel’s claim that a person consists of two selves also applies to Hampl’s
piano lesson. In the explanation of her piano lesson memory, Hampl comes to
the conclusion that it was really her two selves interacting – the narrative
self and the reflective self – to produce satisfactory memory. According to
Hampl, the narrative self is a persona telling the story and unconsciously
inventing some imaginary details to attain more consistency; the reflective
self tries to keep the narrative self “ in check” by contemplating what in
the story could have been true or false. The reflective self tries to
eliminate false memories from the story, making the memoir valid. For
example, Hampl’s narrative self was telling a story about the first piano
lesson. It unintentionally recalled false memories to fill in the gaps
between the true memories. For example, Hampl mentions that it was her father
who led her into the room with the piano, that the Sister’s name was Olive,
that she had a Thompson book with her. However, Hampl’s reflective self
became active when she was analyzing what she had remembered and what could
have been false in the story. Hampl starts questioning whether it was really
her father that showed her the way and whether the Sister’s name was truly
Olive. There is a certain paradox that Hampl faces as well. Although the
narrative self creates events that unify the memory by inventing, a memoirist
cannot afford writing about events that did not occur. That is why the
reflective self is so important to a memoir writer. Although Hampl mentions
that ideally “for a memoirist, the writing of the story is a matter of
transcription [describing dry facts]”, she cannot refrain from inventing
since transcription is a “myth of memoir” (183, 184). Therefore, a memoirist
needs to find yet another way to create a coherent and valid story through
staying away from too much invention. One way to do that is to recall
template memories.
Engel claims that there are special kinds of memories – template memories -
stored in our minds. According to Engel, a template memory is “a memory that
stands for a large more diffuse meaning or theme in person’s life” (204).
Engel implies that our memories are sorted according to themes; recalling a
certain event - a template - will cause us to remember more. Association
stored in mind is what makes us remember more of events related to the same
theme. For example, Engel recalls the tonsillectomy procedure that she had to
go through when she was five. She remembers that it was really difficult for
her to choose which parent to go home with after the operation. Engel later
remembered the tonsillectomy because she was faced with a difficult job
decision. Unconsciously, in her mind, she associated the inability to choose
between the two options that she had with having to choose between two
parents. In this case, the tonsillectomy was a template. It caused Engel to
remember her childhood, an event pertaining to the theme of choice. Engel
also claims that template memories cause people to not only remember events
but also experience feelings that they once felt while living through a
particular event. For example, when Engel had to decide which parent to go
home with, she felt concern of her parents, hesitation, misery for having
chosen her father instead of her mother, and uneasiness in relations with her
father. When she had to make a choice related to her job, she also
experienced hesitation, uneasiness, and desperation.
The claim of templates fully applies to Hampl’s first piano lesson. Hampl
remembers that when she was seven, her father took her to her first piano
lesson. The piano lesson itself acts as a template memory. However, this
“template” causes Hampl to remember more about the lesson. Hampl recalls that
the room was “full of pianos. There many little girls and a single sad boy
were playing truly tortured scales and arpeggios in a mash of troubled sound”
(181).  Hampl’s teacher, Sister Olive, “was a small, plump woman; her body
and the small window of her face seemed to interpret the entire alphabet of
olive.” (181). Hampl remembers that Sister Olive used to sneeze a lot, which
seemed strange to little Hampl. She recalls that Sister Olive gave her a
Thompson book and told her to practice. At the same time, Mary Katherine
Reilly was playing something much more sophisticated, which made Hampl feel
inferior. All of these events are caused by the template memory – the piano
lesson. Hampl would probably never remember them as single events had she
never thought of her piano lesson. While recalling her first piano lesson,
Hampl also remembers her feelings at the moment. In her essay, she implies
that she experienced fear of the unknown, inferiority, and boredom. She felt
estranged in the unfamiliar place.
Both Engel and Hampl assert that memory is essential in constructing a self
through the past.  Human identity, to be useful in the society, needs to be
coherent and in harmony with itself. Despite the conflict between the
different selves, human beings strive to attain harmony. This demanding inner
effort of human beings is necessary to preserve human uniqueness and stay
connected to the society. Thus, by overcoming internal and external
conflicts, human beings, with all their life memories, come to realize their
ideals and goals.
                                   Works Cited                                   
Engel, Susan. “Then and Now: Creating a Self Through the Past”. Mind
Readings: An  Anthology for Writers. Ed. Gary Colombo. Boston/New York:
Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002. 193-204.
Hampl, Patricia. “Memory and Imagination”.  Mind Readings: An Anthology for
Writers. Ed. Gary Colombo. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002.
181-190.