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Anthony Paul Kerby THE ADEQUACY OF SELF-NARRATION: A HERMENEUTICAL APPROACH An important question that arises from the increasing contemporary emphasis on the self as a narrative construct concerns the adequacy or truthfulness of the narrative accounts we give ofourselves. What, for example, stops our self-narrations and self-characterizations from becoming, in many cases, mere flights of fancy or fictions? If, on a fairly radical view, the self is taken to be a product of narrative emplotment, then clearly the above question cannot be answered by a simple appeal to what the narrative is supposed to represent or copyas though the selfwere first given to us external or prior to the narrative. It is not immediately clear, however, just what a narrative account of the human subject could be adequate to, and, if we were to grant some prenarrative status to the human subject, it is also not clear whether the imposition of narrative structures falsifies the "truth" of this latter subject. What we shall examine, then, is precisely this important question of adequacy and various problems that surround it. To bring these problems into focus and offer some solutions, we shall consider both self-narration and the writing of history. These solutions will have a decidedly hermeneutical flavor, and for one principal reason: hermeneutics, especially as represented by Gadamer and Ricoeur, is particularly suited to addressing questions of self-expression while avoiding traditional metaphysical presuppositions about the human subject . Let us begin with a few words on hermeneutics. To offer a hermeneutics of something will presumably commit one to certain philosophical and methodological presuppositions. To see what these presuppositions are we might briefly compare hermeneutics to two of its close neighbors: phenomenology and semiotics. I believe 232 Anthony Paul Kerby233 diät these three positions are all of value and that their central insights must be integrated. Contemporary hermeneutics can be viewed as usefully fulfilling this latter task. On the one hand, a hermeneutic philosophy can accept the phenomenological starting point of immediacy to phenomena. However, it does not delude itself into thinking that there is a privileged mode of access to phenomena that would disconnect the categories of our particular historical and linguistic heritage. On the other hand, while recognizing that our understanding is mediated by language and semiotic systems generally—the signifying networks of exchange and communication—hermeneutics need notlose contactwith the life-experiences of the subjects within this semiotic realm. That is, we not only come to understand the sign systems operative in our world, but also, to some degree, ourselves as we act in and through them. As Ricoeur often stresses, semiotics (and structuralism) have still to take the final step of accounting for the experiencing subjects presupposed by any structural social system. Semiotics would, at its extreme point, remain arbitrary with respect to phenomenological experience, just as phenomenology would remain silent if it were consistendy to avoid the conceptual and cultural biases of our languages. Thus, while presupposing individual human experience (and worldliness ), hermeneutics can still accept that such experience only achieves expression and explicit understandingin the semiotic realm, and further that this expression is not the duplication of a fully formed but preexpressed understanding, for understanding is only first grasped at the level of expression. As Gadamer has written: "Being that can be understood is language," but this is not to deny the existence of some matter at hand, a hermeneutic Sache selbst, that thereby comes to language ; in our case the human subject itself. Hermeneutics is essentially a reflexive philosophy, but one which rejects the absolute starting point of the Cartesian subject. The subject's self-understanding is an interpretive process, where we must recognize interpretation as an integral part of the subject's very being. Charles Taylor sums up this hermeneutic situation by saying that man "cannot be understood simply as an object among objects, for his life incorporates an interpretation, an expression of which cannot exist unexpressed, because the self that is to be interpreted is essentially that of a being who self-interprets." ' This position, which implies a rejection of both subjectivism and die metaphysics of presence, problematizes self-understanding by viewing the self as mediated by its...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 232-244
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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