Me too. And Montaigne:Nevertheless, it does seem that there are some deeply Narrative types among us, where to be Narrative with a capital ‘N’ is (here I offer a definition) to be naturally disposed to experience or conceive of one’s life, one’s existence in time, oneself, in a narrative way, as having the form of a story, or perhaps a collection of stories, and – in some manner – to live in and through this conception. The popularity of the narrativist view is prima facie evidence that there are such people.Perhaps. But many of us aren’t Narrative in this sense. We’re naturally – deeply – non-Narrative. We’re anti-Narrative by fundamental constitution. It’s not just that the deliverances of memory are, for us, hopelessly piecemeal and disordered, even when we’re trying to remember a temporally extended sequence of events. The point is more general. It concerns all parts of life, life’s ‘great shambles’, in the American novelist Henry James’s expression. This seems a much better characterisation of the large-scale structure of human existence as we find it. Life simply never assumes a story-like shape for us. And neither, from a moral point of view, should it.The tendency to attribute control to self is, as the American social psychologist Dan Wegner says, a personality trait, possessed by some and not others. There’s an experimentally well-attested distinction between human beings who have what he calls the ‘emotion of authorship’ with respect to their thoughts, and those who, like myself, have no such emotion, and feel that their thoughts are things that just happen. This could track the distinction between those who experience themselves as self-constituting and those who don’t but, whether it does or not, the experience of self-constituting self-authorship seems real enough. When it comes to the actual existence of self-authorship, however – the reality of some process of self-determination in or through life as life-writing – I’m skeptical.
H/t 3QD.More generally, and putting aside pathological memory loss, I’m in the camp with the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, when it comes to specifically autobiographical memory: ‘I can find hardly a trace of [memory] in myself,’ he writes in his essay ‘Of Liars’ (1580). ‘I doubt if there is any other memory in the world as grotesquely faulty as mine is!’ Montaigne knows this can lead to misunderstanding. He is, for example, ‘better at friendship than at anything else, yet the very words used to acknowledge that I have this affliction [poor memory] are taken to signify ingratitude; they judge my affection by my memory’ – quite wrongly. ‘However, I derive comfort from my infirmity.’
Poor memory protects him from a disagreeable form of ambition, stops him babbling, and forces him to think through things for himself because he can’t remember what others have said. Another advantage, he says, ‘is that... I remember less any insults received’.