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Meaning and narrative : a phenomenological enquiry, with reference to psychotherapy

Willbourn, H.R. (1997). Meaning and narrative : a phenomenological enquiry, with reference to psychotherapy. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


The thesis is grounded in Heideggerian phenomenology. It examines the existentiale of meaning in Heidegger's ontology of Dasein of the 1920s and proposes that the concept of narrative can clarify our understanding of meaning in human life. Narrative theory in turn is critically examined and the importance of the difference between the spoken and written word is elucidated. It is demonstrated that the theoretical understanding of narrative has been distorted by the acceptance of literary narrative as paradigmatic. The primordial form of narrative is shown to be oral. A commentary on Heidegger's analysis of boredom is undertaken and it is shown that the essential structure of narrative is given by the ecstatic temporality of Dasein that is not bored. The event of non-boring oral storytelling is analysed in detail and shown to be a particular existentiell modification of Dasein as being-with. In this event Dasein is called to its own authenticity and transposed into the Da of the story. In the final chapter links are made to the theory and practice of psychotherapy and of performance. The existentiell transformation of Dasein in a well-told oral storytelling event is shown to be the therapeutic essence of psychotherapeutic dialogue. Insight on its own is not curative; psychotherapeutic change is dependent on the way in which a patient is able to tell their story. Only by taking up authentic possibilities is the client's authentic future freed. Similarly in public performances of theatre or storytelling the mysterious phenomena of audiences being transported, uplifted and unified are revealed to be instances of the same existentiell transformation. We conclude by indicating the significance of our findings for philosophy and narrative theory and highlighting the importance of the untranscribable meaning of oral discourse.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
School of Policy & Global Affairs > School of Policy & Global Affairs Doctoral Theses
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