Being through Books: A Phenomenological Study of Constructing a Sense of Self through Fiction
McShane, Laura Marie
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Fiction provides us with diverse frames of reference and knowledge through which we make meaning of events in our lives and deepen our understanding of our own lived worlds. Using Max van Manen's methodology for phenomenological research, this study explores the lived experience of creating a sense of self through reading fiction. Through hermeneutic analysis of text developed from conversations with and written reflections from committed readers who identify fictional narrative as a major influence upon their lives, I address what it means to become ourselves through books. Fiction brings us across worlds, moves us across stages and states of being, allows us to see ourselves in mirrors and across to others through windows. Participants articulate the importance of fiction in troubling their given notions of the world, providing gateways to wider worlds and role models for new identities, and helping them to make meaning of their lives and lifeworlds. They describe dwelling at multiple thresholds, liminal spaces between quotidian reality and fictional worlds, and how negotiating those worlds brings them to self-knowledge, self-reflection, and their authentic selves. These six women, voracious readers for a range of decades, portray reading as an engagement with imagination that uncovers the hidden, transporting them from being out-of-place into multiple rich and supportive lifeworlds. The ultimate product of the self revealed through fiction is the essence of our being--that core of self expressed by the concept of <italic>Da-sein<italic> (Heidegger, 1953/1996), which carries the notion of "being there." As we story ourselves into sentience, we emplace ourselves within our own lifeworlds, recognizing our own core of being, and creating the narrative that becomes a lifelong discourse and ongoing journey, our own currere. Understanding the experience of self-creation through fiction opens up pedagogical engagements that recognize students as beings who engage in self-reflection through narrative, and connects the power of narrative to support their being-in-the-world. Taking advantage of the quality of "across-ness" in liminal spaces, teachers can become participants in the self-storying of students, and partners in their self-construction, leading to transformation that represents real education, not just schooling.