Against Narrativity? // Interdisciplinary Seminar on Narrative

Strawson - I am not a story

When Galen Strawson’s essay “Against Narrativity” came out in 2004 it generated a few responses from different voices among those interested in narrative inquiry and narrative theory.

11 years later, in 2015, an article on Aeon dealing with the same topic has been read and reposted on social media by more than 9,000 people.

Rereading the essay I noticed some passages that I missed the first time so I decided to suggest it for our seminar. I’m happy I did it because it definitely sparked a lively and thought-provoking debate.

Almost everybody agrees that Strawson is working with a definition of “narrativity” that is too demanding and it would be interesting to reconsider his claims in relation to conceptions more focused on temporal effects or, for instance, experientiality.

Anyway, here are some of the thoughts emerged during the discussion:

  • it seems like we have three kinds of memories: 1. The way I remember how to swim; 2. The way I remember what is the capital of Italy; 3.┬áThe way I remember what happened to me yesterday.
  • Traumas are challenging for Narrative memory because they block some memories or continuously propose some others in a fragmented way.
  • As long as I don’t perceive myself as a story, everything is still possible and virtually available. Looking for a narrative sense in one’s own life it is not necessarily a good thing.
  • The narrative about the Self is always generative (in both a good and a bad way).
  • In what form can we tell an episodic life? What discursive form can present a memory which has a “from-the-inside character”? Should it be something like Franz Stanzel’s “figural narrative situation”?
  • Is a “form-finding tendency” really essential to being Narrative? Or is narrativity more about a relations-finding tendency?
  • The difference between Episodic and Narrative is not only related to personal features, it’s also dependent on external factors: e.g., the (episodic) perception of a generational gap prompts us to reflect on the Narrativity of the Self; a fragmented and episodic perception of Self can push someone towards strong collective narratives, like religious fundamentalism and other radical ideologies.
  • The temporality displayed in the objects that surrounds us affects our perception of ourselves.
  • Linguistic affordances and cultural specificity have a role in Self perception: e.g., in Japanese the pronoun jibun refers to the way I perceive myself in relation to the whole me, whereas the pronoun watashi is used for self-reference in relation to the way the others see ourselves.

Given the interest for the topic, our next reading will be “Memory and Narrativity” by Daniel D. Hutto. Yes, we kind of like philosophers, apparently…

In the meanwhile, you can read more about Strawson’s conception of the Self in his book Selves.

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