This collection of essays explores the challenges of researching personal narratives and the many levels of ambiguity that beset such an endeavour. The volume aims to disturb the dominance of an interpretive and ethical paradigm that privileges ’narrative coherence’. As such, it immediately invites meditation on where (in)coherence lies – the teller, the tale or the listener, or the in-between relations among them. The collection is framed as an attempt to move away from or beyond the conventional structure of narrative form as following a beginning, middle and end. It argues for a more generous sense of narrative possibilities, ones not confined by what the editors characterize as Aristotelian conceptions of narrative coherence that favour linear sequencing and thematic closure. Of course, fictional narratives take many forms – they play, subvert, parody, delight in and disappoint conventions – but so too do personal narratives, as the authors elaborate in their diverse examples. Related to this, the editors propose to question what they see as a dominant presumption that ‘persons live better and in a more ethical way, if they have a coherent life-story and coherent narrative identity’ (p.2). There is, then, a strong voice questioning perceived assumptions about narrative form and effects, and a corresponding interest in elaborating some alternative ways of recognizing and writing about narratives that may take different a form, or struggle to be recognized. I have some mixed responses to these ambitions, in part because I had thought that the conceptions of narrative coherence which the editors dispute had already been profoundly unsettled – by, among others, modernism, psychoanalysis, memory studies, and numerous variants of post-structural theorizing. It was, however, with somewhat of a refreshing jolt that I encountered reflections on the authority of narrative coherence and its necessary undoing, making me think again about making meaning from personal or identity narratives and the constellation of aspirations animating narrative enquiry.
Recommended CitationMcLeod, Julie, Narrative Coherence, Co-incidence and Listening In-between (Book Review), Current Narratives, 3, 2011, 73-78.