Narrative in Question Seminar 6

Wednesday 17 May 2017, 4.00PM to 5.30pm

Emily Heavey (SPRU): 'Telling ghost stories: The narrative construction of the phantom limb.'

Medical and social understandings of phantom limb sensation (PLS) have changed radically in the past hundred years, from the ghastly evidence of a fractured psyche, to useful – though still mysterious – neurologic processes. Recently, philosophers like Sobchack have used phenomenological approaches to reveal the lived experiences of phantoms. However, despite the growing field of narrative medicine and interest in patients’ stories, there has been no exploration of individuals’ narrative constructions of PLS. This paper draws on Crawford’s recent exploration of the sociomedical history of PLS, and its implications for people who experience phantoms, as well as depictions of ghosts found in literature and oral storytelling. I analyse the 'ghost stories' told by lower-limb amputees who experience phantom sensations, to demonstrate how storytelling is used to construct PLS (or the absence thereof), and the implications of analysing such constructions.

I show how storytellers construct versions of their own subjectively lived embodiment, whilst simultaneously constructing a competent self and dismissing the possibility of psychic damage or delusion. To achieve this complex rhetorical task, storytellers depict a narrated world of ghosts from which I - the story's audience - was absent, while drawing on our shared knowledge of embodiment (for example, what it means to feel pain).  By analysing stories like these, we can extend narrative medicine to include experiences of ghostly bodies, and begin to understand how shared discourses about phantoms - and ghosts - are experienced and addressed by those who experience PLS, and the challenges faced when accounting for these experience in social or medical contexts.

Richard Walsh (English): 'The Centre for Narrative Gravity: Narrative and the Philosophy of Selfhood after Dennett'

There is a broadly based intellectual tradition that gives narrative a key role in our understanding of selfhood. The claim has thoroughgoing radical versions and very circumspect modest versions; in this paper I suggest that even the most modest give narrative too much credit, while even the most radical underestimate its importance. That is, I think there is good reason to give narrative a crucial role in the constitution of selfhood, but this does not mean the self is in any sense narrative in form. The reasons for this view have to do with arguments about the way narrative is understood as well as with the conception of selfhood; my approach here is to consider a range of arguments for and against narrative selfhood in the light of a conception of narrative as, fundamentally, a mode of cognition. My starting point is Daniel Dennett’s well-known proposition, from Consciousness Explained, that your self is ‘nothing more than, and nothing less than, your center of narrative gravity’; I’ll consider what he meant by that, and how others have responded; I’ll also consider what it might usefully be taken to mean regardless of Dennett’s own intentions.


Narrative in Question is an ICNS research programme for Spring and Summer terms 2017, bringing together visiting speakers and York researchers with narrative-related interests. The core events are a series of seminars and guest lectures, and a culminating workshop featuring international contributors and a workshop focussed upon developing an interdisciplinary research project.

The idea for the programme is that the question of narrative provides a conceptual hub for dialogue amongst participants with widely divergent individual research agendas. The seminars will feature individual research projects in which the issue of narrative is fundamentally at stake. All project participants share a concern to put narrative in question, whether as a theoretical concept, as a mode of discourse or cognition, as a particular corpus or tradition, as a set of formal devices and techniques, as a use of specific media, or as a research methodology.

See the full programme of events

Location: Seminar Room BS/008, Humanities Research Centre, Berrick Saul Building, University of York Campus West

Email: richard.walsh@york.ac.uk

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