"And this story is true " On the Problem of narrative truth


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Heikkinen, H.L.T., Huttunen, R. & Kakkori, L.

"And this story is true..."
On the Problem of narrative truth

Scientific studies are fictions like novels. The only difference is that they are badly written but then again, so are most of novels.
- Pentti Saarikoski

A paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research University of Edinburgh, September 20th-23rd, 2000.

In the field of qualitative research, narrative approaches have recently been a topic of discussion. In narrative research, the concept of truth is being construed in a different way than in empirical-analytical research tradition. The truth as a narrative seems to be closer to the notion of truth in literature or art than the one in natural sciences. In this presentation, we discuss the problem of truth as narrative from various philosophical viewpoints on a general level, including the classic truth theories correspondence theory, coherence theory and pragmatism. To develop the theme further, we concentrate on three specific views. Firstly, we discuss the truth as the "revealing of the being" - a Heideggerian and Gadamerian view on the truth. Secondly, we take a Foucaultian view on truth as power. Thirdly, we discuss the narrative truth as the Brunerian "fabula".

1 Introduction

Think Caterpillar. The archetype of a machine, full of power and masculinity. Hear the noise of the chain tracks, smell the oil and the exhaust gas. Feel how the ground trembles, and how the power of the robust diesel engine is transmitted to the terrain. See the caterpillar treads pound the earth’s surface, and the boulders to be pushed aside. Feel the power, become somebody, become a Caterpillar - wear Caterpillar!

The previous narrative was not written by a copywriter, although it could easily have been. The caterpillar is a good example of how the imago of a product has been applied from heavy machinery to clothing. In business and merchandising, the creation of images and brands is becoming increasingly based on the stories, which are gathered around the products themselves. The evocative narratives are then subsequently connected and applied to a wide variety of products. In some cases, the product narratives have become more important than the product itself. The brand of the product is in some cases regarded as more valuable than the productive means. Perhaps some day Caterpillar could forget about the production of earthmovers and continue only with the production of clothing, and Harley Davidson could cease production in its motorbike plants and concentrate only on making pens. But what would happen to Camel if one day the "Camel Boot Man" were to announce on television that he had quit smoking?

The power of narratives has not only been detected by copywriters, but can indeed be regarded more as a general trend in (post)modern society. It has even been said that we are turning from an information society into a narrative society. No wonder there has been an increasing amount of discussion regarding the role of narratives and biographical writing both in the research process and research reporting. The focus has shifted to narratives to the extent to which we could claim that the linguistic turn in the social sciences has become a narrative turn. The growing interest in biographical and narrative approaches has lately been described as "a change in knowledge culture", and even "a paradigm change" (Chamberlayne, Bornat, & Wengraf 2000).
This paradigm shift has also been called a move from (naive or scientific) realism toward constructivism (Lincoln & Guba 1994). For Jerome Bruner, constructivism is "world making" whereas narratives are "life making" (Bruner 1987, 11-13). From the constructivist viewpoint, without any narrative of myself or of the world, neither would exist - there is no "reality" and no "life" which has not been construed by narratives. This statement of Bruner’s presents an interesting clarification of the parallel between constructivism and the narrative turn in the social sciences. On a more general level, the move can also be connected to the cultural shift from modernism to postmodernism, which has blurred previously existing distinctions, including the line between scientific reports and artistic expression. As a consequence, personal autobiographies and narratives have engaged an increasingly captivated audience amongst social scientists. There has even been discussion as to whether research reports could potentially be written in the form of novels (e.g. Eisner & Peshkin 1990, 365; Eisner 1993, Richardson 1994 and 1997).

Expressions like "a paradigm change" and "a change in knowledge culture" refer to a fundamental change in basic beliefs concerning reality and knowledge production. The constitutive attitudes to the nature of knowledge seem to have altered. The main discovery beyond this notion is that our knowledge is a composition of narratives, which is perpetually being constructed in the process of social interaction. These days, human knowledge is no longer regarded as "a grand narrative" which tends to draw together a coherent and universal view on reality, based on the correspondence between the "things-in-the-world" and sentences. Rather, it is a plurality of small narratives, local and personal in nature, which are always under (social and psychological) construction.
In this view on reality and knowledge, the individual and the social are intertwined. As Jerome Bruner has said, narrative is "an organizing principle by which people organize their experience in, knowledge about, and transactions with the social world" (Bruner 1990, 35). Individuals make sense of the world and of themselves through narratives, both by telling them and listening to other peoples’ stories.
Narrative is a fundamental means through which people experience their lives, or through which they actually live their lives. It is the narratives in which we situate our experience. Human experience is always narrated, and human knowledge and personal identities are constructed and revised through intersubjectively shared narratives. The narrative is a primary act of mind; "the primary scheme by which human existence is rendered meaningful" (Polkinghorne 1988, 11). The reflexive project of knowing and achieving an identity is to sustain a coherent, yet continuously revised, narrative about ourselves and the world we live in.

But if knowledge continues to become increasingly personal and local narratives as seems to be the case what will become of research work? Is truth merely a parasite of good stories, and if so, should artistic expression be separated of social sciences? Or could we aspire some "magic of the real" in our research work (cf. Bridges 1999)?

What kinds of uses for the concept of truth could we discover in the context of narrative research? If the answer to this question is, that we are unable to find any uses for truth, then we would indeed find ourselves deep in the morass of relativism. In order to avoid relativism we must locate a notion of truth, although one that distinctly differs from that of the field tai sphere of positivistic science. In this presentation, we will take a brief look at the truth as a narrative from various philosophical viewpoints, including the classic truth theories, the correspondence theory, the coherence theory and pragmatism. As we have done in our handling of the topic in our earlier work (Heikkinen, Huttunen & Kakkori 2000), we place more significant emphasis here on three specific views. Firstly, we discuss the "revealing of the being," which refers to the hermeneutical view on truth, based on the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer. Secondly, we take a look at the notion of truth as power, which is based on the work of Michel Foucault. Thirdly, we discuss the narrative truth as "sjuzet," "fabula" and "forma" - a view, which is based on the work of Russian formalists, and further developed by Jerome Bruner. On our way to the truth as narrative, we refer to some novels and films to illustrate certain aspects of our argumentation.

2 Truth as correspondence between the story and the world

According to the correspondence theory of truth, a sentence is considered to be true if it corresponds to the state of affairs in reality. Thus, according to the correspondence theory, if Høeg's novel Borderliners represented the state of affairs as it really was, adding nothing and leaving out nothing, the story would be true. This aspect could be useful when evaluating historical tai historically based novels, although in the case of Höeg it is quite useless.

We might take a more sophisticated version of the correspondence theory, like the one proposed by the young Ludwig Wittgenstein in his famous study Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Wittgenstein 1962). In the opening page of Tractatus the world view of logical atomism is presented. According to Wittgenstein, the world consists of atomic state of affairs and of nothing else (Wittgenstein 1962, 31):
1 The world is all that is the case.

1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.

1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.


2 What is the case, the fact, is the existence of atomic facts.

2.01 An atomic fact is a combination of objects (entities, things).
A sentence is true only if the things in the world are linked to each other in accordance with the way in which words are linked to each other in a sentence; in other words, atomic facts correspond to atomic sentences. The meaning of the atomic sentence is its counterpart in reality. This is an elementary part of the Wittgensteinian picture theory of meaning. The truth is regarded as the link which connects the world and language. People creates thoughts (logical pictures) out of atomic facts. Thoughts or logical pictures are true if the meaning content corresponds with reality. To discover the truth or untruth of a picture, one must compare it with reality (see paragraphs 2.21-2.224 in Tractatus).

The Wittgensteinian picture theory can be interpreted in the following way: an atomic sentence in the sphere of language corresponds to an atomic fact (the case or not-the-case) in the world. A complex sentence is a condensation of several atomic sentences and is true if its constituents are true. The only way to find out if the complex sentence (theory, story) is true is to reduce it to atomic sentences (empirical sentences) and to compare atomic sentences with atomic facts. For example, to verify the sentence (the theory, the narrative) "Every human being is a philosopher," we should reduce it to several atomic sentences like: "Hannu Heikkinen is a philosopher," "Rauno Huttunen is a philosopher," "Leena Kakkori is a philosopher" etc. After having done this (that is, giving the perfect empirical description to the theory), we should compare these atomic sentences with reality. If we were to discover that even one human being is not a philosopher, the complex sentence would be untrue.

The biggest problem that Wittgenstein confronted was the verification problem of psychological sentences, constructed from the perspective of the first person. For example, how could we verify sentences like "I have pains," "I am happy," "I feel blue" etc. Høeg=s Borderliners, for instance, is full of such sentences, as is any autobiographical narrative. In the case of psychological sentences we might test their truth content by asking what reality we are comparing the sentences to. It is absurd to compare the sentence "I am happy" to any physical reality. This way of thinking is called "physicalism", which is applied in brain studies. Another possibility is to construct some kind of "inner reality," in other words a reality constructed out of inner experiences B a notion which is referred to as "phenomenalism". The only way to accomplish this, however, is through the formation of psychological sentences. These kind of dilemmas could explain why Wittgenstein abandoned, or at least lost interest in, his picture theory of meaning (see Wittgenstein 1975, 90-91).

3 Truth as coherence between stories

According to the coherence theory, the truth is regarded as the compatibility between sentences. The relationship between language and the world remains irrelevant. Only a connection between theories, stories and statements is involved. According to this view, a story is true when it does not contradict with other stories, but rather forms coherent and compatible metanarrative with other stories. Problems occur when several competing metanarrative appear simultaneously, which presents an incompatible picture of things. For example, the story of Creation contradicts with the metanarrative of Darwin=s theory of evolution. In cases such as this one must choose which metanarrative should be used as the criteria of truth of a single narrative. Figure 1 illustrates the type of situation in which one must choose which metanarrative is used as the criterion of truth.

Another way to apply the coherence theory to the theory of narrativity is to consider it in the light of the Kuhnian paradigm. Thomas Kuhn (1970) called the prevailing scientific framework a "paradigm". According to Kuhn, within "normal science" we collect knowledge, which supports the prevailing paradigm, and we articulate the paradigm in greater detail. Normal science collects facts, which strengthen the existing paradigm. Normal science aims at better coherence between the theory and the related observations. For Kuhn, natural scientific research in the period of "normal science" - as opposed to the abnormal period of scientific revolutions - is the solving of puzzle-problems. As such, a scientist is a kind of "puzzle-solver". The primary concern is not to find new "truths" from nature, but to strengthen the existing truth (paradigm) by finding its missing pieces.
No part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sort of phenomena; indeed those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all (...) Instead, normal-scientific research is directed to the articulation of those phenomena and theories that the paradigm already supplies. (Kuhn 1970, 24)
The scientific community allows and encourages its members to choose the scientific problems, which they assume can be solved within the existing paradigm. Other kinds of problems are excluded, for example, by labelling them as metaphysical, by referring them to another discipline or simply by claiming that they are too problematic to be worth solving.
A paradigm can, for that matter, even insulate the community from those socially important problems that are not reducible to the puzzle form, because they cannot be stated in terms of the conceptual and instrumental tools the paradigm supplies. (Kuhn 1970, 37)

Figure 1. Truth as puzzle solving. A new piece of knowledge is true when it fits.

If the scientific experiment does not support the paradigmatic truth (the existing paradigm), either the experiment is proclaimed a failure or an "anomaly" is acknowledged. An anomaly is a phenomenon, detected in acceptable scientific tests, which cannot be explained within the prevailing paradigm. When an anomaly has been detected, some amount of "untruth" must be accepted within the prevailing paradigm. In an anomalistic perception, nature fails to fulfil the expectations created by the paradigm. In the early stages of normal science the coherence between theory and empirical observations (the result of scientific tests) is at its peak. When a paradigm is articulated (the progress of a paradigm) more accurately, this coherence begins to crack and more anomalies begin to emerge. According to Kuhn, a mature (advanced) paradigm makes an esoteric inquiry and a high level of professionalism possible, although it also allows for anomalies, even making them inevitable.
When a person is writing an autobiography, narrative coherence plays a significant role. When I write "the story of my life," I pursue a coherent narrative out of the fragmented experiences of my past life (Ricouer calls this mimesis2). I arrange these pieces of my life in accordance with a certain kind of "puzzle form," a particular paradigm. I write my autobiography in a way in which particular stories, usually arranged chronologically, are related to one another without any remarkable breaks or contradictions. A break occurring within a story actually implies some kind of crisis (anomaly), which forces me to arrange sub-stories (sometimes I simply intentionally forget the disturbing story) in a new way or change the puzzle form. The latter case means that I encounter a paradigm change, or a revolution on a personal level.

4 Truth as the happening of the story - personal identity as a story

A good story - for example, Borderliners - widens our world view. This is referred to as a "hermeneutical" or "dialectical experience". This kind of experience broadens our horizon and enables us to see something differently than we had in the past. This is why experience is essentially negative in nature; it breaks down typical or restricted ways of seeing things. Hans-Georg Gadamer calls this an experiment in a genuine sense" (Gadamer 1998, 353):

We use word “experience” in two different senses: the experience that conform to our expectation and confirm it and the new experiences that occur to us. This latter, “experience” in the genuine sense is always negative. If a new experience of an object occurs to us, this means that hitherto we have not seen the thing correctly and know it better. Thus, negativity of experience has a curiously productive meaning. It is not simply that we see through a deception and hence make a correction, but we acquire a comprehensive knowledge. We cannot, therefore, have a new experience of any object at random, but it must be such a nature that we gain better knowledge through it, not only itself, but of what we thought we knew before B i.e., of a universal. The negation by means of which it achieves this is a determinate negation. We call this kind of experience dialectical.

After a hermeneutic experience, nothing ever looks the same again. We see ordinary things ("ordinary things" in the former horizon, world view or paradigm) in a different light, and, moreover, we also become able to perceive of totally new entities. Our "world" undergoes a change, and we become changes as people along with it. The situation is one of even greater interest when the stimulus for this hermeneutic experience is our own life or an autobiography of it. What happens when the cause of hermeneutic experience is the mimetic picture of our life? To fully understand the dynamics of that process, we must consider the relationship between the original (life) and representation (autobiography) in artwork or narratives. For this purpose we will briefly examine Heidegger’s and Gadamer’s notions of truth in artwork and Ricoeur’s concept of mimesis.

In both artwork and autobiography, the proper concept of truth is not the proper concept of truth is not the correspondence theory of truth (truth as adaequatio between the thing and their representation. It is more fruitful here to consider the truth as a happening and a disclosure, as Martin Heidegger phrases it in his essay The Origin of the work of art (Heidegger 1971, 36):

What is at work in the work? Van Gogh's painting is the disclosure of what the equipment, the pair of peasant shoes, is in truth. This entity emerges into the unconcealedness of its being. The Greeks called the unconcealedness of beings aletheia. We say 'truth' and think little enough in using this word. If there occurs in the work a disclosure of a particular being, disclosing what and how it is, then there is here an occurring, a happening of truth at work.

For example, in the case of Borderliners, it is not relevant to ask "What really happened in Biehl’s academy?" or "Does the story correspond to the objective facts?". Many things happened in the school that Høeg depicted. One cannot present pure truth about the objective state of affairs.

If it is the case that something new emerges in our world (horizon) as a result of the hermeneutic experience caused by the work of art (or a story), then the work surely is not a copy or pure reproduction of the original (the representation of the state of affairs, or, as in the autobiography, of "life itself"). Heidegger strongly objects to the conviction that, for example, Hölderlin’s hymn "The Rhine" is in a copy-relationship with the actual Rhine River. Likewise, Høeg’s novel is not a copy of his life. Yet the truth is put in the work, not as a correspondence but as an uncovering - as Aletheia. Alethetical truth is not a relation neither a correspondence or a coherence but rather is a way in which a being (Seiende) uncovers itself:

To say that assertion is true signifies that it uncovers the entity as it is in itself. Such an assertion asserts, points out, "lets" the entity "be seen" in its uncoveredness. The Being-true (truth) of assertion must be understood as Being-uncovering. Thus truth has by no means the structure of an agreement between knowing and the object in the sense of a likening of entity (the subject) to another (the Object). (Heidegger 1992, 261.)

Heidegger's pupil Gadamer interprets Alethetical truth in the following way. Gadamer considers the experience of artwork as hermeneutic experience. It is by means of hermeneutic experiences that new things occur in our world, and it happens in a way in which we feel that this artistic representation is more true or authentic than the "original" itself.

Let us take as an example Steven Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List. In the movie, Liam Neeson plays the role of Oscar Schindler so extraordinarily well that we begin to feel as if Liam Neeson is more like Schindler than Schindler himself; over the course of the movie Schindler becomes more "himself". The cinematic representation of the real historical person, Oscar Schindler, facilitates our recognition of Schindler "more as himself". Through the movie we are able to recognise something as something, which means that truth has happened or the truth has happened, truth has been put into action. The process of recognition (in a hermeneutic sense), however, does not necessarily mean that we know something again, or that we experience it in a trivial sense. "The joy of recognition is rather the joy of knowing more than is already familiar. In recognition what we know emerges..." (Gadamer 1998, 114).
This is why Gadamer emphasises the unity of the picture (Bild) and the original (Urbild) in the work of art. According to Gadamer, the work of art or a great story is not a copy (Abbild) of an original but rather a picture of it. In the process of picture formation the original becomes born as ex post facto (Koski 1995, 73). When we recognise the picture, the original somehow becomes increasingly real B it becomes truer. Pure copy does not inspire this kind of experience, nor is that the copy’s purpose. According to Gadamer (1998, 138):

The essence of a copy is to have no other task but to resemble the original (...) This means that its nature is to lose its own independent existence and serve entirely to mediate what is copied (...) A picture, by contrast, is not destined to be self-effacing, for it is not a means to and end.

A copy merely points to the original, but a picture has an entirely different task. Via a picture the original comes to life, comes to be more like "itself". Without the picture, the original would not be same as it is with the presence of the picture. Without Spielberg’s movie Oscar Schindler would not be Schindler; without Sibelius’s Finlandia Hymn Finland would not be Finland; without Titus Livius= Ab urbe condita Rome would not be Rome; without The New Testament (the most powerful narrative in the western world) Jesus would not be Jesus, etc.. It is in this way that the truth happens in and through the picture. Something new emerges in the world, and something is uncovered as a result of the picture.
Autobiographical narrative and identity share this same hermeneutic logic with the picture and the original. Autobiography is not just a copy, it has another task, the task of the picture. According to Bruner, there is no "life itself" without interpretation:
There is no such thing psychologically as "life itself". At very least, it is a selective achievement of memory recall; beyond that, recounting one’s life is an interpretive feat. Philosophically speaking, it is hard to imagine being a naive realist about "life itself". (Bruner 1987, 13.)
Interpretation is the process of recognising something as something. In autobiography, we recognise ourselves as ourselves. In this process we both create and change ourselves. Telling or writing an autobiography brings about a hermeneutic experience in which I see myself in an entirely different light. This could in turn alter my action and force me to retell or rewrite my autobiography. In order to more profoundly illustrate the significance of the telling and re-telling of an autobiography, we must apply Paul Ricoeur’s concept of mimesis.

Ricoeur borrows his concept of mimesis (imitation) from Aristotle. For Aristotle, poetics is essentially imitation (mimesis), but not in the meaning of plain copy, which is the Platonic use of the concept. "If we continue to translate mimesis by “imitation”, we have to understand something completely contrary to a copy of some preexisting reality and speak instead of a creative imitation" (Ricoeur 1984, 45). According to Ricouer’s interpretation, mimesis refers to creative imitation by the means of the plot of lived temporal experience (Ricoeur 1984, 31). For Ricouer, mimesis is not just the production of a narrative text. Mimesis refers to the threefold process of which the narrative is merely one element. These three phases are pre-understanding, plotting and application. Ricouer names these phases mimesis1, mimesis2 and mimesis3. Ricouer calls the preliminary understanding of action pre-understanding and refers to it in the context of the concept of mimesis1. In the process of writing autobiography, mimesis1 represents the phase in which the author lives his or her life and forms the pre-understanding of it. In the next phase, the narrative is organised into text; pre-understanding is transformed into a poetic totality. Ricouer calls this active process of textualisation mimesis2. Mimesis2 constitutes the pivot of the narrative process. In this phase, singular events are organised into the plot (muthos). According to Aristotle, "the imitation of action is the Plot" (Aristotle 1958; Poetics, 50a1). Producing the plot is the most creative moment in the threefold process of mimesis. In the composition of the plot, the essential thing is that the narrator is the maker of plots (Ricouer 1984, 41):

One feature of mimesis, then, is that it is directed more at the coherence of the muthos (the plot) than at its particular story. Its making is immediately a universalizing "making". The whole problem of narrative Verstehen (understanding) is contained here in principle. To make up a plot is already to make the intelligible sprung from the accidental, the universal from the singular, the necessary or the probable from episodic.
But the narrative process does not stop here. The story is told and adopted, and so it becomes part of the identity. The author begins to apply this new understanding to his or her own life. There is, of course, no "simple" application of a story or self-understanding, because the story becomes altered over the course of the process of application. This application is mimesis3 and is also the starting point of a new pre-understanding of life, etc..

Here, Ricouer presents his own version of the Heideggerian "happening of truth in the work of art". Something new emerges (the truth as happening and uncovering; the ontological enrichment) when the author tells the story of his or her own life, and this something "new" begins to affect the author’s life. The written autobiography works as a Gadamerian picture (Bild) by which the author gets the sense of becoming more him or herself. The autobiography is not a copy of life (Abbild). It does not re-present anything, but rather discloses and reveals the truth of being, the truth of the dynamic of oneself. The selfhood is always dynamic, and the very process of composing an autobiography alters it. In the process of mimesis1-mimesis2-mimesis3, a person=s self becomes another; not another person altogether but something different than what he or she had been. The autobiography and the self are involved in a recursive relationship, which is why the process of autobiography is never-ending. The hermeneutics of telling and re-telling the narrative identity can be presented in the following way:

Figure 2. The ontological enrichment of life and story (see Gadamer 1998, 199; Ricouer 1984, 52-87; Widdershoven 1993, 3-5)

In mimesis1, the life and its pre-understanding serve are the "original" (Urbild). In mimesis1, fragmented stories about your self are in the form of "inner speech". In mimesis2, you are in the phase of dictating your autobiography. Writing an autobiography is an indication of the need to "plot" these fragmented self-representations into a coherent "outer speech". The plot determines which memories we include and which memories we emphasise. The plot also determines how we consider the change in ourselves; which parts of us have changed and which have not. In this way we create the narrative identity. Religious and ideological confessions are typical forms of narrative identities. According to David Carr, the selective nature of the process of mimesis2 is a sign of the presence of power (Carr 1986). Thus, Althusser’s and Foucault’s concept of self only as "an ideological particle" is partially confirmed by Carr.
In mimesis3, I apply the written story to my life again. For example, in a religious confession, I confirm to myself and other people that my story is true and authentic. Through my words and deeds I begin to actualise this picture of me, which I have more or less intentionally created. As Jerome Bruner (1987, 13) has put it: "Narrative imitates life, life imitates narrative".

5 Start over, and tell the truth

According to Michael Foucault, reality is produced through the mechanisms of power. Foucault writes: "Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power." (Foucault, according to Jones 1991, 102.)

Foucault focuses his attention on the question of how power relations shape individuals. He does not question why people do what they do, and he considers individual identities to be formed through power relations. Individuals cannot be determined and understood without taking into consideration the relations of power, which shape them. Similarly to his teacher, Louis Althusser, Foucault claims that an individual is an imaginary particle of the ideological representation of society.
The individual is no doubt the fictitious atom of an "ideological" representation of society; but he is also a reality fabricated by this specific technology of power that I have called discipline (...) In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production. (Foucault 1992, 194; See also Foucault 1980, 60.)

An area in which the production of truth (and its rituals) works quite explicitly is that of sexuality. An immense apparatus for the production of truth regarding sexuality has been created. "...the truth of sex became something fundamental, useful, or dangerous, precious of formidable: in short, that sex was constituted as a problem of truth" (Foucault 1980, 56). According to Foucault, there have been two great procedures for the production of the truth of sex in world history. On the other hand, there are certain societies (China, Japan, India, Rome, the Arabo-Moslem societies) which have developed various forms of the so-called "ars erotica" erotic art. It is a form of esoteric knowledge, which aims at satisfaction evaluated in terms of its intensity, its specific qualities, its duration and its reverberations throughout the body and soul. Only masters and their students have access to this knowledge. If successfully learns this masterful art, he or she must possess "an absolute mastery of the body, a singular bliss, obliviousness to time and limits, the elixir of life, the exile of death and its threats" (Foucault 1980, 58).

Foucault claims that our modern civilisation possesses no ars erotica, but that we instead practise scientia sexualis. Over the centuries we have developed procedures for telling the truth of sex (Heidegger might refer to this as "calculative thinking about sex). The development of this procedure has formed a kind of knowledge-power, which is opposite to the system in which the master reveals the secrets of the ars erotica to novices. Scientia sexualis is a mean to control sexuality, people=s sexual identities. What Foucault has in mind here is the western idea of confession:
"The truthful confession was inscribed at the heart of the procedures of individualization by power (...) The confession became one of the west's most highly valued techniques for producing truth. We have since become a singular confessing society. The confession has spread its effects far and wide. It plays a part in justice, medicine, education, family relation, and love relations, in the most ordinary affairs of everyday life, and in the most solemn rites; one confess one's crimes, one's sins, one's thoughts and desires, one's illnesses and troubles; one goes about telling, with the greatest precision, what ever is most difficult to tell. One confesses in public and in private, to one's parents, one's educators, one's doctor, to those one loves; one admits to oneself, in pleasure and in pain, things it would be impossible to tell to anyone else, the things people write books about" (Foucault 1980, 59).

I do confession in order to find out the truth about myself (in this case the truth of my sexuality) and in order to modify my personality in the manner required by hegemonic discourse (by hegemonic discourse of sex). Finding out the truth about myself is actually the precise moment of the production of the truth of myself. Without hegemonical discourse (paradigmatic discourse, ideology, world view etc.), I could not produce the truth about myself and my sexual orientation. Mechanisms of power are with me from the beginning; from the moment that I discover or produce my selfhood. Foucault encapsulated this by saying that western man has become a confessing animal. The need to practice confession is anchored so deeply in us that we cannot view it as being caused by power and power relations. On the contrary, we feel that the truth as confession is an attempt to attain freedom from the depth of our soul. We think that truth and freedom belong together and that power reduces us to silence. These traditional themes in philosophy would have to be overturned, because the truth is not by nature free but its production is imbued with relations of power. (Foucault 1980, 59-60)

Foucault presents an example of this:
"And think of that obscure partisan (...) Who had come to rejoin the Serbian resistance deep in the mountains [in the II world war]; his superiors asked him to write his life story; and when he brought them a few miserable pages, scribbled in the night, they did not look at them but only said to him, ‘Start over, and tell the truth'. Should those much-discussed language taboos make us forget this millennial yoke of confession?" (Foucault 1980, 60).
We rationalise this absurd example by reasoning that with the help of confession it is possible to decipher between a spy and a true partisan. However, the question here is one of power and the making of a partisan through his life story as a (ideological) subject. We can only imagine the anxiety of the partisan candidate in a situation such as this, which would have been completely foreign to him. In nowadays we are able to recognise the power aspect of confession and we are able to play the games of confession. One of us, Leena, had a personal experience related to this kind of confession-game:
I was at the entrance examination to the Academy of Kindergarten, and one part of the examination was an interview with a psychologist. All of the candidates were informed beforehand that the interview would include two candidates and one psychologist, and that the topic of discussion would be the question: "Why I want to be a kindergarten teacher. Based on the information I had received prior to the interview, I was quite surprised when we were seated around the table and the psychologist said to us: "Tell me about the crises of your life.

The other candidate talked about her parents’ divorce, about a boyfriend who had a drinking problem and about experiencing feelings of loneliness following the death of her cat, and so on. When it was my turn I said that it was enough of a crisis to try to get a spot at the Academy. This was not enough for psychologist. He asked: "Have you had any other crises." Then I invented something about being jealous of my brother, who was about to get married, because I did not even have a boyfriend. After this the psychologist asked: "But haven=t you had any major crises?"

I answered: "What on earth do you mean by crises? Aren’t there enough crises in normal everyday life?" Actually, I felt that if I revealed some of the true stories of the crises in my life that I would not be accepted into the Academy. My partner, with all of his true stories, did not get in.

5 Putting narratives to the practical test: pragmatism

The stories can also be viewed in the light of their practical consequences. In this view, the criteria of truth is the workableness of the story. To be precise, pragmatism is not a truth theory, despite the fact that it has often been mentioned in conjunction with correspondence and coherence theories as one of the classics. Rather, it is a means of practically testing the truth, which has been verified in some other way. In pragmatism, the concept of truth is replaced with the concepts of workbleness and practicality. To simplify, according to pragmatism, good stories are beneficial and profitable, and bad stories are not.
Perhaps one of the best examples of the practical use of narratives is narrative psychotherapy. In recent family therapy, for example, the narrative viewpoint has become one of the main theoretical approaches. In psychological crises, the patient’s self-narrative can be so incoherent or collapsed that nothing more than minute fragments of the self-narrative, which precedes the crisis can be seen. As the dominant self-narrative predicts the future, the collapsed or incoherent story makes the future seem chaotic as well. In situations such as these, the therapist aims at helping the person or the group in question to create a more coherent self-narrative, which opens up new, more positive views for the future. (Holma & Aaltonen 1995, 308 - 309; Holma 1999, 12 - 19.)

From this view, the "truth" of the self-narrative remains an unessential point. The practical consequences establish the worth of the narrative. From a postmodern perspective, the truthfulness of the self-narrative is a minor concern. The most important aspect is how it actually works. If it helps the individual or the group to live a better and more productive life, the story is worth telling and retelling. These kinds of narratives of emancipation, empowerment and freedom are at the centre of some research traditions, which fall under the umbrella term of critical theory, including feminist research and some trends of action research.

There are also some applications of the narrative approach in the sphere of teacher education, in which the narratives serve as a practical means of achieving an identity as a teacher (e.g. Cole & Knowles 1995; Heikkinen et al. 2000). In these approaches, the purpose of the teachers’ self-narratives is to promote their personal and professional growth, and to achieve an appropriate professional identity as a teacher.

7 Fabula - the eternal truth of human life

An interesting viewpoint on the narrative truth can be found through Jerome Bruner=s interpretation of the Russian formalists’ concepts of fabula, sjuzet and forma. The relationship between fabula and sjuzet seems to offer a particularly interesting view on the study of the truth in autobiographical writing. To cite Bruner:

The timeless fabula is the mythic, the (transcendent) trancendent plight that a story is about: human jealousy, authority and obedience, thwarted ambition, and those other plights that lay claim to human universality. The sjuzet then incorporates or realizes the timeless fabula not only in the form of plot but also in an unwinding net of language. Frank Kermode says that the joining of fabula and sjuzet in story is like the blending of timeless mystery and current scandal. The ancient dilemmas of envy, loyalty, jealousy are woven into the acts of Iago, Othello, Desdemona, and Everyman with a fierce particularity and localness that, in Joyce=s words, yield an "epiphany of the ordinary". (Bruner 1987, 16.)

Fabula could be described as a composition of the everlasting themes of human life, which are adapted to a numberless amount of individual life stories. Among these constitutive elements are birth and death, love and sexuality, human growth and the struggle for a better life, envy and bitterness, loyalty and care, power and emancipation, etc. These are the eternal tensions which dominate human life, no matter what historical epoch the story talks about, and no matter where in the world the individuals happen to live their lives. Moreover, it is through science fiction that these eternal dilemmas of human life are transferred into the fictional life outside of the world and in the future. Thus, in the sense of fabula, science fiction offers interesting viewpoints into the study of the problem of truth. We could say that the corner-stones of human life can be highlighted in science fiction better than in the context of our everyday lives. As Bruner (1987, 17) puts it: "to achieve such epiphanous and unique ordinariness, we are required (...) to ‘make the ordinary strange’." In science fiction, the ordinary human life is adapted into nonordinary circumstances, and in this way, ordinary life indeed becomes strange.

This view on truth as fabula can be incorporated into the notion of hermeneutic truth illustrated above. To open up a hermeneutical experience, the story must somehow be connected with "the ordinary" already at its point of departure. In other words, it should include a certain degree of "sameness" that it shares with the reader. But, in order to achieve a hermeneutic experience, the story must challenge the reader with something new, with some kind of "otherness". If the story merely repeats everything that the reader already knows, it neither interests the reader nor does it initiate any kind of learning experience or opening of new horizons. On the other hand, if the text is too far removed from the reader’s previous experiences and the concepts he or she has used, it is incapable of starting the hermeneutic process of learning and understanding. The reader finds the text simply too difficult to understand, or rejects it on the basis of its strangeness. Therefore, the narrative must somehow be connected with the reader’s previous experiences, and the other significant narratives, which are being told and retold in our society. Therefore, a good story can be situated in the space between sameness and otherness.

To apply this to the idea of scientific paradigms by Thomas Kuhn (1970), a story (a theory) is considered good by the scientific community if it adds some new knowledge to the prevailing paradigm. But if the proposal is too unusual, it is either disregarded by scientists, or it begins a new scientific revolution. This demonstrates to us the way in which the dimensions of "otherness" and "sameness" are not fixed, but rather float throughout the ongoing (scientific) discussions. Some day, a story can be found in the crevices between sameness and otherness, but some other time, with the progression of time, the dimensions float into other positions. Therefore, a story (or a theory), which has been radical for some time is no longer considered radical any more, because the scales have been altered.

An interesting example of the balance between the sameness and the otherness of the story can be found in another novel of Peter Höeg’s, Milla’s Sense of Snow. It begins by portraying a quite realistic view of Danish life in a block of flats in Copenhagen, and the reader is prepared to read a fascinating whodunit, situated in a Scandinavian city. Gradually, toward the end of the novel, the text turns into or pure science fiction. The move from realism into science fiction over the course of the story is so delicate that the reader hardly notices the point at which the realistic scenes become science fiction. Despite the shift from realism to surrealism, the eternal themes of fabula - especially the themes of power and the claim of expiation - are elaborately developed into a climax, situated on the coast of Greenland. This turn from sameness (realism) into otherness (surrealism) in the novel, combined with the skilful management of eternal themes of human life, the fabula begins an impressive hermeneutical experience.


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