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.