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Beginning of the Year Speaker: Susan Brison (Dartmouth College)

August 25, 2023 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Title: “Belonging to the Future by Changing the Past”

Abstract: This talk was sparked by my recently reading Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus for the first time since high school. I’d never forgotten the first two sentences: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” But, this time, I was most struck by another sentence: “A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future.”

Unlike Camus, who asks how life can be worth living, given that it is absurd, I’ve never been bothered by the fact that life is absurd, if that means, simply, that it has no meaning but the meanings we give it ourselves. But I’m intensely interested in how those whose lives come to seem hopeless can find the wherewithal to keep on living.

Trauma survivors, for example, often feel as though their lives are over, as if they’ve somehow outlived themselves. However, although they may claim they’re not the same persons they once were, they don’t typically lose their memories of their pre-trauma pasts. What they frequently lose, post-trauma, is the ability to form a self-narrative that makes sufficient sense cognitively and is bearable enough emotionally to enable them to continue living.

I argue that carrying on when things seem hopeless can be facilitated by constructing a new self-narrative reaching back into the past that can be continued going forward. Changing one’s past can enable one to belong, once again, to the future.


August 25, 2023
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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