- Beyond Narrative Coherence
In the introduction to this volume, the editors present the unifying theme of the book: the articulation of a perspective on narrative that far from identifying coherence as a main characteristic, stresses fragmentation and multiplicity as equally important to narrative theory and analysis. The objective is to show that there is a great deal of instability and fragmentation in the forms and organization of tellings, and to expose the inherent dangers of such a conception in theoretical methodological terms. The editors argue that concentrating on coherence leads to the neglect of narratives and narrative phenomena that do not fit the canon, to a bias that leads researchers to look for coherence at all costs, and to a lack of attention to the voice of populations and individuals who have been traumatized or marginalized. The contributions develop this challenge against coherence-based narrative perspectives in three different subject areas: the arts, illness, and trauma in the political context.
In Chapter 2, Maria Medved and Jens Brockmeier argue against a direct connection between mental well-being and narrative coherence, as well as against the equation of the latter with the establishment of self identity. They illustrate how the study of autobiographical narratives based on these premises leads to particularly misleading conclusions in the case of individuals whose ability to produce coherent narratives has been impaired by neurological damage. The meaning and coherence of narratives told by those individuals can only be fully appreciated when taking into account their autobiographical history, the sociocultural context in which narratives and narrators are situated, and the intersubjective context in which the stories are told.
In Chapter 3, Lars Christer Hydén emphasizes that autobiographical stories, which are overwhelmingly studied from the point of view of coherence and referential content, should be analyzed as loci for identity work in interaction. Much of the chapter is devoted to discussing phenomena that have been at the center of recent linguistic literature on identity and storytelling: the distinction between narrators and characters, the use of evaluation to convey moral stance and to negotiate identity and performance strategies. An interesting point, which would have deserved greater development, is the observation that people whose memory and communicative capacities have been impaired, such as Alzheimer’s patients, still seem to be able to manage the interactional delivery of a story and to convey their evaluation of events, even when they seem to have lost the ability to reconstruct those events in a coherent fashion.
In Chapter 4, Tarja Aaltonen uses conversation analysis and cognitive narratology to analyze storytelling in interactions involving individuals whose [End Page 362] communicative ability is severely impaired. She argues that the concept of “mind-reading” provided by cognitive narratology can be used to describe the ways in which storytelling is accomplished in interactions between Aphasic patients and their interlocutors.
Maria Tamboukou devotes Chapter 5 to the analysis of paintings and letters by the Welsh artist Gwen John in order to argue against a vision of narrative as characterized by the use of linear time (Chronos) and of the self as constituted in unity and continuity. Central to her analysis is the Deleuzian concept of an event as something that is not accomplished but rather opens up possibilities of interpretation and creates occasions for new self-constructions. Tamboukou shows how Gwen John uses letter writing as an elusive sense-making occasion, and how she blurs and creates different selves and positions that cannot be collapsed into unity.
Chapter 6, by Linda Sandino, focuses on life stories told by applied artists. Sandino uses Ricoeur’s conception of identity as “a dialectic between sameness (idem) and change (ipse)” (87) to analyze artists’ life stories and their identity constructions as a project in fieri, a process which is never completed. Central to the analysis is also the idea that the constitution of identity happens through the confrontation of the artist with the object s/he produces and with the work of other artists.