Life as narrative

We do not really know someone unless or until we know their story.

We might know their history or their pedigree, but do we know their story? We might have heard their stories and anecdotes, but do we know their story?

And we know that we know their story when we can tell it. In fact, many deep conversations consist in telling a person’s narrative back to him/her.

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A life is not an unrelated series of actions or projects or states of being.  A life has, we might say, a trajectory. It is lived in a temporal thickness.  Even if my life’s trajectory seems disjointed or to lack continuity, it is my life that is disconnected in its unfolding, not elements of several different lives.

If a life has a trajectory, then it can be conceived narratively.  A human life can be seen as a story, or as a series of stories that are more or less related.  This does not mean that the person whose life it is must conceive it or live it narratively.  I needn’t say to myself, “Here’s the story I want construct,” or, “This is the story so far.” What it means rather is that, if one reflected on one’s life, one could reasonably see it in terms of various story lines, whether parallel or intersecting or distinct.  This idea can be traced back to Aristotle’s “Ethics,” but has made a reappearance with some recent narrative conceptions of what a self is.