Manual Identity and story: creating self in narrative

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Sacks recounts the case of a patient with a memory disorder that rendered him unable to recognize not only others but himself — unable, that is, to retain the autobiographical facts which a person constellates into a selfhood.

To compensate for this amnesiac anomaly, the man unconsciously invented countless phantasmagorical narratives about who he was and what he had done in his life, crowding the void of his identity with imagined selves and experiences he fully believed were real, were his own, far surpassing what any one person could compress into a single lifetime. Who are you? But just as depression can be seen as melancholy in the complex clinical extreme and bipolar disorder as moodiness in the complex clinical extreme, every pathological malady of the mind is a complex clinical extreme of a core human tendency that inheres in each of our minds in tamer degrees.

Introduction to Story of Self - Public Narrative - Lesson 9

By magnifying basic tendencies to such extraordinary extremes, clinical cases offer a singular lens on how the ordinary mind works — and that, of course, is the great gift of Oliver Sacks, who wrests from his particular patient case studies uncommon insight into the universals of human nature.

We have, each of us, a life-story, an inner narrative — whose continuity, whose sense, is our lives. Each of us is a singular narrative, which is constructed, continually, unconsciously, by, through, and in us — through our perceptions, our feelings, our thoughts, our actions; and, not least, our discourse, our spoken narrations.

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Biologically, physiologically, we are not so different from each other; historically, as narratives — we are each of us unique. To be ourselves we must have ourselves — possess, if need be re-possess, our life-stories.

20907460 McAdams Josselson Lieblich Ed Identity and Story Creating Self in Narrative 2006

Identity and Story: creating self in narrative. Can one's narrative identity be captured in a single, grand, synthesizing story?


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Consider your own response to a request to "tell your life story. Part of the problem is in the singularity and finality of the phrase your life story--as if there could be a definitive account.

Identity and Story: Creating Self in Narrative

The phrase presupposes a narrative that is linear, integrated, and coherent, with all the facts about your life neatly tied together with a golden thread, a single narrative voice. I think this assumption is problematic. The story you tell will probably be but one story from a number of possibilities, and therefore the life story could never be encompassed by a monologue.

In what follows I argue that the life story is really more like a conversation of narrators, or perhaps a war of historians in your head.