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  • The Truth about Narrative, Or:How Does Narrative Matter?
  • Ruth Ronen and Efrat Biberman

In the summer of 1898, a sixteen-year-old girl, intelligent and good looking, entered Freud's clinic in Vienna. The girl, whom Freud would call Dora, suffered recurrent attacks of aphonia (inability to speak) and of coughing, attacks that came on and passed off spontaneously. Freud soon discovers that Dora's illness is connected to the love affair her father is having with a Frau K., a family acquaintance, while the lover's husband is courting Dora herself. In analyzing the history of Dora, Freud unfolds the course of events that brought Dora to the clinic and produces her case by means of a fragmentary discourse consisting of Dora's speech, her dreams and thoughts as revealed to Freud while the analysis was going on. The psychoanalytic discourse yet also consists of Freud's own reports and interpretations of Dora's dreams, actions and speech and of his overall understanding of her case, an understanding that undergoes a few radical changes during the analysis. When Dora decides to leave the treatment three months later, which is much too soon in Freud's view, Freud interprets her act as an act of vengeance against himself, repeating her neurotic reactions to the romantic complexity she recounted through the person of Freud. However, when Freud learns later that Dora got married and has overcome her hysterical sicknesses, he re-reads her second dream as announcing that Dora was about to tear herself free from her father (from Mr. K. she tore herself free through an act of vengeance) and "had been reclaimed once more by the realities of life."1

How has the narration of the case of Dora by herself and by Freud, changed her situation from a hysterical subject who suffers from severe symptoms, to a subject "able to be reclaimed by the realities of life"? [End Page 118] How has Dora's spoken words to Freud, and his way of responding and directing her speech, changed her situation so radically? What is the power of narrative in changing or affecting the object of narration? What constitutes the "true story" of a subject and how is it affected by the narrative modes by which the story is presented? Can narrative change the facts of the matter narrated? In this paper, as part of the attempt to define the constitutive power of narrative, a power that cannot yet reduce the constituted subject to an effect of discourse (Dora after psychoanalysis surely cannot be viewed as a construct of discourse, yet is so different from what she was prior to analysis), we will examine these questions as addressed in two, apparently diverse, contexts: that of analytic aesthetics and that of psychoanalytic thought. We will show that these two perspectives tackle similar problems regarding narrativity yet choose to solve them in ways that raise important questions regarding the effects of narrative.


It is a widely spread opinion about narrative that it creates its own world in the act of telling, that "the structures of narrative impose some kind of barrier between language and fact; rather than being directly 'mirrored', the facts, as represented in narrative, are filtered through layers of linguistic artifice."2 The diagnosis that narrative somehow distorts or constructs the events it recounts, that narration changes the modality of what is narrated, is one important implication of the booming interest in narrative in the 1980s and 90s. To understand how such an implication was drawn, requires that the nature of the interest in narrative is more closely qualified as part of the growing attention paid to the pervasiveness of narrative in discourses traditionally considered to lie outside the domain of narrative rendering, and to the naturalness of narrative presentation in extra-literary contexts. These pervasiveness and naturalness of narrative were often interpreted as reflecting the literariness or fictionality of discourses that officially claim to be committed to reality and truth.

Yet, how did it come about that the discovery of narrative elements in a wide variety of contexts was interpreted as entailing the fictionalizing of these discursive contexts? As narrative entails the imposition of structure on...


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pp. 118-139
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