Narrative, understanding, and the self: Heidegger and the interpretation of lived experience
Roth, Benjamin M.
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Since work by Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, and Paul Ricoeur, there has been sustained interest among philosophers in the view that narrative plays an essential role in how we understand our lives and selves or--more radically--in how we constitute ourselves as full persons. At one extreme, MacIntyre and Taylor argue that our desires and commitments are hierarchically organized, in the best case unifying our lives into narrative quests. At the other extreme, Galen Strawson has attacked narrativity as far from universal, as well as spurious when taken as an ideal. Thinkers such as Marya Schechtman, Peter Goldie, Daniel Dennett, and David Velleman defend conceptions between these extremes. After examining this background in detail, my dissertation offers an interpretation of Heidegger that supports a revised conception of narrative's role in self-understanding. Whereas existing theories are driven by master metaphors of the self as author, the self as a character, or of lives as stories, I argue that the relationship between the self and narrative is better understood through a notion of reading. Heidegger scholars disagree as to whether the notions of authenticity and historicality put forward in Being and Time support a narrative conception of the self. In my view, Heideggerian "everydayness"--how we are, prior to any reckoning with authenticity--amounts already to a version of the narrative self. Just as readers mid-story understand characters by projecting where they are going, we understand who we are by projecting provisional plotlines for our futures. Such understanding is made explicit in textual narratives, which preserve the structure of lived experience better than any other form of description. Literary narratives, especially certain kinds of experimental rather than "realist" ones, most accurately represent the structure of existential possibilities. Heidegger's notion of truth as disclosing provides a frame which makes the anti-naturalist implications of narrativity more coherent. By bracketing Heidegger's controversial notion of authenticity, conversation with recent work in Anglo-American philosophy on narrative and the self is facilitated. My revised conception of the narrative self establishes a basis for further work on how we use narrative to understand and organize our lives.