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Taylor Swift’s Archive of Love: The Memory Theory of Personal Identity in Mine


The Basics

In Mine, Taylor Swift returns to one of her favorite themes: memory. In the chorus, she recalls an early moment from her relationship when she was sitting by the water with her partner and she started to believe in love for the first time. In the second verse, she remembers how that memory got her through the mundanity of early adult life, including paying bills. “When it was hard to take, This is what I thought about / Do you remember we were sitting there by the water…” In the bridge, she recalls another scenario where her partner recalled “how we felt sitting by the water” etc. in order to end a fight.


Literary Device: Polyptoton

Polyptoton is the repetition of a word with the same root but different endings. Taylor Swift deploys polyptoton in the phrase “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.” In this example, the two different endings are also antonyms: careless and careful. Not only is the polyptoton catchy as hell, but it demonstrates how carelessness has transformed into carefulness and then rebellion over time, providing a foil to the stability of the relationship.


Analysis

Over the past three albums, Taylor Swift has made significant contributions to the philosophy of memory and Mine is her most sophisticated take thus far. First, Swift comments on the recursive nature of memory. The moment at the center of this song is so pivotal that it is remembered both as a significant memory on its own as well as the subject of two other memories. The initial memory has become a site of discourse upon which further memories can be constructed. Second, the memory is recalled intentionally. Swift first recalls it to her partner, then recalls it to herself, and finally has it recounted back to her by her partner. Mine is an antithesis of Picture to Burn. Instead of throwing moments from a relationship into an incinerator, Swift and her partner choose to remember them. Indeed, this relationship is successful because they constantly and intentionally reminds both themselves and each other about moments of past love.


In Mine, Taylor advances the Memory Theory of Personal identity, according to which personal identity IS memory. As Copenhaver astutely summarizes, “What makes a person identical with herself over time is her remembering or being able to remember the events to which she was witness… If she can episodically remember an event, then her recollection or ability to recall that event makes her identical with the person represented in her first memory.”* Taylor Swift adds to the discourse on Memory Theory by exploring the role that memory plays in the identity of a couple rather than an individual. The relationship at the center of Mine is defined by their shared memories. They intentionally construct their identity as a couple by repeatedly recalling and building upon memories of pivotal moments. Their relationship is thus both defined by a series of pivotal moments as well as the act of remembering itself. When things are difficult, they remind themselves that they are identical with the couple that once sat by the water and began to believe in love.




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*Copenhaver, Rebecca, "Reid on Memory and Personal Identity", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2018/entries/reid-memory-identity/>.


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