Narrative or Episodic


I like (as do many others) the notion of lives as narratives. Interesting then to read a contrary view from my old philosophy tutor Galen Strawson – Against Narrativity.

He poses the question: is there really that much evidence that we are narrative beings? And if not, is it really so desirable – in terms of living a good life – that we seek to be?

What’s wrong with enjoying life as a smorgasbord of varied experiences and events. Does it all have to submit to the tyranny of a unifying narrative?

I was talking about this today. And as so often when you pick-up on something new – it then pops up everywhere. In my inbox this evening I find good old Montaigne on the same subject:

Our chiefest sufficiency is to know how to apply ourselves to divers employments. ‘Tis to be, but not to live, to keep a man’s self tied and bound by necessity to one only course; those are the bravest souls that have in them the most variety and pliancy. Of this here is an honourable testimony of the elder Cato:

“His parts were so pliable to all uses, that one would say he had been born only to that which he was doing.” Livy, xxxix. 49.

I do like the sense of a personal narrative. It helps make sense of it all. And along with the ‘can I look myself in the mirror test’ it keeps me on the right and proper path. But a sense of narrative shouldn’t be to the exclusion of Montaigne’s ‘divers employments’ and mixing it up a bit.

As my old tutor points out, a narrative can be both self-limiting and then dangerously self-fulfilling. Variety is the spice of life – and you only get one shot at it.

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