The Narrative Self : Letters and Experience in Historical Research
Eiranen, Reetta (2015)
Private and Public Voices : An Interdisciplinary Approach to Letters and Letter Writing
Yhteiskunta- ja kulttuuritieteiden yksikkö
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Julkaisun pysyvä osoite on
First published by the Inter-Disciplinary Press.
I analyse the constructed nature of experience through the concepts of immediate experience (Erlebnis) and reflected experience (Erfahrung) and suggest that the latter is grasped and expressed by narration. I also propose that human beings understand themselves and others as well as their lived reality and temporality through narration and that, in this sense, narration has ontological significance for a human being. Human existence is seen as narrating, ‘being in a story and being as a story’. In this theoretical framework, letters can be seen as a form of narrating oneself and one’s experience. Writers not only narrate themselves but also the other, the recipient, and their relationship. I regard letters as ‘writings of the self’ in my analysis. They are often fruitful sources for studying subjective experiences, but this requires methodological rigour. There is always a difference between the self of the letter and the lived self. Letters afford a perspective on the person. I test my points in examples from the correspondence of two nineteenth century Finnish couples belonging to the gentry, the Snellmans and the Castréns. These letters illustrate how the writers construct and narrate themselves, the other and their romantic relationship in this dialogical space.
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