I’m currently reading Robert Nash’s ‘Liberating Scholarly Writing’ and it’s taking me longer than I thought as I keep putting it down and just spending some time sitting with it and with the words and ideas he presents. Nash presents a case for using SPN – Scholarly Personal Narrative and so many of the ideas he mentions feel like a homecoming for me and yet, there still exists a tension as I read. I read sections of the text finding a tangible representation of whispers that have been thudding in corners of my brain. As I read I wonder, could I pull this off? Should I jump without the harness of the conventional academic scaffolding I have used thus far in my writing? Will I play with the structures that that exist both ‘out there’ but also, inside me, in the part of my brain that conceptualizes what ‘real’ academic writing looks like?
It is the notion of story and narrative that entices me as I read. So many times I find myself reading lines of his text and finding synergies with some of the questions that have haunted me since I was an early doctoral student, questions that still haunt me now I am a ‘proper’ academic.
I read Nash’s line that ‘We are storied selves who write our own realities based on these unique stories’ (p. 8) and I begin to think of the choices I make in presenting my own story, my own reality, my narrative. Why is it that I choose to place proper in quotation marks when describing myself as a ‘proper’ academic? Is it because the spectre of the imposter still lurks when I think of my work? Is it because I think I’m still trying to find my voice as a writer and the ways that I can represent the knowledge and ideas that I’m accumulating?
I think of the stories we all tell about ourselves and our worlds, every day we engage in a construction of the self in the way that we choose to interact with others and the world. This is a concept I find myself returning to more and more as I ponder the pervasive nature of social media, each time we upload a Facebook post, a blog, a tweet –we are engaging in this construction of the self, we are telling a story about ourselves to the world. In constructing a presence we then alter the world, we reshape it and our place in it, and these reshapings multiply and intersect, over and over and over again. Again I find resonance in Nash who argues ‘The trouble with trying to discover objective truths in our worlds is that we are constantly distorting them with our narrative truths’ (p. 38). Just like truths, our conception of self is constantly morphing, transmogrifying as we reflect, retell and refine our story.
I worry about the place of narrative in a neo-liberal world driven by measures, standards and accountability. In this world, managers talk of finding a ‘grand narrative’, a story to which they can hitch their wagon and the story becomes less about meaning and understanding, but more about finding a way to sell the latest version of reality to consumers. What is my narrative in the midst of this meta-narrative? Is it one of the emerging scholar trying to find a voice with which to protest? There are many stories, and I wonder, which one should I tell you? I could be a chameleon of tales, I could construct the world in a multitude of ways, changing my story, my register for a different audience. I pick, sift, filter, anlayse and then present a version to you that I am happy with. For now. Tomorrow, I may not be happy with this story and so I will rewrite it. And the storytelling and moulding of reality continues.
Without the scaffold of ‘traditional’ academic writing, part of me feels cut adrift, at danger of being swamped in a sea of narrative. In today’s story, I think I need to make a decision, to give myself up to the messy, swampy, encompassing sea of postmodernism and float in the stories, or to find some driftwood and float to a more stable shore. Today’s story has no ending, just a to be continued and in the meantime I’ll keep reading Nash and others and see where the current takes me.