The Changing Self: Narratives of Personal Transformation

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This yearlong lecture will introduce students to the theory and practice of narrative psychology by looking to a number of narratives to consider questions about structure and transformation in a life. Today, personal narratives are increasingly accepted as a useful inroad to understanding one’s sense of self and identity. During the first semester, we will focus particularly on the issues of structure in writing about one’s own life and another’s life. We will read psychoanalytic case studies, existential and phenomenological case studies, ethnographies written outside of one’s own culture, and contemporary narrative work in psychology. In so doing, we will inquire into power dynamics and ethics, the relationship between experience and writing, and the shifting genre of the life history on the boundary between the social sciences and the humanities. During the second semester, we will focus on the question of transformation in a life. What does it mean to change? Is there any continuity to what we call “self”? What is the difference between writing amidst and after a transformation? We will read a number of autobiographical accounts, especially those dealing with major life change such as exile, madness, creativity, violence, illness, and the sublime. Course work will include essays, exams, and in-class presentations.