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Jerome Bruner on folk psychology and narrative

July 31, 2012

Hope I’m not repeating myself – I have a mess of quotes I’m trying to sort out…

“Another crucial feature of narrative… is that it specializes in the forging of links between the exceptional and the ordinary. … the viability of a culture inheres in its capacity for resolving conflicts, for explicating differences and renegotiating communal meanings.  The “negotiated meanings” discussed by social anthropologists or culture critics as essential to the conduct of a culture are made possible by narrative’s apparatus for dealing simultaneously with canonicality and exceptionality.  Thus, while a culture must contain a set of norms, it must also contain a set of interpretive procedures for rendering departures from those norms meaningful in terms of established patterns of belief. … Stories achieve their meanings by explicating deviations from the ordinary in a comprehensible form – by providing the “impossible logic” discussed in the preceding section.[1]

[1] P47 Bruner, Jerome “Folk Psychology as an Instrument of Culture.”

Elsewhere in this essay, he writes:

All cultures have as one of their most powerful constitutive instruments a folk psychology [common sense etc], a set of more or less connected, more or less normative descriptions about how human beings “tick,” what our own and other minds are like, what one can expect situated action to be like, what are possible modes of life, how one commits oneself to them, and so on.”  “…its organizing principle is narrative rather than conceptual…” (p.35)

“Folk psychology …posits a world outside ourselves that modifies the expression of our desires and beliefs.  This world is the context in which our acts are situated, and states of the world may provide reasons for our desires and beliefs….” (P40)

“Stories must necessarily, then, relate to what is morally valued, morally appropriate, or morally uncertain. … Stories, carried to completion, are explorations in the limits of legitimacy.” (p.50)

“There is another feature of well-formed narrative, what I have called elsewhere its “dual landscape.”  That is to say, events and actions in a putative “real world” occur concurrently with mental events in the consciousness of the protagonists.” (p.51)

“… the Trouble that drives literary narrative has become, as it were, more epistemic, more caught up in the clash of alternative meanings, less involved in the settled realities of a landscape of action.” (p.52)

All references from: Folk psychology as an instrument of culture – Jerome Bruner

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