the joys of randomness

30 October 2015

I love making random discoveries that become a potentially important part of the research journey. Not only is it great fun, as you meander in an apparently aimless way through the web, but I find it highly subversive. Years of counter-intuitive obedience to the scientific method, ruthlessly and inappropriately demanded because –

because of what? Because it is demanded by most mainstream medical journals? Because it is what most doctors feel familiar with? Because they don’t actually know that there are other methodologies and methods? Or, and I suspect that this is the greater truth, because science (and by extension medicine, which no longer considers itself an art) believes that it is superior to the arts and humanities. It deals in facts and hard truths (so it says).

So my mini journey started as I sat down to read through my MRes thesis in preparation for defending it at the viva next week. I made notes as I went, and then left it to go and do other things. Ideas mulled around in my head during the afternoon, and as I was driving later in the day I caught the end of radio 4’s ‘Open Book’. The discussion appeared to be about agency, and the agency that people can acquire through telling their stories.

The fragments that I had heard niggled at the back of my mind over night and I tracked down the programme this morning to listen to the full discussion. It transpired that the discussion had been about migrant fiction and the experience of being torn from one life and trying to make sense of your new world, linking the before and the after. The bit that I had heard went more or less like this:

“Storytelling is the overarching category because in addition to empathy there is an aspect that allows for imagining spaces of agency. People have agency in the story they tell about their lives and their journey. In telling their story they make decisions, they have impact. Being allowed, being capable of telling the story of your life in any way you want [gives you agency].”

Earlier the speaker had said something that seemed very important to me:

“Writing literature provides access to emotions and forms of knowledge that are not available otherwise.”

The speaker was Aleksandar Hemon, completely unknown to me, so of course I googled him. He is a Bosnian-American who was visiting the US when the war in the Balkans broke out, tearing apart his home city of Sarajevo. His writing (according to wikipedia) is concerned with different aspects of that experience. I went to his website and clicked on his most well known book, The Lazarus Project, only to discover that he has created an interactive website linked to the book.

So now I feel that I have come full circle (very Eliotian). I am trying to use visual and written creative practice in my research; I learned a little about interactive storytelling in one of my MRes modules. Certainly the power of using fiction to tell one’s story relates to autoethnographic practice, and without detracting from the uniqueness of the migrant experience I suggest that there some parallels for people with mental illnesses. We too are often trying to make sense of lives before and after diagnosis, and before and after relapses of illness.

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