Stanley Hauerwas, Why Narrative? Readings in Narrative Theology.

Edited by Stanley Hauerwas and L. Gregory Jones. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.

in Why Narrative?, Hauerwas presents an interesting set of essays on the idea of narrative as a tool for theology or ethics. A few essays are more philosophical and address the use of narrative in giving meaning to human life.



Martha Nussbaum’s essay “Narrative Emotions: Beckett’s Genealogy of Love” examines the nature of the emotions as related to implicitly held narratives and imaginative literature. Emotions are not irrational forces welling up within the human consciousness, but rather socially produced and controllable reactions: “we are all tellers of stories, and since one of the child’s most pervasive and powerful ways of learning its society’s values and structures is through the stories it hears and learns to tell, stories will be a major source of any culture’s emotional life. What fear, or love, is will be, for a child . . . a construct out of stories, the intersection, the somewhat confused amalgam of those stories. Stories first construct and then evoke (and strengthen) the experience of feeling” (225-226). Certain emotions will imply the acceptance of certain stories, and thus, certain beliefs (224).

Stephen Crites in “The Narrative Quality of Experience” adds a dimension to this thought, stressing that “such stories, and the symbolic worlds they project, are not like monuments that men behold, but like dwelling-places. People live in them. . . . men’s sense of self and world is created through them” (70). Crites writes that personal identity depends on continuity of experience through time (78) such that we will constantly review and reformulate our past in order to make sense of the direction of life as a whole. In doing so, stories direct our formulations (MacIntyre writes on this, giving the example of Jane Austen’s Emma who misinterprets her experience as a romance novel like those she reads). Certainly, writes Crites, there is a difference between one’s own identity and the stories one reads, but in reality “the two so interpenetrate that they form a virtual identity, which . . . is in fact a man’s very sense of his own personal identity” (81). Thus, our first stories are pivotal.

Hauerwas with David Burrell in “From System to Story: An Alternative Pattern for Rationality in Ethics” echoes this conclusion, noting that “adopting different stories will lead us to become different sorts of persons. The test of each story is the sort of person it shapes. . . . In allowing ourselves to adopt and be adopted by a particular story, we are in fact assuming a set of practices which will shape the ways we relate to our world and destiny” (185-186).

Guided by story, our actions become a pattern of habits: this is our identity, according to Ronald Thiemann in “The Promising God: The Gospel as Narrated Promise.” Writes Thiemann: “in order to answer questions which inquire after a person’s identity, e.g. ‘Who is Jane? What is she like?’ We relate a story which identifies a pattern of behavior as ‘characteristically hers’ and which allows us to attribute to her certain traits of character. Narrative identification thus entails the description of patterns of behavior which because of their persistence over time we identify as characteristic” (320-321).

MacIntyre has two pivotal essays in here as well, which are dealt with separately.

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