Event in the structure of biographical text

General Information

Keywords: autobiographical narrative, experience, meaning, symbolization, event, text, socialization, culture

Journal rubric: Interviews and Essays

For citation: Sapogova E.E. Event in the structure of biographical text. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2006. Vol. 2, no. 5 (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)

A Part of Article

The life of each person as a unique existential adventure is interesting not only and not so much due to presence of universal but due to how many meanings is found due to individual ways of coexistence with the world, and construction of unique internal reality. Process of personal “self-presenting)” makes the person “to become the sign of him/herself “, dividing his/her own integrity of values, which constitute semantics of private life.

Unpacking of person’s own senses for others occurs in mediated way through a sign, word, and text, including autobiographical narrative. Building him/herself for another, the person not only orders and designs him/herself as a part of the world contemporary to he/she, but also creates contours of another Self while absent in life, but able to appear as result of realization of “the ideal project“ (S.N. Bulgakov) chosen by the person for self-realization. Presenting him/herself in texts, the person certifies a way of the existence in social space and simultaneously verifies his/her meanings.

Any text can be described as rhetorical amplification of the certain judgment, and this idea fits very much to construction of the text of the curriculum vitae. Analyzing quasi biographical texts, which are created by preschool children, it is easy to notice that these texts are expansion of the fundamental statement “I am“, certified by name, the presence of parents, things belonging to the child and so forth. Then these texts of the simple self-certificate, being unwrapped in time prospect, become autobiographical, in part metaphorical, in selfpresentations, keeping the existential “I am“ in the basis.

If we count as the unit of life the events constantly occurring with the person or actions and cases in all their significant and insignificant attributes for the person (a reality) thus including them into the autobiographical text then we have the transformation of a case into the event (event-for-Self) due to involving into what is happening and nonindifference to its meanings (M.M. Bahtin) and amplification — biassed investment of content that is superfluous in relation to it that was gathered from own meanings of the person, transforming living into experience.

At construction of an autobiographical narration a conditional first phase (a level of a history) is the selection of events for the purpose of current dialogue. The status of the “own” event and the actual contents) of narrative is focused on “here-and-now reality-response” of external or internal listener. The autobiographical text exists as the active figurative — verbal form of personal meanings’ embodiment. The second phase (a level of narration) is narration itself as result of composite construction of the biographic text connecting situations, characters, actions in such order, which is necessary for the subject. At this level the forms, narrative figures and plots are selected. In the narrative structure the event sometimes is exposed to apocryphying and even to distortion. The last third level (verbalizations of narrative) is the presentation of the narration, which is oriented to the listener including intonations, pauses, tempo and rhythm of narration and the style patterns, peculiar to the concrete storyteller.

If on the first phase the high importance has personal including in an event so narratization “strengthens” the significant moments of event due to saturation with the details gathered from semiotics resources of culture. This creates the paradoxical impression that uniqueness of the own event looks for the person more authentic and convincing if he/she appeals to available cultural prototypes. It seems that the culture, attaching the person to its resources, simultaneously “pulls out” from his/her hands the individual life experience, forcing him/her to describe it in common cultural categories. Ability to resist influence of the cultural prototype and to build the self-descriptive text deviating from typical plots with the purpose of fixing own meanings may be seen as “integrated heroism” of each subject.

Analyzing the features of the events included in an autobiographical narration, the author of article has allocated some moments in their understanding.

First of all, it is “eventual expectations“ or “existential readiness“ of person to event — an original condition of cognitive and emotional tension, expectations of situations which supposedly “should occur“ in life. The person beforehand forms the attitude towards these future incidents as to events and becomes superfluously attentive to those “zones” of daily life in which their occurrence is probable. Attributes and meanings of similar vital situations are familiar to the subject under the texts mastered through socialization. Special value have the texts which are carrying out the function of precedent, in which the meanings of the future cases act for person in the first / exemplary form. Their function, between others, consists in preliminary “sectoring”, “programming” yet not holding way of life, filling it with semantics with the help of common cultural means. In the body of culture objects and the phenomena are supplied with the big variety of attributes, and the task of the texts used for early socialization is to build in consciousness the precedent system of preferences of one value to another.

The second important point — the amplification, creation of “the rich description“ which is understood as superfluous saturation of the certain case by personal meanings, including the attributes which create an opportunity of certain interpretation of knowledge having place in conditions of social codes.

The third moment — symbolization — acts as conscious action of the subject as creator of the text version of his/her own life where certain event gets the status of a biographic symbol. It is possible to assume, that in course of life a certain event can be experienced as symbolical display of all life events of the person (as motif of all life). Creating the autobiographical narrative, the person creates meanings and symbols, forces meaning to exist through him/her: the meaning is not a principle and not an original cause; it is a product of life creating. Symbolization reflects in the form autobiographical narrative — ascertaining, performative , didactic, symbolical, etc. It is also possible to speak about semantic hierarchization of life events in the individual biography. However the person perceives all events included as unique, individual, given in experience only him/her irrespective to how much they are filled with meaning. Such events can be connected with the secrecy of the person connecting him/her with something bigger, than he/she is (the God, space, fate).

To understand the processes of putting in order and structuring of autonarration the author offers to use a metaphor of a coherent (binding) wave. “ The Coherent wave” is the mental process of constant putting in order the built autobiographical hypertext: after transformation of the certain incident into the own event, this new event compels the narrator to reconstruct his/her available biography with the help of ascending and descending narrative transformations. The person is compelled to correct and even it is essential to change the contents and meanings of some fragments of his/her autobiographical narrative to place in the past the labels testifying to an opportunity and necessity of come this new event. Moreover, this “wave” demands forming certain strategies about the future incidents and cases (the logic of happening of one event pulls behind itself the logic of others, forming new sequences).

"The Coherent wave“ not only generalizes individual events in a sequences, but connects histories, life plots one with another and generalizes them up to extremely compressed form — “meaning of the life”. For this reason, while life lasts, stories about themselves can vary essentially. The metaphor of a coherent wave also explains the fact, that in course of life in the person’s curriculum vitae the built-in fragments being a pure product of imagination can appear.

The important function at construction of autobiographical narrative has “the ontologic pulse“ carries out (G.L. Tul’chinsky)/ It means that to desirable or due the person gives the existential status (“let it will be...!“). It is not simply certain assumptions or suppositions of the person, but almost target constructions of his/her consciousness, capable to design for him/her a reality of the future incidents. Not only the personality builds the text of his/her own life, but also the text builds the personality. The question “that would be, if I did not...?” is completely not idle for person because his/her individual history is the set not only of that really was, but also of that could be. And the growing volume of the facts which have not come to pass in his/her life narratively establishes the meaning of that ones, which have come to pass (M.N. Epshtejn).

One of the essential moments in construction of autobiographical narrative is presenting of “the feeling of possible“, “feeling” if“ “ (M.N. Epshtejn). It means that in comprehension of life event as the event, the person every time experiences intuitive expansion of those ideas and feelings, which accompanied it (the event).

The text of the curriculum vitae created by narration not only allows the person to order and systematize him/herself, to experience better his/her own authenticity, but also carries out function of a mirror in which he/she repeatedly can see him/herself as other one and choose him/herself the real. Each subsequent life stage incorporates into its semantic structure the opportunities of previous stages, that explains the principal increasing of opportunities with age, but at the same time sets borders to the personal development.  

Information About the Authors

Elena E. Sapogova, Doctor of Psychology, Professor of the Department of Educational Psychology, Faculty of Pedagogy and Psychology, Moscow State Pedagogical University, Professor, member of the editorial board of the journal “Cultural-Historical Psychology”., Moscow, Russia, e-mail: esapogova@yandex.ru



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