Andrea Hairston (Theatre) & Bill Peterson (Psychology)
In narrative we enter imagined,
constructed, performed worlds. Through narrative we translate
ourselves into others, and translate others into our terms.
This process inevitably interrogates the normative principles
of the world we inhabit. Storytellers' engagement with otherness
allows for Communitas — transcending individual boundaries,
shedding 'I' for 'we,' and with the interweaving of multiple
stories, we collectively conjure a universe, a master narrative
that, in turn, has an impact on personal identity. Storytellers
who may be anthropologists and novelists, psychologists and
historians, filmmakers, solo performance artists, and biographers,
all collect life experiences and, among other things, transform
them into a performance of identity and community. By narrating
the lives of others, we discover ourselves.
The capacity to transport ourselves beyond our own experience,
to translate ourselves into narrative subjects, is a fundamental
element of any story we want to tell. The Fellows of this
project investigated how storytellers — broadly
conceived — go about translating themselves across
difference in order to make meaning of their own lived experiences
and the experiences of others. The questions that such an
investigation raised included the following:
What does it mean to narrate or perform the life of
What are the limits that are imposed on who or what
can be written about?
What strategies are employed to identify with our subjects?
What are the factors that
determine which narratives are regarded as "authentic" or "representative?"
The work of this project had relevance
to scholars working with oral histories, case studies, life
narratives, as well as those undertaking fictional creative
writing projects. In our weekly research colloquia, we discussed
and challenged both theoretical texts and other narratives;
we critiqued each other's writing; and engaged
visiting writers and theorists around the basic questions
of our project.