Topics for Paper I, REL 407/507 Narrative Selves

Due Tuesday, January 21, 2013, in class.

Topics (Select one of the following topics)

1.In Time and Self, Paul Brockelman defines the self as a "double relation." That is, "'I'" am just this set of temporal activities [doing and reflecting, in relation to past, future, present, attitudes, values] along with a reflective relationship to it as part of that flow" (77). The "doing and reflecting" is the first relation, the reflective relation to that 'doing and reflecting' is the second relation. This second reflecting reveals the key role of memory and story, such that "'I'" am a story in the process of happening" (74). Take one or two episodes from The Notebook that illustrate how 'I' can be regarded as a story in the process of becoming, that is, as the "double relation" as defined by Brockelman. How does this help us to understand the significance of narrative in constituting the self? What are the limitations of this "double relation" model of the self." What happens to the self in this double relation when memory begins to break down?

2. In Zen Training Katsuki Sekida describes the self in terms of nen, or "thought impulse" (108). A) Nen or "thought impulse" is inseparable from action, and B) at the level of initial or first nen, there is no separation between mind and matter, self and world. There are degrees of reflection involved in this thought impulse or nen. In the "first nen," one simply manifests the nen, "It is sunny outside today." In the second nen, one thinks, "I wonder if it was sunny yesterday," or "I was not so aware of the weather yesterday." One might have yet another level of reflection, a third nen, "Why have I been thinking about the weather so much recently?" According to Sekida, we can become lost in second and third nen and so have difficulty returning to the ever-present first nen, which he also calls "pure existence" (119). According to Sekida, we can purify our thought- and action- process so that there is a continuous stream of first nen. This is called absolute samadhi (meditative oneness)(119). (There is also "positive samadhi" which is absorption in some goal-directed activity; in positive samadhi there is often a continuous stream of first and second nen alternating.
Take one or two episodes from The Notebook and describe how first, second, and third nen operate, and if possible something like absolute samadhi also appears. How is memory related to this process of nen unfolding, and what is the potential significance of nen theory for understanding the narrative self. What is the nen process of a person afflicted with Alzheimer's disease? Do they have a dysfunctional nen process, or are they always in first nen, or is nen-theory unable to fully account for memory dysfunction?

3. In "The 'Remembered' Self," Jerome Bruner describes the Self as "a perpetually rewritten story": "What we remember from the past is what is necessary to keep that story satisfactorily well formed, When new circumstances make the maintenance of that well-formedness sufficiently difficult, we undergo turning points that clarify or 'debug' the narrative" (53). Use Bruner's notion of the "remembered self" to discuss one of the main characters from The Notebook to describe the relation between memory, story/self-making, and turning points. What the strengths and limitations of Bruner's model of self-as-story?

4. In "What Is an Author," Michel Foucault examines the ideological function of the author as subject-in-culture: "How, under what conditions, and in what forms can something like a subject appear in the order of discourse? . . . In short, [the task of inquiring into the subject as author] is a matter of depriving the subject . . . of its role as originator, and of analyzing the subject as a variable and complex function of discourse. . . . The question then becomes: How can one reduce the great peril, the great danger with which fiction threatens our world? The answer is: one can reduce it with the author" (118).

Use Foucault's notion of the subject as author to analyze the ideological function of one of the main characters of The Notebook, where the character is understood as the autobiographical subject. Can one imagine the danger of "fiction" of which Foucault speaks in the creation of the chosen character as autobiographical subject. What is the dangerous fiction, if any, and how can this danger be reduced?

5. Compare any two of the above four notions of narrative self (Brockelman, Sekida, Bruner, Foucault). What are the similarities and differences? What are the strengths and weaknesse of each?