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POLITICS AND THE PRODUCTION OF NARRATIVE IDENTITIES by Anita Silvers David Novitz has recently offered an attractive argument to the effect that personal identities are constructed narratively. He depicts all of us painstakingly crafting our own life-narratives, creating ourselves as central characters along story lines which are either reenforced or impeded by the stories others tell about us. Novitz comments , "My aim in this article is ... to defend the view not just that the literary and visual arts sometimes influence our sense of self, and with it our idea of human nature, but also—and more significantly— that our individual identities and ideals of personhood are constructs produced in much the same way that works of art are produced."1 One of the many virtues of this approach is its relevance to the work contemporary aestheticians have accomplished in understanding the productive force of the narrative process in the history and criticism of the arts. However, in concentrating on convincing us about how narrating permits the development ofparticularideas or senses ofourselves, Novitz seems to take for granted that there is no difficulty in comprehending the role narration plays in making any art work what it is. As a result, I think, he offers a less than clear account ofthe process through which art objects acquire their essential, individuating properties and their unique characters. Exploring this matter further is worthwhile, particularly because, as I shall argue, a more detailed account of how nonfictional narration operates illuminates some of the constraints which govern the attribution of properties to real individuals, whether 99 100Philosophy and Literature these be art works or persons. Ifmy comments are correct, some aspects of Novitz's account require modification, although his fundamental thesis remains unchallenged. As they stand, Novitz's arguments expose an ambiguity about who contributes to making works of art what they are. The traditionalist position is that such objects are totally and completely the products of their artists, and that all their relevant aesthetic properties are acquired at their time of origin through the creative efforts of their artificers. However, some contemporary critics, historians, and philosophers of art propose a different view. On this account, sometimes called revisionism , art works are said to come into possession of some of their essential aesthetically relevant properties in virtue of the passage oftime and the transformation ofartworld contexts. As practiced by critics and historians of the arts, revisionism fuels the reinterpretation and reassessment of past works and also grounds efforts to reformulate the canons of the various artistic media. In related work, philosophers like David Carrier, Noel Carroll, and myself2 have begun to explore how the aesthetically relevant properties which Arthur Danto characterizes as "indiscernible," those which "the eye cannot decry,"3 are the products of narrative writing about art, a process and/or set of practices Carrier calls "artwriting." Would Novitz gain any advantage by appealing to narrative artwriting, as opposed to narrative art itself, to establish his desired analogy between persons and art? He seems intent on holding that the pertinent resemblance holds between persons in general and art in general, not between persons andjusta few genres. There is meritin his insistence on wideness of scope, for part of the force of his thesis derives from the supposition that the processes he describes are fundamental human activities. This consideration, I take it, impels him to extend the analogy to encompass visual as well as literary art. But, of course, not all literature is narrative in form, and even less visual art is so. Despite this indisputable fact, it seems important to Novitz's theme to maintain the more general position that persons' self-identities are comprised in a manner similar to that which develops the identities of works of art, whether or not those works themselves are designed to tell a story. So it is not inappropriate to modify Novitz's view to take narratives about art rather than art which is narrative as the relevant analogue. And we may notice that to think of artwriting as aesthetically productive is not to misrepresent the nature of art criticism and art history, for good artwriting strikes us as creative: we think of it as Anita Silvers101...


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pp. 99-107
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