Big Fish, Bullshit

— Galen Strawson calls out the “narrativist orthodoxy” in his review of Jerome Bruner's Making Stories. Strawson argues, and he is right, that we are not “constituted” by the stories of our lives in which we cast ourselves as characters. While having a sense that one's life has gone well may involve seeing it as having had a satisfying narrative arc, the conditions for a satisfying arc are not something we are free to concoct from the abundant matter of imagination.

Bruner never raises the question of whether there is any sense in which one's self-narrative should be accurate or realistic. Those who favour the extreme fictionalist or post-modernist version of the narrative self-creation view don't care about this, both because they don't care about truth and because a fiction isn't open to criticism by comparison with reality (it doesn't matter that there is no Middle Earth). But honesty and realism about self and past must matter. There are innumerable facts about one's character and history that don't depend on one's inventions. One can't found a good life on falsehood.

Strawson's point should lead us to ask what makes a good story a good story. Presumably it has something to do with relating to the world, and to others, in the right sort of way. And the right way to relate is a fact about the world, independent of the stories we tell.

Reason editors with degrees in literature or film eager to praise consumer culture for providing the stuff of narrative self-invention, take note.

[Link via A&L Daily.]