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Gorin, S. (2018). Tales of Love and Darkness: Narrating the Self. Fort Da, 24(2):70-81.

(2018). Fort Da, 24(2):70-81

Tales of Love and Darkness: Narrating the Self

Shlomit Gorin, M.A.

One need not be a chamber to be haunted;

One need not be a house;

The brain has corridors surpassing

Material place.

— Emily Dickinson, “LXIX Part 4, Time and Eternity” (1891)

Examining the nature of autobiography requires grappling with myriad ways that dynamics of memory affect, and are affected by, perceptions and constructions of the self. The autobiography of Israeli writer Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness (2004), provides a rich medium through which to explore the relationships between a writer, the nature of memory, and self-expression. This tale challenges us to explore the complicated, revealing ways in which our self-constructions and memories inform one another. Our notions of our selves in relation to the memories we hold onto — and that hold onto us — are neither fixed nor reliably compatible with the ways we wish to see and experience ourselves. Consciously and unconsciously, we curate our memories and our narratives as they collide or blend with the competing forces of our needs and desires and their attendant defenses and vulnerabilities. Denial and delusion duel with acknowledgement and honesty, arbitrariness spars with purpose, pain wrangles with gain.

Essayist and autobiography specialist Philippe Lejeune (1989) asserts, “Telling the truth about the self, constituting the self as complete subject … is fantasy. In spite of the fact that autobiography is impossible, this in no way prevents it from existing” (pp. 131-132). Above all, autobiography is an invitation to reflect on the meaning of how, rather than what, we remember, and to muse on the manifold functions writing about the self perform. As such, it also offers us different ways of thinking about the dynamics of narrative self (co-)construction in clinical work. There's much for us to gain from autobiography scholars’ analyses and discussions, and from borrowing their ideas and hypotheses to consider spoken life narratives.

We listen to the content of our patients’ stories, but to gain a fuller sense of their experiences, we simultaneously pay attention to how these stories are told and what they reveal about the storytellers.

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