Friday, August 24, 2012

Storytelling Our Way to Happiness

I'm still thinking about the question of women's happiness which I have blogged about before. While I was cleaning today, I accidentally ripped an old, graying newspaper clipping stuck on the side of my refrigerator. Before throwing it away, I read it over again and realized why I've kept it all these years.  I love the ideas of the philosopher, Richard Rorty, about storytelling and self-creation. We can make and remake ourselves through the stories we tell. If you have a philosophical bent, read on.

In his ideal of self-creation ... Rorty's new twist is to stress language and literature. The task, as he sees it is to replace the descriptions and labels imposed on us by others – family, professions, culture – with our own descriptions, our own language.  We create ourselves by telling our own story.

For Rorty, this isn't so much a matter of giving form to the accidental tangle of compulsions, desires and roles that we crudely refer to with the pronoun "I." It's a matter of self-enlargement and self-enrichment – of maximizing possibilities and experiences. "Do I contradict myself?" Whitman wrote. "Very well then I contradict myself (I am large, I contain multitudes)." This is the sort of picaresque story – full of richly diverse and dissonant impulses and adventures – that Rorty thinks we should be telling about ourselves. To help us do it, we won't have much use for traditional philosophers. What we need are storytellers whose writing gives examples of self-transformation, and poets and poetic philosophers who generate new metaphors for imagining ourselves.

As I said before, I think part of the unhappiness of women is that the narratives do not serve them in thinking about themselves or their lives. The mismatch between the cultural narrative and the individual life creates a friction that rubs the women listening to the mainstream message raw and leaves them unsatisfied with themselves and their lives.

BTW, I think the quote is from an article in the New York Times Magazine from 1990 called "Every Man a Philosopher" but I'm not sure. All I can find are phrases quoted that match the bit of paper I clipped out. The bibliography for one such quote lists: Klepp, L.S. (1990). Every man a philosopher. The New York Times Magazine, Dec. 2, 1990. So we'll go with that unless somebody tells me otherwise.

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