Narrative Agency, Life Writing, and the Experience of Illness

This talk explores the concept of narrative agency, which refers to our ability to navigate our narrative environments, to use, interpret and reinterpret narratives that are culturally available to us, and to make choices over how we narrate our lives and our relationships. I propose a model that articulates three central dimensions of narrative agency: narrative awareness, narrative imagination, and narrative dialogicality. I will then discuss how the experience of serious illness can challenge one’s sense of agency and the ability to narrate one’s life.

Hanna Meretoja is Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of SELMA: Centre for the Study of Storytelling, Experientiality and Memory at the University of Turku (Finland). In 2019-2020, she is Visiting Scholar at Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (Wolfson College) and Visiting Fellow at Exeter College, University of Oxford. Her research is mainly in the fields of narrative theory, narrative ethics, life-writing studies, cultural memory studies, and trauma studies. Her monographs include The Ethics of Storytelling: Narrative Hermeneutics, History, and the Possible (2018, Oxford University Press) and The Narrative Turn in Fiction and Theory (2014, Palgrave Macmillan), and she has co-edited, with Colin Davis, The Routledge Companion to Literature and Trauma (2020, Routledge) and Storytelling and Ethics: Literature, Visual Arts and the Power of Narrative (2018, Routledge).