Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life

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9780374200244: Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life

From our most eminent psychologist, a wise new book on the function and meaning of narrative.

Stories--whether chronicles of truth or fancies of fiction--pervade our world and shape our understanding of it. They inform our most basic impressions of reality and impose structure on our lives. Yet so intrinsic is our grasp of narrative--we all tell stories and like to hear them--that we find it hard to question its purpose or explain its effects.

In Making Stories, the eminent psychologist and educator Jerome Bruner inquires into this elusive yet fundamental aspect of human nature and asks how we use it to make sense of our lives. He proposes challenging new ways to think about narrative: to understand how we tell our stories, to see how we use them to create a sense of self and interpret other people's lives, to learn how literature alters the very idea of what a story is, and how law teaches us about our expectations of narrative. The result is a masterful, provocative synthesis of anthropology, psychology, literature, law, and philosophy.

When he wrote his groundbreaking book On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand (1962), Bruner believed that "the scientific method could tame ordinary narrative into testable hypotheses." Now, he concedes, "I think I was profoundly mistaken." In Making Stories, Bruner offers a more complex view: that science's austere, well-defined narratives about verifiable facts are inextricably woven into culture's "darkly challenging" tales--the autobiographical, literary, and legal material in which metaphorically rich, morally instructive narratives teach us who we are and who we can become.

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About the Author:

Jerome Bruner has written many seminal works on education and cognitive studies, including The Culture of Education (1996), Acts of Meaning (1990), On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand (1962), and The Process of Education (1961). Through his distinguished career, first as professor of psychology at Harvard and then as Watts Professor at Oxford, he has been at the forefront of what became, in the 1960s, the much-heralded Cognitive Revolution that forever changed the way psychologists study the mind. During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he served on the president's Science and Advisory Committee, and he has since helped to found Head Start. Currently, he lives in his native New York City with his wife, Carol Fleisher Feldman, and teaches at NYU Law School.

From Publishers Weekly:

Scientific discoveries regarding the functions of the brain have led some to question whether it might eventually be possible to substitute technical explanations for the stories and narratives that have traditionally been used to understand experience. Contrary to that view, and to the opinions he expressed in his 1962 book On Knowing, psychologist Bruner argues here that storytelling has an essential importance that cannot be replaced by science. While his conclusion may be valid, Bruner only weakly attempts to support his new point of view in this brief but rambling and disjointed essay. Beginning with a meandering discussion of the practical value of story through numerous literary references from Aristotle to Proust, Bruner offers a portrait of the historical function of narrative that speaks to the basic similarity of literature and science, i.e., that through the depiction of imagined worlds, stories like scientific hypotheses help people adapt to unexpected events. Bruner then considers the place of narrative in law and the "construction" of the self, ultimately suggesting that stories cannot be replaced by scientific explanation because stories are essential to our capacity to truly understand one another. Bruner cites the evidence that physicians who fail to listen to their patients' stories often fail to provide the correct treatment, despite knowing all the relevant medical facts. Regrettably, Bruner does not explain why this is the case i.e., why physicians cannot simply ignore their patients' narratives. Written for a general audience, this book takes on an inherently interesting subject, but lacks the care and focus its treatment requires.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Bruner, Jerome
Editorial: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2002)
ISBN 10: 0374200246 ISBN 13: 9780374200244
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