Interminable knots: hostages to toxic stories
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Sagan, O. (2011) Interminable knots: hostages to toxic stories, Pedagogy, Culture & Society, vol. 19, , pp. 97-118,
This paper presents one case study from a five-year psychosocial exploration of the auto/biographic activity of a small group of mental health service users. Each individual voluntarily took part in a weekly basic expressive literacy course in which they were encouraged to improve their writing skills. Biographic narrative interviews which employed a free-associative approach were conducted with the participants over the research period. In addition, the literacy sessions were observed, and the written products analysed to track changes in auto/biographic representation. Interviews gradually developed to reveal insights into the way auto/biography, narrative, learning and writing were being used by the participants, each of whom was a 'newcomer' to both expressive writing and auto/biographical activity. This paper will give a brief overview of some of the findings across the group which suggest the possible reparative processes involved in auto/biographic writing. However, it appeared that both a constructive and destructive use was made of the thinking processes in the transitional space which was constructed by the literacy sessions, the written product and the interviews. Biographical data suggested the deployment of various defence mechanisms, triggered by a complex interplay of psychological and socioeconomic factors but also by the impacts of particular forms of mental illness. Despite the literature documenting the sanguine effects of much auto/biographic engagement, from the 'talking cure' to current records of expressive writing amongst mentally ill individuals, this research unearthed some evidently more troubling processes. These sometimes enmeshed the writer and researcher in the interminable knots of remembering and repeating, incarcerating the individual in the claustrophobic plot of a toxic story.