Coming back to a part-time PhD project after taking time away from it is not easy. The whole project cools down and you just can’t remember what the thread was, where you left off, what you have said, and whether or not the whole thing has any merit. In fact, you can easily convince yourself that it doesn’t.
The trick must be breaking the seal on your own inertia and just pile into to it, by writing. At least, I hope so because that’s going to be my therapy.
I have also started to read one or two texts that I know I have been avoiding. Paul Ricoeur, for one. I thought Gregory Bateson was a tough read, but pick up any book by Ricoeur and one almost immediately finds oneself in an intellectual undergrowth so dense that a predator could be on your shoulder about to devour you and you wouldn’t know. To illustrate, here is the sentence I stopped at yesterday, in the chapter “The Self and Narrative Identity” (in the book “Oneself as Another”), “In what sense, then, is it legitimate to see in the theory of the plot and of character a meaningful transition between the ascription of action to an agent who has the capacity to act and its imputation to an agent who has the obligation to act?”
I’m sure it makes sense. Or will when I work it out. A lot of Ricoeur’s ideas are of great importance to my research (for which, dear reader, I now have a new and very catchy title – “When Stories Meet: using Educational Biographies to explore a model of Reflection for Personal Development in post-experience Management Education.”). As I see it, Ricoeur says the following interesting things:
1. Any idea we have that time “exists” as a separate and knowable entity is mistaken. Time exists only to the extent that it is experienced. The present is a “between-place”, the middle that separates the beginning that is recollected and the end that is expected.
2. Time does not create Narrative, it is the other way round. We conjure time through the process (emplotment) of the arrangement of facts and events into sequence. The past and the future are brought into being by the ever-moving “knife’s edge” of the present.
3. Characters do not create a plot, it is the other way round. First, there is the plot, through which characters (and character) emerge. The process of emplotment seems to be at the heart of our sense of time and of personality.
I know this is probably grossly simplified, but it is helpful in framing the idea of reaching into personal development via narratives.
A few additional thoughts about narrative:
1. A single event, even if temporally experienced, is not a narrative. A narrative must consist of a set or series of events, which brings in Bateson’s idea of logical typing.
2. A narrative, moreover, requires as a concept a narrator and an audience. It is not just a series of events that just happen or are temporally experienced. Narrative is brought into being only in certain circumstances where there is the self and there is another.
3. A beginning, middle and end, is a form of narrative. So, intrinsically and not post-hoc, are “departure and arrival, departure and return, means and end, suspension and resolution, problem and solution” (Carr, 1986) (p 49).
Carr, D (1986) Time, Narrative and History, Indiana books