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EHE Autobiographies
Record Type: Review   ID: 75

Rewriting the Self: History, Memory, Narrative

Freeman, Mark

 This book is not only about how individuals describe the meaning and significance of past experience—but how they reconstruct it. This is a highly important factor when it comes to exceptional human experience. According to the mechanistic paradigm, when someone relates their exceptional or anomalous experience, the "correct" approach is to check it out and find out how much evidence there is that it actually occurred as described. From the Experiential Paradigm, it is not the fact of the experience that is considered important but its impact on the experiencer and others—its meaning. In fact, when an exceptional experience is transformed into an exceptional human experience, meaning is the only thing that counts. In a sense, no exceptional experience can become an exceptional human experience until it is first incorporated into the identity and life of the experiencer in such a way that his or her spirituality is potentiated. In order for this transformation to occur, in a sense the exceptional experience must be reconstructed and rewritten so that it is no longer viewed as simply an anomaly but serves as a means of connecting the experiencer with the universe and all created things. This book is very important, then, in understanding how this reconstruction can be accomplished and what pitfalls lie in wait for the constructionist. From the mechanistic viewpoint the experiencer may be making up an experience out of nothing "real," or nothing that can be established as real. But to the experiencer he or she is discovering a hidden thread that leads to subsequent contact and interaction with a reality far more real than that revealed to the senses. The authenticity of the experience, in a sense, depends not so much on the "reality" of the facts about its origin and nature as the "reality" of its aftereffects, and these often can be publicly observed. Freeman is a psychologist whose aim is to explore, with examples drawn from autobiographies of St. Augustine, Helen Keller, Philip Roth, Sylvia Fraser, and Jill Kerr Conway, the process people use to reinterpret the significance/meaning of their past. We emphasize the act of writing one’s EHE autobiography because, as Freeman points out, "this process ... explodes the boundaries between [art and science]: the narrative imagination, engaged in the project of rewriting the self, seeks to disclose, articulate, and reveal that very world which, literally, would not have existed had the act of writing not taken place. ... We, again literally, would not exist, save as bodies, without imaging who and what we have been and are" (p. 223). Exceptional human experiences not only stretch the narrative imagination but authenticate the experiences in the process of working them out.
Publisher Information:New York: Routledge, 1993. 249p. Bibl: 237-244; Chap. notes: 233-236; Name Index: 245-247; Subject Index: 248-249
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