October 06, 2006

A psychic presence in India

Narrative Integrity: Anchoring Self and Community in Spiritual India Janne Meier M.A. ::: J@RGONIA 10::: University of Copenhagen Department of Anthropology 2006
My informant’s stories become extraordinary and worthy of attention by invoking a sense of inevitability. Drawing on a pre-determined logic things are narrated as happening despite themselves in the inevitable logic of divine evolution. Narrative integrity encompasses both aesthetics and ethics and therefore, following Freeman and Brockmeier, I consider it a dialectical structure of meaning-making. Personal and communal stories in Auroville showed a high degree of narrative integrity, despite various renderings of the ideals. The spiritual discourse offers a narrative framework and a shared spiritualised language of commitment, which allowed individual and collective stories to connect in spirit, and narratively if not practically, reconcile disputes and unite in a “shared horizon” (Taylor 1989). In the next section I shall give examples of how this is done, using excerpts from interviews.
Bruner argues that by autobiographical convention the authoring self
must by convention bring that protagonist from the past into the present in such a way that the protagonist and the narrator eventually fuse and become one person with a shared consciousness. Now in order to do that, one needs a theory of growth or at least of transformation. (2001, 28.)
The spiritual discourse with its divine evolutionary framework is precisely that, as I have shown in previous chapters. It provides a canonical narrative teleology in which autobiographical turning points can be embedded and shared. Bruner argues:
there is one feature of western autobiography that needs special mention. It is the highlighting or “marking” of turning points. By “turning points” I mean those episodes in which, as if to underline the power of the agents intentional states, the narrator attributes a crucial change or stance in the protagonist’s story to a belief, a conviction, a thought. (Ibid., 31 - 32.)
As my informants’ narratives clearly show, turning points are quintessential for identity formation. Further, they are a way in which people “free themselves in their self-consciousness from their history, their banal destiny, their conventionality (Ibid, 34).” However, as Freeman points out, even autobiographical narratives are never “our own.” They are, like all stories co-authored, socially, culturally and discursively situated, hence always dialogically formed (Freeman 2001, 287; Bruner & Gorfain 1984). As Bruner notes,
[w]hile Self is regarded (at least in Western ideology) as the most “private” aspect of our being, it turns out on close inspection to be highly negotiable, highly sensitive to bidding on the not so open market of one’s own reference group (2001, 34).
Many of my informants, and western Aurovilians in general came to Auroville as part of a pilgrimage to India. For many old timers meeting the Mother is narrated as the ultimate turning point in their lives. Many narratives also offered stories of the transformation of the land as a powerful metaphor for the underlying spiritual purpose and aim of Auroville. Often informants, western and Indian, in their narratives emphasized an identification with India as the spiritual Motherland both their personal one and also the world’s in general. Almost all narratives I heard and recorded in the field constructed Auroville as a special place of “Mother’s force” and a place of transformation of the self. The feeling of coming home when reaching India was a recurrent theme in my informant’s narratives as the following brief excerpt from another life history interview shows:
There is something, which Mother talked about, a psychic presence in India, which is very strong, and I can see that. You talk to Europeans, and Europeans are all in the head, yah. The whole gang is up here [gesture indicating “up”]. You go to India and you see another type of beauty. It is completely different. I felt like homecoming when I first arrived. I automatically fused with this tremendous sweetness. [16]
As this narrative shows, the feeling of coming home when reaching India is explained by referring to the existence of a psychic presence in India. In his narrative he also draws on the often-used authenticating device of “Mother said.” The following quote, also an excerpt from a life history interview, similarly draws on the force of spiritual India in order to link a spiritual self-emerging in a teleological autobiographical narrative to the spiritual community and the force behind it. She said:
For me also the contact with India is important, the contact with the Mother goddess touched me very much. [... ] I came to India because I was looking for something. And when I came here I realised that India is the Mother. It has that whole vibrant quality of the Mother, and then I met the Mother, and then I knew that this was what I was looking for. And I went out to Auroville, and I knew it was my place. It is so wide, there are no limitations. Even though I was not aware of just how at the time. [17]
These narratives highlight the important moral and ethical aspects of autobiographical stories. All the above narratives, which have a high degree of narrative integrity with others I heard in the field, locate the protagonist firmly within the worldview of the dominant spiritual discourse. The spiritual selves who emerge in these narratives are narratively linked to India and Auroville; as places of divine force. I argue that narrating their life stories in the spiritualised language of commitment – highlighting turning points of transcendence - and drawing on the narrative framework of the dominant spiritual discourse, provides Aurovilians with a way of cognitively linking self and communal identity. It is by embedding personal experience in the master narrative of the spiritual discourse and using this vocabulary that one becomes, to oneself and others, an Aurovilian... <-- J@rgonian etusivulle

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