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Jerome Bruner Life as Narrative I WOULD LIKE TO TRY OUT AN IDEA THAT MAY NOT BE QUITE READY, indeed may not be quite possible. But I have no doubt it is worth a tiy. It has to do with the nature of thought and with one of its uses. It has been traditional to treat thought, so to speak, as an instrument of reason. Good thought is right reason, and its efficacy is measured against the laws of logic or induction. Indeed, in its most recent computational form, it is a view of thought that has sped some of its enthusiasts to the belief that all thought is reducible to machine computability. But logical thought is not the only or even the most ubiquitous mode of thought. For the last several years, I have been looking at another kind of thought (see, e.g., Bruner, 1986), one that is quite different in form from reasoning: the form of thought that goes into the construction not of logical or inductive arguments but of stories or narratives. What I want to do now is to extend these ideas about narrative to the analysis o f the stories we tell about our lives: our “autobiographies.” Philosophically speaking, the approach I shall take to narrative is a constructivist one—a view that takes as its central premise that “world making” is the principal function of mind, whether in the sciences or in the arts. But the moment one applies a constructivist view of narra­ tive to the self-narrative, to the autobiography, one is faced with dilem­ mas. Take, for example, the constructivist view that “stories” do not “happen” in the real world but, rather, are constructed in people’s heads. Or as Henry James once put it, stories happen to people who know how to tell them. Does that mean that our autobiographies are constructed, that they had better be viewed not as a record of what ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN SOCIAL RESEARCH VOL. 5 4 , NO. 1 (SPRING 1987) social research Vol 71 : No 3 : Fall 200 4 691 happened (which is in any case a nonexistent record) but rather as a continuing interpretation and reinterpretation of our experience? Just as the philosopher Nelson Goodman argues that physics or painting or histoiy are “ways of world making” (Goodman, 1978), so autobiog­ raphy (formal or informal) should be viewed as a set of procedures for “life making.” And just as it is worthwhile examining in minute detail how physics or histoiy go about their world making, might we not be well advised to explore in equal detail what we do when we construct ourselves autobiographically? Even if the exercise should produce some obdurate dilemmas, it might nonetheless cast some light on what we might mean by such expressions as “a life.” CULTURE AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY Let me begin by sketching out the general shape of the argument that I wish to explore. The first thesis is this: We seem to have no other way of describing “lived tim e” save in the form of a narrative. Which is not to say that there are not other temporal forms that can be imposed on the experience of time, but none of them succeeds in capturing the sense of lived time: not clock or calendrical time forms, not serial or cycli­ cal orders, not any of these. It is a thesis that will be familiar to many of you, for it has been m ost recently and powerfully argued by Paul Ricoeur (1984). Even if we set down annales in the bare form of events (White, 1984), they will be seen to be events chosen with a view to their place in an implicit narrative. My second thesis is that the mimesis between life so-called and narrative is a two-way affair: that is to say, just as art imitates life in Aristotle’s sense, so, in Oscar W ilde’s, life im itates art. Narrative imitates life, life imitates narrative. “Life” in this sense is the same kind of construction of the human imagination as “a narrative” is. It is constructed by human beings through active ratiocination, by the same kind of ratiocination through...


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