Encounters with Conrad: self-experience and narrativity.
Life Writing, 3(2) pp. 79–96.
This article begins by examining a recent essay by the British analytic philosopher Galen Strawson entitled "Against Narrativity," in which he not only rejects claims about the psychological and ethical necessity of narrative but also distinguishes, en route, between "episodic" and "diachronic" personalities, taking writers as examples. His attempts to label Joseph Conrad within this typology gave rise to subsequent discussion, which is briefly summarized here as a preliminary to a fuller analysis of some of Conrad's own writing from different genres. My objective is not to endorse or refute Strawson's schema but to make some cross-disciplinary moves, bringing this particular philosophical debate about self-experience and narrativity back into a framework where well-tested literary approaches can be deployed. Questions are raised about the kind of (written) evidence that can be used in trying discern a person's self-experience, and about the philosopher's assumptions of universal and autonomous individuality. I argue that writers are problematic exemplars of Strawson's categories, having both complex identities ("writing selves") and specialized skills in the manipulation of narratives that render their expressions of self-experience too opaque for the philosopher's purposes.
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