The existential imperative in narrating experience
The idea that the act of narrating one’s experience, in particular reorganizing disruptive experiences into a coherent story, is conducive to well-being has become popular in the social sciences and in therapeutic practice. Ways of remembering and narrating draw on templates of the larger societal, historical, and cultural context and thus situate the memory of one’s particular experience within a collectively shared world. However, other voices argue that the driving force of storytelling is less the need for coherence or continuity, but rather the reconstruction of a sense of agency in intersubjective relationships. This paper will explore the question of what is at stake, what is existentially imperative, in the human practice of narrating experience. Using a phenomenological framework that pays attention to the intersubjective space of perception and experience, I will apply narrative approaches drawing on medical anthropolog y, linguistics, and psychology to my conversations with Mary, a long-time caregiver for chronically ill family members.
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