Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Learning to Question Narratives

Alice C. Linsley

We live by received narratives and rarely question them. They define us as a group: Ogala Sioux, Holocaust survivor, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, etc., and as members of a group we are not encouraged to critically assess the historicity and facticity of the narratives. My philosophy students are taught to do this in a logical fashion.

What is the value of this project? Critical analysis of group narratives helps students identity interpretations of historical events that do not align with facts. Further, the project leads to the proliferation of more accurate narratives, and these in turn raise more questions. Artists and novelists achieve greatness by doing this. Goya, Picasso, Cervantes, Faulkner and Hemingway are examples. Cultural anthropologists break new ground when they explore group narratives: Margaret Meade, Ruth Benedict, and Claude Levi-Strauss. In philosophy the great ontological questions have been relocated by those who question narratives, among them Heidegger, Levinas, and Derrida. Students involved in this project are more likely to think out of the box. They are the future great thinkers.

It is not enough to merely question a narrative. Questioning alone produces nothing of value. It is the trend these days, very avant garde. Scholarly pursuit of the truth yields value. It is hard work, and many students will lose interest very quickly.  Imagine how many minds were wandering during Heidegger's early morning Aristotle lectures in which he began by reading lengthy passages in classical Greek. Consider how annoying Socrates' probing questions were to Athenians whose prestige was bolstered by their narrative.

An important principle for students to grasp is that narratives conceal as much as they reveal. They express realities that are beyond our consciousness. Heidegger points to this reality when he writes, "It is necessary to surpass Aristotle - not in a forward direction in the sense of a progression, but rather backwards in the direction of a more original unveiling of what is comprehended by him." (Aristotle's Metaphysics 1-3: On the Essence and Actuality of Force, p. 69)

In the weeks ahead, we will explore various narratives, employing critical analysis and scholarly deconstruction. We will discover, as did Heidegger and others, that ontological research is essentially historical in character.

In the weeks ahead, we will evaluate the narratives that speak of Roman Catholic priestly succession. the origins of Judaism, the antecedents of Islam, and the Protestant narrative.

Related reading:  Something Older; What May Christians Safely Disbelieve?

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