MAKING STORIES: Law, Literature, Life

Jerome S. Bruner, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $18 (112p) ISBN 978-0-374-20024-4

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. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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