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Extract from JM Coetzee’s Forthcoming New Book The Good Story, Co-written with Arabella Kurtz

JM Coetzee

Read an extract from JM Coetzee and Arabella Kurtz’s upcoming collaboration The Good Story: Exchanges on truth, fiction and psychoanalytic psychotherapy.

The Childhood of JesusKurtz is a consultant clinical psychologist and senior clinical tutor at the University of Leicester in the UK, while Coetzee, who needs no introduction, published The Childhood of Jesus in 2013.

The Good Story, which is to be published in May 2015, is described as “an exchange between a writer with a long-standing interest in moral psychology and a psychotherapist with a training in literary studies”. In it, Kurtz and Coetzee contemplate the place of psychotherapy in a wider social context, with a focus on stories and the kinds of truth they reveal.

Working alone, the writer is in sole charge of the story he or she tells. The therapist, on the other hand, collaborates with the patient in telling the story of their life. What kind of truth do the stories created by patient and therapist aim to uncover: objective truth or the shifting and subjective truth of memories explored and re-experienced in the safety of the therapeutic relationship?

Read the excerpt:

“The stories we tell about ourselves may not be true, but they are all we have.”

I am interested in our relations with these stories we tell about ourselves, stories that may or may not be true. Let me select three cases.

(a) I have a story about myself which I sincerely believe to be true, in fact which I believe to be the story of me, but which some ideal, omniscient, God-like observer who is entirely independent of me and to whose mind I have no access knows not to be true, or at least not to be the whole truth.

(b) I have a story I tell about myself, one in which I wholeheartedly believe but which certain well-placed observers (my parents, my spouse, my children) know to be flawed, probably self-serving, perhaps even to a degree delusional. (This is a not uncommon state of affairs.)

(c) I have a story about myself in the way that we all have stories about ourselves: I concede that it may not be true by the standards of (a) or even (b); nevertheless, it is “mine”, it is all I have, and therefore I give it my allegiance. “It’s all I have, it’s the best I can do.”

I take (c) to describe a common postmodern situation: there is no type (a) ideal observer who holds in his/her mind the true story of me, therefore let me negotiate some kind of life-narration for myself, one that is prudently enough worked out to take type (b) observers into account, yet that feels honest and sincere, even though I know at the back of my mind that there are interests at work – interests to which I am blind – which have almost certainly dictated that certain parts of “the” story – the full story, the type (a) story – should be occluded. I will not be able to put my finger on these occluded parts because “I” am engaged in hiding them from “myself”.

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