On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and Interpretation ed. David Wood
(London and New York: Routeledge, 1991)
“Fiction contributes to making life… a human life”
Ricoeur speaks critically of the oversimplification and “too direct” approach in the assimilation of Lived Experience to the “confines” of narrative (page 20). He advocates that the relationship between life and narrative is reformulated in the context of recognition of the role of receiver through the mode of “emplotment” (page 21); or synthesis between multiple and complex life experiences and the simplification (codification?) of this experience into a story “totality”. Ricoeur describes the act of following the story as guided by shifting expectations of the receiver, open to adjustment, as a synthetic activity sensitive to the temporal characteristics and configurating of story “drawing a configuration out of a succession” into a mode of “intelligibility” (page 22). Ricoeur emphasises thus the poetic revealing of universal truth of the human condition (reflecting upon Aristotle) as a mode of narrative understanding “much closer to the practical wisdom of moral judgement than to Science” (page 23). Ricoeur reflects in the scientific discourse of narratology, of recounting as “simulating at second order” as a model of translation. That stories are recounted syntheses of lived life proposing an “unbridgeable gap” (page 25) that Ricoeur solves by reminding us that the reformulation is to the mind of the reader and not the text (or film?) itself (page 26); that therefore the act of receiving determines the “critical moment” where experience is shaped. Ricoeur speaks of the “extrapolation from linguistics to Poetics” where the transfer from the vehicle to the receiver in an act of interpretation takes place.
“Following a narrative is reactualizing the configuring act which gives it its form”
The act of receiving (be it reading or watching), according to Ricoeur, is the act of completion, of “living in the mode of the imaginary” (page 27) where the disparities between lived experience and recounting are reconciled, and where interpretation of live is mediated through fictional reimagining (page 28). Ricoeur speaks of the psychophysiological complexity of human life constituted in the “semantics of action” (page 28) that forms the structure of lived experience, interpreted through expressions, concepts and languages; manifestly different and distinguishable from the animal; through “symbolic mediation”. The symbolism of living. Ricoeur deducts that physical symbols (such as waving or gesturing) give readability to actions yet precede interpretation; acting as a bridge between action and synthesis. As such that there is a “pre narrative quality to human experience” (page 29)
Ricoeur encroaches upon the territory of the ineffable; citing the untold stories or those fragmented accounts faced by therapists, of trauma; manifested in dreams “primal scenes” offering hidden repressed glimpses into unrecounted lives, of the strength of personal identity in narrative (page 30) and of the “prehistory” entanglement of unspoken stories before stories. Ricoeur reflects on Socrates’ idea of the examined life as a life “recounted” (page 31), of the tensions between concordance and discordance (quoting Augustine), and of the instability of the present considering the gaze of the past and future; the existential and temporal (poetic?) experience of humans, the bite of tragedy. Ricoeur describes the acts of becoming in our own narratives, authoring our own heroes, masking ourselves as the characters we create, yet never being the author of our own lives (page 32). Ricoeur recognises the unbridgeable divide between life and narrative yet he understands the opportunities for self-understanding through the imagination.
Stephen Madigan PhD
Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy
Paper: Re-authoring Conversations (no date)
Madigan tells of the “withered traces” (page 2) reformed through Narrative Therapy as “unique outcomes” – areas of neglected memory bolstered by the retelling process. Madigan likens the routine sequential recall of memory reconstruction as performative plot sequences that serves to build new blocks of self-identity; eventually forming a scaffolding of resurrected memory prompted by therapy-led investigation. Madigan reflects on Epson and White’s (1989) comparison of the authoring of “texts of literary merit” in order to initiate “dramatic re-engagement” with their own experiences of life. This serves as a forceful mode of reclaiming self-story in a vigorous mode of reconstruction, even filling in blanks and determining the shape of future action (page 4). This mode of dramatic intervention arguably lends itself to the literary expression of story in fictional reimagining, where literary merit might translate equally into artistic merit. Madigan establishes through the distinction made by Bruner (1986, 1990) of the two prominent modes of thinking and constructing reality; argument and a “good story”, of truth and of likeness (page 5) emphasising man’s predisposition to modes of narrative in the face of “heartless” empiricism (Bruner, 1986).
Creating an significant narrative event (such as a film) may serve to more effectively engage cognitive processing, engage imagination, and consideration of potential success. Alternatives of low-level retelling in the modes of self-help have mostly failed to impact feelings or behaviours in my experience. Indeed the commitment to a major undertaking has thus far been the only means to break through the doldrums of self monologue and dry structuralist self definition (for example the taxonomy of labelling) into "non-structuralist categories of identity – intentions and purposes, values and beliefs, hopes, dreams and visions, commitments to ways of living"; Madigan in a conversation with White, (page 5). The idea of "visions" as a mechanism for retelling is a compelling one.
SAGE Encyclopedia of Abnormal and Clinical Psychology
(Please refrain from quoting until Chapter is published in late Fall, 2015)
Anja Bjoroy, Stephen Madigan, David Nylund
In this paper, relational/ contextual/ anti-individualist therapeutic approaches of Narrative Therapy are contrasted with decontextualized, “skin-bound”, non-relational, individual-self oriented approaches. (Madigan, 1992, 2011).
The approach serves to add cultural contextualisation embracing wider anthropological factors that draw the problem from individualistic positioning and rather placing the emphasis in an externalising mode. References are made to the “politics of identity” (page 1) and relates to the individual right of story ownership. The theme of separation of person from problem is recurring and presents significant ideas of personal responsibility and of being subject to the problem behaviour rather than being a part of it. (Externalising the problem). This shift in perspective presents difficult in challenging the origins of tightly bound self-identity with the problem (in the researcher’s experience) in circumstances where automatic self-identification as the problem is persistent.
Narrative therapy in this context loosens these bindings by serving to present alternatives to the dominant story and allows opportunities for re-writing (or redrawing?) the narrative (Madigan and Epston, 1995; Madigan, 2007). In the researcher’s own artistic proposal, there are strong metaphors of rebuilding or reconstruction in the film narrative, and indeed the whole endeavour is manifestly a restructuring of the story around self-sabotage (where this is overcome). The paper raises the purpose of accountability to the “right to tell”, where the re-authoring process contrasts with therapeutic labelling (being told) In this sense, there is a cognitive reemphasising process of meaningful story points in self-identity thereby weakening the hold of the problem (Madigan, page 2).
The paper describes Faucault’s (1965) notions of the tussle of influence between person and problem, and the ramifications relating to how these ideas are codified in language. In the model presented (page 3), questions are designed to establish clear delineation, and challenge the primacy of the problem, prising out instances that counter the dominant perception. Narrative approaches are described as a means to contextualise the problem often seen as individualistic; reframing the emphasis around culturally and communally created issues, rather than the highly personalised and irrational views held that ascribe blame to the self.
Considering life without the problem
The exploration and suggestion of alternative stories invites space to reconsider the influence of the problem (page 4) and fosters the visualisation of contradictory evidence designed to challenge the dominant narrative. Once these initial hooks achieve traction, further questions allude to the “grammar of agency” (Page 4) where steps are uncovered as evidence of resistance, or of conscious efforts of control are retold.
Chapter 8 in:
Hope and Despair in Narrative and Family Therapy: Adversity, Forgiveness and
Reconciliation, Flaskas C., McCarthy I., and Sheehan J. (eds.). Hove: Brunner-
Anticipating hope within written and naming domains of despair
By Stephen Madigan
In his paper Madigan advocates for a shift away from institutional labelling “pathologizing” and “pathology oriented” thinking inherent in the “relational politics of dominant norms” in clinical psychology. To the layman, this relates to the suite of around 400 potential and institutionally described dysfunctional states of the human mind, into which clinicians are seemingly keen to funnel each presentation of (so-called) abnormality. Madigan describes the “post structural dialogic view of self” as the mode by which narrative recoding is able circumnavigate the constraints of dialectic thinking (where supremacy of the dominant mode is established and adhered to). Madigan describes the rigidity of pathologized identity as a mechanism whereby the dysfunctional person is appropriated into preconditioned labels, which in turn serves to decontextualize the reality of their experience. In this mode of preconditioning, Madigan believes that any anticipation of hope is extinguished once the institutional label is applied to the person, and argues that “the client is instructed to anticipate the limits of their life course in a particular & non hopeful way” (page 177).
Institutional labelling serves to bind the person with their problem when the goal is to detach the sufferer from their suffering and prove that they can potentially become free from these imposed states of being. Lived experience reveals the constant state of self-binding activity inherent in the narrative of person and problem. Carrying a label of “ACOA”, or GAD sufferer is possibly self-fulfilling in this sense in terms of performing the pathologizing role on behalf of the institutionalised practitioner. Madigan therefore speaks of the limitations in the discreet taxonomy of dominant knowledge, that “problem identity”, however externally derived or classified, is manifestly misrepresentative or decontextualized from individual identity (page 181).
Madigan reflects upon the limitations of therapeutic interview models, suggesting alternative and more critical “counter viewing” approaches that seek to establish greater contextual truth around individual problems that allow for opportunities to apprehend the possibility of alternative (and more hopeful) outcomes. His approach is to create “spaces of resistance” in order to dispel the often seemingly hopeless dominant narrative.